I’m writing this post from the seat of a plane headed from Manchester, UK to New York, after two full weeks of traveling. I started in Canada, with the World Airline Road Race in Calgary, followed by a few days in Banff National Park—a big bucket list trip that did not disappoint. I went home to New England for one day and then hopped another flight to the UK, where I spent the last week hanging in Stone (what must be the cutest town in all of England) and making a quick 3-day getaway to Wales. I may be short on cash, but I am FULL of travel tales and glorious pics to share.
For this week’s post, I’ll go back to the start of my two-week travel bender, to the 40th Annual World Airline Road Race in Calgary. It’s a city I’d never considered visiting before, but I’m glad I got to see it. Calgary had lots to offer, and the race was a ton of fun this year. If you don’t know what WARR is, don’t worry, I’ll explain it right in the beginning so you can follow along. If you’re airline personnel and haven’t participated in WARR before, read on, I suspect you’ll want to by the end.
This post will cover:
-What is the World Airline Road Race?
-How WARR 2023 went
-Other things to do in Calgary (besides run)
-Exciting news about WARR 2024 (Stick around until the end for this!)
I expect at least 20 of my coworkers who read this post to sign up for next year. Looking at you!
What is WARR?
What is the World Airline Road Race?
The World Airline Road Race, or WARR, as it’s fondly referred, is a race for airline professionals held annually in cities around the world. But it is so much more than a race. WARR is a 3-day event, with social gatherings built into the itinerary. It’s a chance for airline employees from different airlines all over the globe to mingle, like the biggest extended family reunion. And it gives a great excuse to travel to places you might not have otherwise. Oh, of course there is running, too!
This was my fourth WARR, but it was the 40th time this event has taken place, the only gaps (as far as I know) being for the two years of COVID lockdown. I’ve attended WARR in Singapore, Victoria, BC, Canada, Amsterdam, and now Calgary.
Each year a different airline volunteers to host the event in a city of their choosing. This year’s extravaganza in Calgary was hosted by WestJet. Because it is a different host airline and new city every year, each event has been a unique spectacle and experience. This makes WARR worth going back to over and over again. It simply can’t get boring.
There are some pre-race events, held to foster mingling and a spirit of community amongst the participants, but the actual race happens on the third day. The race portion of WARR consists of a 5k and a 10k. Because it costs the same to sign up for one or both, my running buddy and I always run both races; the 10k first, then immediately after, we set off on the course again for the 5k. It is a very active day, as far as vacations are concerned.
WARR is also a charitable organization! Each year a different charity is selected by the host airline and at least 10% of the funds raised go to supporting it. This year’s chosen charity was LiveDifferent, an organization similar to Habitat for Humanity, for my US readers, where volunteers build homes for people in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Thailand. learn more at livedifferent.com.
To find out more details about the World Airline Road Race, including its history, check out WorldAirlineRoadRace.com.
Pre-race team selfie!
Pre & Post Race Events
WARR is more than a race, it is a days long extravaganza of travel, fun with friends, and co-mingling with extended aviation family. Here is how the World Airline Road Race event lineup goes:
1. Meet & Greet
The meet and greet is the first event of the World Airline Road Race and is just like it sounds. This year’s meet & greet was held at Local Pub & Eatery, a local chain in Calgary, but a great one. We ate upscale pub food and drank our drinks and socialized with our teammates and some other airline folks.
2. Tee-shirt swap
The tee shirt swap happens the evening before the race, and it is a big WARR tradition. Before setting off for WARR, each race team (teams are by airline) has professional team shirts made for the event. The team shirts are completely unique and look very different to one another, but usually all of them include the airline, the event & city where it’s held, and the year. Each participant is given several race shirts—one to keep for themselves, and the others to swap! There are light refreshments at the tee shirt swap and all the hundreds of airline employees mill about, trading shirts with one another. It’s so much fun to see all the different designs, and the swapping provides a great excuse to strike up conversation with someone from, say, Aero Mexico or KLM or Swiss air.
Exciting announcements are also made at the tee shirt swap—like the location for next year’s WARR! (More on that juicy nugget later.)
3. Race Day
10k first, then 5k. Easy.
After the race has finished and everyone has had a rest and a shower, it’s time to party. A banquet is held, where we dress up, eat our faces off, and dance the night away.
This year’s banquet was held at a function hall inside the Calgary Zoo. It was a wild time.
*There are sometimes other organized events by WARR or by individual teams. One year my whole team went on a whale watch in Victoria, which you can read about here. A hockey game was another of the activities organized for the Victoria WARR. And every year there are events like “warm up runs” the day before the race (lol as if.) Calgary was more loosely organized which gave us free time to take in the city. Like I said, each year WARR is a totally new event and experience!
Meeting & Greeting at WARR 2023
The 10k and 5k in Calgary started in Sien Lok Park and followed the Bow River Pathway, a walking and biking trail, all along the river. I found it lovely.
We start the 10k bright and early so we still get the pink-orange of a newly sun-kissed sky and the quiet of a city before the bustle of the day. Running by moving water—how could that be bad? And on the way back to the finish, the city’s skyline was in view, growing larger with each step. It was an ideal course.
In previous years, we’ve run through forests (Amsterdam) or in many circles around the same harbor (in Singapore). There is something about a long, straight running trail that makes me happy. I know where I’m going, for how long, and then on the way back I can recognize landmarks. When training for my ultramarathon, a similar water-side bike path in Providence, RI, served as my training grounds for all of my long runs. It’s much easier to shut off the brain and get lost in the rhythm when you don’t have to think about where you’re going.
10k sunrise start
So How did it go?
If you read my last post about barely surviving my first Spartan Race, you’ll know I’m not exactly in the best shape of my life. This race in Calgary was not my finest, but I showed up and put one foot in front of the other and got through it. My running buddy, Meagaan, and I go back and forth about who is faster, and we take turns at all the many, many races we run together. She was the clear winner in Calgary, and performed so well I thought she might place in the individual awards. I, on the other hand, felt heavy, and like I wanted to throw up.
Let’s not be dramatic, it wasn’t a horrible day on the course. I completed the 10k in 56:25, an average pace of 9:11 per mile. This landed me in 105th place out of 219. Sliiiightly better than average, I guess. And 27 out of 95 females, if I want to feel a little bit better about myself. I was pretty well spent for the 5k and decided to run it more like the “Victory lap” of my Spartan race—something extra that didn’t matter. I still managed a time of 29:31 and placed 120 out of 465 runners (36/268 women), so it wasn’t a total throwing of the towel. Perhaps I’m not really as capable of giving up as my lazy alter-ego suggests.
Race Day Observations
One of the interesting things that has happened over the years of attending WARR is a shift in competitiveness from the 5k to the 10k. At my first WARR in 2018, nearly everyone ran the 5k and the 10k was a fairly small group of runners. My airline’s 10k consisted of myself, Meagaan, and two other female runners. We placed third for our team 10k that year.
This year, the 10k start line was crowded, at least half of my own team running it, and many, many others. It used to feel kind of niche, running the 10k first. Like everyone is doing the 5k and you’ve really got to show your stuff there, but the 10k is extra, something avid runners want to do just for the hell of it. This year was totally different. The 10k was super competitive and fast—the winner completed 6.2 miles in THIRTY SIX minutes! The 5k, on the other hand, was smaller than I’ve seen in years past, and was an overall pretty slow race. People of all ages, fitness levels, and running enjoyment levels participate in WARR, so many of them walk the 5k. Which is cool! Get out there in whatever way you can, I say. This year in Calgary, it seemed like more of the competitive runners decided to just run the 10k and to skip the 5k all together or to run the 10k and walk the 5.
Meagaan and I have thought, since Singapore, that we have a better chance of placing in the 10k, but this year that was not the case at all.
It’s all fine and good, if we really wanted to place, we would have trained or something, but it is an interesting shift in running trends of WARR. Of course, it could be a one off and not a trend at all. I guess we’ll see nest year.
surviving, if not thriving
another race in the books for my favorite running duo
The Banquet was held at the Calgary Zoo. It was more casual than years past, whether that is because it was inside a zoo or because of budget cuts, I can’t say. We were granted free entry to the zoo with our ticket and got to stroll around checking out the animals before the night’s event.
Once inside, the banquet hall was nice, if a bit small for 400+ people. The food was delicious, but the vegetarian option left something to be desired. (I selected this option, but when it came out, bland and flavorless, I quickly entered the buffet line with the omnivores to get my fill of sides.) The music was the worst part of the event, I hate to say, and it put a bit of a damper on the evening. It is a hard task, trying to balance tastes and preferences when your audience spans from age 20-92 and from countries around the globe. But perhaps a more “mixed” mix could have done the trick.
With any luck, a professional DJ will be hired for next year or I’ll be invited to make a playlist for the evening.
Banquet ready, bring on the food.
My favorite party animals
Things to do in Calgary
Sure, we were in Calgary for a race, but the beautiful thing about the World Airline Road Race is that you get plenty of downtime between race activities to explore the city you’re in. As thrilling as the run was, my friends and I also got to kick it around Calgary for three days, and we had a blast. Here are some of the best things to do in Calgary:
1. Prince’s Island Park
Take a stroll through this lush city park and forget you’re in the city… for a minute.
Prince’s Island Park is an island in the middle of the city that separates Calgary’s Eau Claire neighborhood to the South and Sunnyside to the North. The Bow River surrounds this urban Oasis on all sides, and you can access the park via four pedestrian bridges—three from Eau Claire, and one from Sunnyside. You’ll find walking trails, picnic areas, a small (and pricey) café, and sometimes pop-up exhibitions. We spent a quiet, foggy morning walking through the park, watching the blue river rush by, and taking in the abundant blooming flowers. Prince’s Island Park is the perfect place to take in Calgary’s city skyline and the famous red Peace Bridge.
For even better views, walk across the north bridge to Sunnyside and climb the dozens of stairs to the Crescent Heights lookout point. Just make sure the morning fog has cleared first!
2. Spend the day in Kensington
Kensington is a hip little neighborhood in Calgary, just North of downtown, to the west of Eau Claire and Prince’s Island Park. Full of coffee shops, eateries, and vintage shops, it is the perfect place to spend an afternoon in Calgary.
My friends and I started with breakfast at Red’s Diner, which I highly recommend, then hit up at least 5 vintage stores. I scored some good finds—a new shirt and a pair of earrings that have quickly become my favorite accessories. We got a latte and moseyed along, window shopping and taking in the vibe.
Red's Diner in Kensington did not dissapoint.
Quiet morning on Prince's Island Park
3. Eat and Drink, duh.
What’s vacation without feasting on local fare? Here are some of the other places my friends and I ate and drank in Calgary:
Major Tom rooftop bar—swanky Mad Men-esque rooftop bar anyone? We came for the name and stayed for the vibe.
We stopped here on our first day in Calgary for no other reason than Meagaan and Nick’s dog. His name is Major Tom, too! The restaurant is floor to ceiling glass, all the way around, a bar in the middle and mid-century modern décor that makes you feel like you can smoke inside and grab a stranger’s ass if you want. The menu is pricey, as you’d expect of this type of establishment, but the view almost makes it worth it. We ordered cocktails (an iced latte for me) and a series of sides and desserts to share. All were good, and it was the perfect way to start our trip to Calgary.
Paper Lantern—Speakeasy style Vietnamese restaurant.
Get walking directions to Paper Lantern and be shocked at what the place looks like from the outside. Just kidding, I’ve spoiled it for you, like the person who recommended it to me did. The paper lantern looks like an office supply store from the outside—one gone out of business. But go down the stairs and through the doors and be transported into a space that is as cool as the food is good. Upscale tiki décor and warm, red lighting, plants and varied wallpapers, offer a space that is as cozy as it is cool.
I love me some warm lighting and this red-light special of a place had it down pat. The tiki-esque décor mixed with plants and interesting wallpaper meant there was always something to look at—before the food came out anyway. Plates are small, so get a few and share with your friends. A++ on the Tofu vegetarian spring rolls, which blow the traditional cabbage filled wraps out of the water.
LOCAL Public Eatery—This was a chain, but we loved it.
Good food, a good drink selection (even for the non-alcohol drinkers!), good music, and good people. The staff was above and beyond friendly, giving us recommendations for things to do in the area and treating us like true locals. Try the fish tacos and the spicy Caesar salad. Thank me later!
Truthfully, I can’t recommend this spot because I called it a night at 1am when my friends decided to Uber over to Papi’s. But all of them informed me that it was a fun time. It happened to be 90s night, so that could have been why my millennial age co-workers enjoyed themselves so much. All in their 30s, they did report being the oldest people there. If you’re in town and looking to dance, this might be the place!
4. Visit the Calgary Zoo
I have mixed feelings about zoos, which I wrote about extensively in last year’s blog post about visiting the San Diego Zoo. (Family Fun or Turn & Run? Tackling Mixed Feelings at the San Diego Zoo). That being said, Calgary Zoo meets a lot of criteria of what makes a “good zoo”. They are accredited by international organizations like AZA and WAZA, they are a not-for-profit organization (The Wilder Institute), and they have clean, spacious, well-kept enclosures for the animals. If you’re at all inclined to visit zoos, the Calgary Zoo is a great one to see!
Coffee shops abound and fall in Calgary is 😍
perfect weather, views on views. <3
Exciting News about WARR 2024
For those of you who didn’t come to WARR this year because you’ve “Already been to Canada”, and for those of you who have yet to participate in WARR, listen up, I think you’ll like this part.
We found out at the tee shirt swap that next year’s 41st annual World Airline Road Race will be held in….drumroll please…..
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND!
Woohoooo! The tentative date is in early October, so if you’re airline and interested, make sure to sign up! Check back at Worldairlineroadrace.com to get information about 2024’s race as it is updated, and find your airline’s WARR team page on facebook or by asking around. If you don’t have a team yet, then build one!
If you are one of my coworkers looking for information, hit me up and I’ll get you what you need! Come run with us!
Come run with us! Or ELSE.
I hope you guys enjoyed reading about the 2023 World Airline Road Race in Calgary, and I hope you’ll sign up to run with us next year! It is truly a one-of-a-kind event and a tradition I look forward to every year.
As mentioned in the beginning, I’ve been on a bit of a travel bender, including, as it were, finishing this post from a 2-day getaway in Aruba. In the coming weeks I’ll be posting content about Banff National Park, a quick and rainy trip to Wales, and life as a broke flight attendant if this keeps up! I hope you’ll come back to check it out. If you’re interested in reading some other running content, you can click here.
Thanks so much for stopping by. <3