Run Ottawa is a beast in the Canadian road racing world. They organize eight races including the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend which gathered 48,000 runners in 2017 and is Canada’s most popular multi-day running event, no less!
We were lucky to get in touch with John who is quite busy and who was Runner’s World Road Racer of the Year in 1989.
Let’s get started…
Ambroise: What is your background? How did John Halvorsen end up President and Race Director at Run Ottawa?
John: I spent my high school and university years in Ottawa and grew up here as a competitive athlete which eventually took me to two Olympic 10,000m finals.
While competing I also ran very competitively on the Road Racing circuit, especially in the US. In 1989 I was recognized as the “Runner’s World Road Racer of the Year”. Injury kept me from continuing past 1994 and in 1999 I opened my mouth suggesting the Ottawa Race Weekend, with then less than 10,000 participants, could be so much more and contribute to the local sports tourism scene.
As a result I was recruited to the board. In 2013 I left my career in the Telecoms sector to take over as full time race director.
What is your most memorable day as a race director?
I think in 2006 when we had 14 lead runners take a wrong turn causing quite a lot of confusion as it relates to the elite results. Our heat of 2016 takes a close second.
What would be the perfect Christmas gift for a race director?
I think some time off.
People are often surprised how busy this job is all year round. I think it is because we always want to do and create new and better things for our runners.
What makes Run Ottawa’s 8 races truly unique events?
The people of Ottawa and our neighbourhoods. We have tremendous support from people in the community who support our runners through the entire race regardless of distance and pace.
What do you wish you knew about organizing running races when you started out?
How to control the weather….
You must have seen everything when it comes to race logistics! What are your best logistics tips for race directors?
Be detailed oriented and always look for ideas from other events, try new things and work with a great team. We are lucky since we have most of our crew return year after year.
Race directors’ #1 challenge is promoting their race so that they can cover their fixed costs, make a profit and have a great race atmosphere on race day. What are your best race promotion tips and channels for race promotion?
First of all, as a Not-for-Profit we don’t target a typical corporate profit rate. We like to save a little as a safety net, however we try to spend the rest on the runners. As far as race promotions, word of mouth and reputation is huge.
We spend a lot of time at expos meeting runners and promoting our destination. Other than that we have the ability to leverage all channels, print, broadcast and of course digital.
How do you differentiate your race from competing races?
We have many races but the major event is the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend which is unique as we are in Canada’s Capital and our course takes in most of our tourist sites.
How many volunteers do you have? How do you recruit & manage them?
Estimate is 2500.
We have a tiered organization and rely on the managers of each are to manage their volunteers. Recruitment follows several channels from walk ups to working closely with large groups/schools/teams
One of Race directors’ top challenges is securing sponsors. What is your secret sauce when it comes to finding & securing sponsors?
Not sure there is a secret sauce. Know your values, your market and learn what a sponsor may be looking for.
How do you choose technology partners for your races? What criteria is the most important?
Reliability. Imagine that a timing system goes down?!
What is usually your biggest challenge when it comes to organizing running races?
We have a lot and we have perhaps ways to manage things but certainly construction projects come to mind. They can mess with your plans.
Where can people find you and your races online?