Race recap: Canada/Montreal’s first Rock ‘N’ Roll Oasis (Half-) Marathon

I’m just back from marathon weekend in Montreal, a road trip with Lil Sis and mum filled with driving, eating and running. It was one for the history books on so many levels.

We were late leaving Toronto and it was just a non-comedy of errors after that that we did not have the time to go to the race expo on Friday. So, after complimentary breakfast at the Marriott Residence Inn where I chose to stay, we head to Place Bonaventure early on Saturday and I, at least, soaked up some Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon vibes. I was hot on the track of a hairband demurely announcing my 42.2/21.1 accomplishments but only picked up a pin specifically designed for my race and otherwise I browsed the selection of Finisher shirts. I wondered if there was some kind of return policy if you bought a Finisher shirt but didn’t finish but Expo closed shop on Saturday evening, before the races take place.

Brooks is a major sponsor and I heard about them and their bus at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon Tune-Up Run that took place a few weeks ago. Their slogan of “Run Happy” makes me happy but the brazen circus and freak shows theme is less my style. There was a “sideshow” held in French, of course, where it was apparent that the “authorities” had captured a lizard that runs … on water! All I had to glimpse was the “water”, a pool of white liquid and know that it would be a non-Newtonian liquid trick, immortalized in a Big Bang Theory episode (season 2, episode 3).

Other than Brooks’ over-the-top display, it was a regular expo after all. Perhaps an established Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in an American city is doing it right.

When in Quebec and when on vacation and when with my dining out-deprived mother, one shall eat and indulge. We had French food on Friday, dim sum, pastries and Italian food on Saturday and only cut out the chocolate cafe Saturday evening because we had dinner so late and didn’t want to take the car out of parking. Was my choice of a creamy pasta sauce going to undo me?

I did get tired very early because of dinner and also because it had been high-stress days. I drove on Friday and got really rattled and my frustration multiplied on Saturday with constant rain, difficulties finding parking and being detoured by student tuition protest. I was dozing off around 10:30 p.m. the night before the race and delegated to Lil Sis the task of trying to figure out where to see me at point(s) during the race and after the race.

My hotel was very close to the race expo but not close to either the race start or end. The hotel was also not close to the course when it came back to the Montreal side and I’m finding courses that don’t loop (which are interesting for runners) are more difficult for friends and family to catch up with. Mum and Lil Sis could only make it to the race finish location if I were not (and was not) to be demanding and have them get Metro daypasses and follow me all around. My hotel was, however, very close to a Metro station.

After waking up several times in the night and sending nonsensical text messages to NPY every time, I woke up for real at 6:30. That wake-up time gave me two hours until race start or one whole hour to eat, wait for body functions and gather my belongs before heading out the door.


Racers were strongly discouraged from driving to either the race start or finish so the Metro (subway) was chockful of racers, quite a sight to see. After inspecting the map, I thought I would get off at Papineau station and be on the Montreal side of Pont/Bridge Jacques-Cartier and come upon the race corrals from behind but other people with green (half-marathon) bibs got off at interchange station Berri-Uqam and I followed. We changed from Green Line to Yellow and as we pass the Red Line platform in between, there were lots of runners everywhere and on every level headed to the other race starts. We all disembarked at Jean-Drapeau and formed a calvacade of racers through the woods and up Pont Jacques-Cartier. The elite racers were already lined up at the very front, and facing us and we walked by them to queue up in our corrals. I was in Corral 7.


There was much fanfare thanks to the tireless announcer as each corral was set off at regular intervals about 2 minutes spaced apart. Marathoners and half-marathoners share a route for the first half of the marathon and entirety of the half-marathon so we all set out at the same time, distinguishable only by our bib colour. It meant there were always a lot of people on the course.

The temperature was cool, especially in the woods, with an autumn feeling descending on the city. I decided back in Toronto and only packed tights as my option for what to wear on bottom. But I packed a jacket in addition to a t-shirt to give myself options. A long sleeve technical t-shirt would have been ideal but I don’t have one I particularly like. While the general wisdom is that once you start running, you’ll heat up and be fine with a t-shirt but I like having a jacket at the end and the optics of not looking frozen at the start. I wanted to wear the race t-shirt but didn’t want to immediately scuff it up with my fuel belt so I wore a jacket over the race t-shirt and it was the right thing to do.

The first part of the race was on Île Ste-Hélène and around the perimeter of La Ronde, which I learned recently is operated by Six Flags. Viewed from a distance, it looks like a park entirely composed of roller coasters as there are ten of them each a different shape and colour cutting crazy curves around the park. Île Ste-Hélène is also the home of the Montreal Biosphère, currently a museum but formerly site of the US pavilian during the 1967 Expo with Richard Buckminster Fuller as the architect. Then we were off to neighbouring Île Notre-Dame.


On the next island, we took a turn that felt so very smooth I felt like a carand then I remembered that part of the route took us onto the Formula 1 Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve. Lil Sis wanted to visit it the day before but I was nonplussed and shot the idea down. She was understandably envious that I got to go see it myself and I used the smooth speedway as an incentive to keep running … like a race car.

We crossed Pont/Bridge de la Concorder to get back to Montreal and the breeze on the bridge was so refreshing as it was warming up and my jacket was very lightly fleece lined. Pierre-Duptry was a straight stretch along the water, a semi-industrial area, and at first it is boring because it is not at all picturesque but I can easily be in awe of large structures and waterfront activity like shipyards. Just like I thought it was neat to see the grain elevator for household name Robin Hood in Saskatoon, I was a similarily thrilled to run alongside the Farine Five Roses grain elevator with its maze of connecting parts and we even ran under a large white arch formed by two of the tall white towers.

Then we arrived in Old Montreal which Mum and Lil Sis wouldn’t get a chance to visit. So I had mixed feelings of sadness that they would not see it and delight from how running allows me the most unique perspective of the city. De la Commune is the first stretch of Old Montreal we ran through and the unadorned old (but reburbished) gray buildings had the stringent look of colonial times and I could be transported for a moment to imagine a time when these were truly occupied, the main settlement in Montreal, with horses clopping through the street.

We turned left and ran up a short and truly steep hill towards Notre-Dame and the pretty and touristy commercial area was lined with smiling and loud cheering supporters. It was really nice and you felt a pat on the back from them for making it up the hill and getting this far in the race. We were nearing the end of the half-marathon route so there were added to the crowds of family and friends scores of people already finished the half-marathon and 10K races. The energy was palpable and got me up two-thirds the last long, bugger of a steep hill up Berri (I think). The finish line couldn’t come soon enough and we finally split with the full marathoners by turning into Parc Lafontaine. The end was a bit of a blur wherein someone handed me a medal in a plastic bag and I was on a mission to find mum and Lil Sis. I saw Lil Sis 300 meters from the finish line when she jumped out in front of me and screamed out that we didn’t get late check out. Ack! So we had to skip the festivities and head back to check out.

The 2:10 playlist I created worked fairly well except for it not being quite long enough. I don’t train to music (rather, audiobooks) but my music is mostly old and so I know it well. It meant the newest songs to my iPod were very exciting to me and they included Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe, Far East Movement featuring Justin Bieber’s Live My Life, Alyssa Reid’s The Game and Nickelback’s When We Stand Together. Once upon a time, I might imagine myself in a club being all lithe and alluring during the Club Set of songs but these days, apparently another imagery was more fascinating and I warn you it’s graphic. Since it’s my first run to Nickelback’s When We Stand Together (and I love that song) I was enthralled by the tribal beat and imagined myself rocking out front row (or on stage) at an intimate Nickelback concert and across from very-taboo-to-like Chad Kroeger … whatever can distract you for a few minutes during a race, you just run with it.

Other notes that sprang up and occupied my thoughts during the run:

  • I’ve heard people say that Montreal’s subway system is the best in Canada and ranks high in their experience. I don’t know where people need to go or where they come from but I was pleased that when I needed to take a train at 7:30 on a Sunday morning, they had already been running since 5:30 in the morning. Sure, the frequency is about 10 minutes per train but that is a far cry from the situation in Toronto where no trains run on Sunday until 9:00.
  • I noticed so many signs cheering on Mariane as in, “Go Mariane Go!” and either it is a very common name or the lucky lady has friends all over the city.
  • I wondered with some anticipating how many times Sportstats would tweet my race progress after I signed up for live tweeted race results. I thought it might be linked to the timing mats which half-marathons crossed just three times: at the start, at 10K and at the end. I thought I registered properly but there was not a single tweet by Sportstats about my race. I’m disappointed.
  • The sign that made me laugh read “WORST PARADE EVER”. Races need more of stuff like that.
  • There were plenty of small children at the end accompanied by their parents near the finish line with hands raised to high-five. I was usually on the edge of the road anyhow and high-fived them all.
  • Unfortunately, I will not be able to go for a Heavy Medal this year because I will not complete more than one Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon Series race in this calendar year. :( But, wow, besides a striking and pretty green strap (albeit not nylon), this marathon medal is really thick, a third thicker than the thickest medal in my collection so far. This medal is sure to alert the X-ray machine operator at airport security if you travel back from your marathon by air.

My “mile-by-mile” breakdown:

  • 1k: was all on track (!) with a 6:06 kilometer
  • 2nd walking break (21:00-22:00): a gel break; I also lost the four safety pins I received at the expo and settled on three miniature safety pins from the hotel sewing kits and the bottom of the bib already ripped from the pin after 2 10-minute intervals such that I would be self-conscious throughout the race that my bib (and my result!) didn’t go flying off my body and into the St. Lawrence River.
  • 5k: finished around a little over 30 minutes
  • 8K: it felt like everyone was passing me and they were
  • “9K”: this marker was placed wrong because it could not and did not take me 57 minutes to do 9K
  • 10K: because then I crossed 10K just five minute later? My watch read 1:02 when I crossed the 10K mat
  • 11K: 1:09; I’d make my 1:10 goals with an unlikely one-hour back 10K
  • 6th walking break (1:05:00-1:06:00): had my Espresso Love Gu gel which had been stored in a pocket on my arm–it was warm and tasted like melted espresso ice cream
  • 90 minutes into the race: my hips felt inordinately tight; it was not debilitating and I got over it and onto other worries 9like being slow); next race I will consider popping an ibuprofen at the one-hour mark
  • My race bib ripped from one of the top safety pins and was hanging by just one pin so I had to tuck it into my Fuel Belt; so long to the idea of on-course photos but I did wave my race bib for the finish line cameras!
  • The big uphill to Notre-Dame was in the top five minutes of 10-minute interval so I caught my breath in the back five
  • As mentioned above, the big hill was on Berri and I made it up two-thirds of the way, yuck
  • During my 11th interval (1:50-2:00), I spent a good few minutes trying to remember when I started the interval and if my walk break was at 2:00 or 2:01; I still calculated it wrong, a sign my mental capacity was seriously flagging at that point
  • With 5K to go, I had forgone a third gel (feared I would puke before finishing) but had plenty of Powerade left; tossed back twice the amount I was drinking during walking breaks during my second last walking break … and got the most painful stitch; I spent three to five minutes walking between attempting to run and was grimacing in pain; it was horrible and entirely preventable.
My results ********

Chip time: 2:19:56.3 (average 2:07:53.79)
Overall: 6,578 / 8,693
In my field: 536 / 789
Amongst females: 3,028 / 4,541
10K time: 1:02:40.9 10K

On this day..


    1. Larissa says:

      I ran the Charlevoix marathon in Michigan this past June. My mom and I went up there the day boerfe and spent a day there after. It’s right next to Petosky, famous for petosky stones. Beautiful scenery along lake Michigan! It was a hot race, though, and a good PR course – a fairly flat out and back. It would be easy to take a trip out to Mackinaw while up there, too! Carb load on fudge! The race itself was a bit disorganized, though …Another great one to do would be the Grand Rapids Marathon. It’s this coming weekend. Grand Rapids holds “Art Prize” each year, where hundreds of artists come and display their art throughout downtown Grand Rapids in a competition judged by the public. The Marathon follows the Grand River, and many of these impressive art pieces are visible throughout the marathon. Scenic and fun! There is a bunch of stuff to do in downtown Grand Rapids, as well. Check it out!

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