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HIGH ACHIEVERS: Ottawa Race Weekend returns, but without elite African runners

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David Dazé, veteran of 21 Ottawa Race Weekend marathons. Photo provided

By Martin Cleary

When David Dazé goes to the start line for the Ottawa International Marathon on Sunday morning, he has a simple goal.

It’s the same objective he carried in his heart and head for his marathon debut in Ottawa in 2001.

The retired Ottawa elementary school teacher simply wants to finish the 42.195-kilometre, pavement-pounding challenge, which would extend his streak to 22 continuous years of running the iconic race through the streets of the National Capital Region.

But the majority of the international elite marathoners have an even simpler goal. They just want to get to the start line.

Twelve Ethiopian and one Kenyan female runners and 11 Ethiopian male high-performance runners plus one from Kenya and one from Bahrain didn’t receive visas to come to Canada for the marathon.

The top four Ethiopian female runners are still hopeful, waiting at home to hear about their visa applications. If they receive their visas, they could arrive in Ottawa as early as Saturday, less than 24 hours before the race.

Dazé, 61, is taking a conservative approach, since he has not entered a marathon race in three years. He did participate in the virtual Ottawa Marathon in 2020 and 2021 by running four laps of a course in his Barrhaven neighbourhood, but it certainly didn’t have the feel of a race.


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“At this stage of my career, I haven’t raced a marathon in a couple of years. I just want to get over the finish. The weather dictates the race and it’s looking decent for Sunday,” said Dazé, who has developed long-time friendships through running.

“I’m happy to finish and have fun.”

Following a 16-week training program this winter and spring, Dazé is ready to feel like a marathon runner again. He trained with his long-time Run K2J running group at a well ploughed OC Transpo Park and Ride venue and is now running on the John McCrae Secondary School track.

Dazé made the Ottawa marathon his first-ever marathon 21 years ago and has been loyal to Canada’s prestigious Ottawa Race Weekend, never missing an in-person or virtual race, while always wearing Asics running shoes.

When Dazé was young, he was athletic, playing football and basketball at Nepean High School and minor hockey. He stayed active in sports as an adult and used running as a way to stay in shape. But at age 40, he became a dedicated runner because running was an easier activity to fit into his schedule.

For his 40th birthday, he ran a half-marathon in Toronto and decided to extend that training so he could run the 2001 Ottawa marathon.

“It was my slowest (4:45:21) marathon,” Dazé said about his debut. “I was the least prepared for it, even though I took a course.”

In 2002, he improved his training methods and ran 3:59:27, which was a 46-minute improvement. By the time Dazé ran his seventh marathon in his fifth season, he started thinking about qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

At the 2005 Ottawa Marathon, his finishing time of 3:30:47 met the strict Boston Marathon time criteria for his age group. He raced the 2006 Boston Marathon under ideal conditions in 3:50:50 and six weeks later posted a strong 3:39:33 at the Ottawa Marathon. He also completed the rainy 2007 Boston Marathon in 4:04:37.

Having run a total of 30 marathons, including Boston, Chicago and New York City twice each, he has had a few race experiences that were different than the norm.

“In 2004, I wasn’t thinking about the streak, but I was sick as a dog and wondered if I should go in the (Ottawa) race,” Dazé said.

“It’s common after the marathon to see people throw up at the finish. But I threw up at the start line on the grounds of City Hall. It (sickness) hit me on the Friday and by Sunday I still wasn’t feeling great. I said I’ll give it a whirl. I’m not sure I’d do that again.”

During his years collecting Ottawa Marathon medals and memories, he has enriched his experience by making it more than just a long, long run.

One year, he used the marathon as a fund raiser to honour his deceased father. He raised $2,500 for Parkinson Canada.

When the Kids’ Marathon was introduced to the Ottawa Race Weekend program in 2008, Dazé had race officials Jim Robinson and Joe DuVall speak to the students at Monsignor Paul Baxter School.

More than 100 students took part in the program, where they each accumulated 41 kilometres of running at school and completed the final 1.195 kilometres on the actual course on race day. Dazé ran that program for the final 10 years of his 34-year teaching career before retiring in 2017. He spent his last 17 years teaching at Monsignor Paul Baxter School.

“I’ve always been interested in athletics and things like the Olympics,” he explained. “When I was at Nepean High School in 1978, one of my teachers ran the marathon. I remember talking to him about it. It finished at Carleton University. That (conversation) put the idea in my head. I always enjoyed athletics. Running came naturally to me.

“It’s a good, good challenge. Being a former athlete, it was something I was attracted to. Other than my high school teacher, I didn’t know anyone who ran a marathon. I signed up for a course at the Running Room on Merivale. I probably made every mistake from what clothing to wear to nutrition to food.”

But the marathon is a continual learning experience and experiment.

In 2017, he participated in the Lumberjack Challenge, where he ran the two-, five- and 10-kilometre races on the Saturday and the marathon on the Sunday. By the halfway point of the marathon, he was tired, but he soldiered through for his second-slowest time ever, 4:44:09.

2014 Ottawa Race Weekend. File photo

As Dazé speaks, the memories of past races surface and the thrill of running down the Queen Elizabeth Driveway to the finish line takes hold.

“You can hear the crowd and the (finish-line) announcer. It’s torture. Once across the (Pretoria) Bridge, the crowd gets thick and it’s a wall of sound and cheering,” he said.

“I’m really excited to have that experience again.”

The elite African runners, who make their living running long distances faster than the everyday runner can imagine, also wish they could experience the sounds and positivity of the marathon.

OTTAWA RACE WEEKEND BACK ON THE ROAD

The first in-person Ottawa Race Weekend since the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the race program in 2020 and 2021 is expected to attract almost 25,000 runners. There also will be 823 runners scheduled to run a virtual marathon.

The half marathon remains the runners’ favourite with 8,500 entries, while the 10-kilometre race will have 5,800 at the start line. The marathon, which started in 1975 with 146 runners, has 3,180 registered runners. The five- and two-kilometre races have attracted 4,930 and 1,600 runners respectively. There will be 500 in the Kids’ Marathon.

The 10-kilometre race will serve as Athletics Canada’s national championship and is no longer certified as a World Athletics Gold event as race organizers are focusing the race on Canadian content.

Here is the Ottawa Race Weekend schedule:

Saturday

Kid’s Marathon 2 p.m
two-kilometre race 3 p.m.
five-kilometre race 4 p.m.
10-kilometre race 6:30 p.m.

Sunday

marathon 7 a.m.
half marathon 9 a.m.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.

Martin can be reached by e-mail at martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.


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