Athletes show a particular type of dedication because they are pushing the limits of their own bodies and minds. We saw a great example of this on November 9–10, when eleven people embarked on a grassroots relay race around the outskirts of the city—yes, on foot. There’s nothing like a challenge to encourage people to take on a difficult goal!
Loyal fans of Ottawa know that our city is shaped like a heart, but running the loop is harder than that would sound. Did you know that the perimeter of Ottawa’s official boundaries is close to 360 kilometres in distance? For context, you can run to Montreal in just over 200 kilometres… If I still haven’t impressed the distance upon you, consider that Ottawa is larger than Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, COMBINED.
We chatted with Kelsey Hunter of 360 Ottawa, one of the lead organizers of the group behind the relay.
Where did the idea come from?
“As far we know, no one has run around the perimeter of Ottawa,” said Kelsey Hunter. “The idea came from Paul Galipeau—he rode the perimeter on his bike. It took him a little less than 24 hours to cycle around the city.”
While Galipeau’s cycling route was just over 300 kilometres, Kelsey and the running team had to modify his route. First, because some roads are appropriate for cycling but aren’t safe for runners. Second, they wanted to get closer to the official boundaries of the city. Kelsey highlighted the work of Simon Festa-Bianchet and Bob Durie in designing the route, which has a distance of about 360 kilometres.
“We all love Ottawa and being able to explore it on foot with our friends seems like a good experience.”
In terms of the decision to undertake the run, it was both a physical challenge and a reason to get together as a team and do something with a group of friends. Hunter described the group’s first thoughts as: “It looks like so much fun! We should do it! I don’t think any of us realized how much went into this logistically… We all love Ottawa and being able to explore it on foot with our friends seems like a good experience.”
The logistics of the race
360 Ottawa divided the route into 48 segments. The distances are longer to begin with, about 10 kilometres, and become gradually shorter. At the end, the legs are only 2–3 kilometres.
The inaugural team decided to run through the night for two main reasons: they wanted the relay to be continuous, and also because some of the rural distances are so far to drive, it wasn’t really an option just to run during daylight hours.
The runners rented two minivans as part of their emergency plan. One van was a dedicated support vehicle to the person currently running, and the other was available to take people for coffee, bathroom breaks or a quick nap at one of the participant’s homes.
While the team expected to take 30 hours to finish the race, they finished in exactly 28 hours and 30 minutes. Very impressive especially considering the cold and snowy conditions that weekend!
This is a “grassroots event.” What does that mean?
Most members of 360 Ottawa are involved in grassroots running clubs, which are people that meet to run together regularly. It helps bring a sense of community to running.
“The thing about grassroots events is that they are meant to be kind of ‘at teams own risk, at their own initiative,’ said Hunter. “We will have all the logistics planned, and we will open it up to the running clubs in the city.”
One of the main goals of this first run was to test the route, to make sure it was safe and doable. After the race, Hunter confirmed that the route was safe, adding that “some of the sections on trails were challenging to navigate given the time of year. We are also considering the logistics of how we might do the event again with more teams. If we do it with more teams, we will pick a more favourable time of year in terms of daylight hours.”
The entire 360.1 km route was published here after the feedback from team members is incorporated.
Inspiration to the non-runners
Some readers may not consider running overnight their ideal Saturday evening… Yet there’s something so inspiring in this story. Movement is medicine, and the running community is considered by many to be welcoming and enthusiastic.
“Running is so beautiful because you can put on your shoes and go out the door,” said Hunter. “The first step is hardest for people when they are looking to be more active or set a goal for themselves or challenges themselves in some new way. Take that first step to start!”
“If people are looking to get into running, I would suggest finding people to run with, and it’s not hard in this city. If people are wondering why we do crazy things like this, come join us and see why. You don’t have to do things like [running the city’s perimeter], but you will be encouraged and inspired to challenge yourself.”
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