- 3 miles/5K, 6 miles/10K, 13.1 miles/Half Marathon, 26.2 miles/Marathon
- Road Race
- Event Website
The Rock ‘n Roll Marathon series came through Montreal for a whirlwind weekend of activity in the core of the city. How was it? Did it live up to my expectations or exceed them?
I’ve never run a “big” race in terms of sheer number of runners. The Vermont City Marathon 2017 in Burlington had been my largest to date, and that was less than 3000 people…a far cry from some of the major races. I’m just not a big crowd kinda guy. That said, Montreal is my city. I love it! I was born here and have lived here my entire life. Just like Montreal this race wasn’t without flaws.
Part of what drew me to this race is my personal history to it; as a budding photographer I covered many races in Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa, Toronto and beyond including several years of the Oasis Montreal Marathon including the star of the race at the old location on the Jacques-Cartier Bridge and the old finish line inside the Olympic Stadium. In my career I’ve seen blood, sweat, tears, smiles and sadly even a couple of deaths.
The 2018 edition of the Rock ‘n Roll Montreal Marathon featured an all-new start and finish area in the heart of the city in the area known as the Quartier Des Spectacles. This is the same area on Ste-Catherine street where the stages of the world renown Jazz Festival is held along with the FrancoFolies, Just For Laughs and a few others. It is centrally located, easily accessible by public transit and features lots of open space for the infrastructure needed for a major race.
The Rock ‘n Roll series features races of varied distances and Montreal was no exception; a 1k, 5k, 10k, Half-Marathon ans or course a full Marathon. You could choose to run in one race or combine one of Saturday’s and one of Sunday’s races to complete the Remix Challenge and collect an extra medal for your efforts.
I chose to run the 5k on Saturday to support a friend running his first ever 5k and I chose the half on Sunday. It would be a nice weekend spent traveling the streets of the city I love at a slower pace than usually seen from a car window!
The Expo…ah the expo. We gotta talk.
I sadly noticed a few major flaws with my expo experience.
I am a Montrealer born and bread. I am an anglophone but am bilingual…I have no problem living and working in a predominantly francophone city and province. The duality adds a beauty to the city, as they say a certain joie-de-vivre. That said I am hypersensitive to language issues as I understand that while I am proudly bilingual, many tourists and even some locals are not.
The province of Quebec has language laws in place dictating how much english can be used on signage and how large it can be. Contrary to popular belief English can in fact be displayed as long as French is the dominant language.
I am not trying to start a political debate over language; this province has more than enough of that!
Truth be told though I was very disappointed to see that there was not one single English word on any sign. None. No where!
So what right? No big deal.
Well, not quite. I spoke with a couple from Ontario as well as several Americans who were lost and looking for directions. Montreal’s marathon is billed as an international race hoping to draw participants from all over the place, the bare minimum they could provide is some English signage.
As mentioned above I decided to run the Remix Challenge where you are awarded one medal per race you complete and then a third medal for having run two races in two days. I found one major flaw in the sign-in process in that as I was signed up for both the 21.1k and the 5k I had to line up twice in different lines to collect my race bib and race packets. Instead of having those who chose the Remix line up in a dedicated line or in the VIP line I waited over a half hour in the half-marathon line and close to an hour in the 5k line. Very frustrating!
I also felt the Expo did not add to the overall race experience. It was far too commercial and in a characterless grey concrete room…a leftover monolith of Montreal’s late ’60s concrete construction boom. Fitting that it was designed in a style known as Brutalist…
On to the good stuff!
Saturday morning’s race was either the 5k or the 10k and on Sunday you could choose to run the half- or full-marathon.
I chose the 5k on Saturday to support a friend who had just started running and was running his first ever race, and opted for the half on Sunday as I was signed up for a trail marathon 3 weeks later…I didn’t want to push myself too hard.
The races this year were being run on brand new courses through the city streets of Montreal as opposed to previous years which stuck mostly to the city’s East End.
The 5k was a simple little loop running along de Maisonneuve street and looping through a couple of residential streets under the shadow of the Jacques Cartier bridge and heading to the finish along Ste-Catherine street.
Montreal is a vibrant city which is very ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse. The run along Ste-Catherine helped highlight that diversity as we ran through Montreal’s famed Gay Village AKA The Village. The Village is North America’s largest gay village in terms of area. In the summertime the Ste-Catherine portion of The Village is closed off to traffic making it a beautiful pedestrian walkway under the canopy of the art installation known as 18 Shades Of Gay by artist Claude Cormier.
My race time could have been faster but I kept stopping to make photographs…it didn’t matter; I was out to have fun not to set a PR!
Sunday’s race was the half, and again, I decided to have fun instead of going all out for a PR. Here’s the map:
The course for the Half was pretty nice and for the most part well designed. All of the runners running the Full and Half started together in waves along René-Lévesque street.
We turned south almost immediately and ran through Montreal’s financial district towards Old Montreal. I felt this was by far the nicest part of the race…having worked and spent lots of time in Old MTL I absolutely love it. Beautiful architecture, hundreds of years of history…amazing!
From that point we basically ran along St. Patrick street through Griffintown and into Verdun at times paralleling the Lachine Canal before hitting the midpoint and turning around.
I’m not the biggest fan out out-and-back races but understand that the are necessary from a logistical point of view. The race finishes with an uphill kick back into the Quartier Des Spectacles where the crowds were cheering on the finishers.
The running experience was great and had what you’d expect from a race called Rock And Roll…there were several bands on course to keep runners pumped up, and the crowd support outside of the finishing area was decent.
From the finish line I was ushered down a gauntlet to collect my medal and a KIND bar (thanks KIND!)
This is where my morning took a bit of a negative turn.
As mentioned I ran the Remix Challenge meaning I would receive a 3rd metal for completing 2 races in 2 days. A good incentive to push myself! I’d cross the finish line and they’d see my black bracelet identifying me as a Remix Challenge runner and hang my medals around my neck with much fanfare!
I walked from the finish line, through the maze of gates and all the way to where we were to pick up our post-race banana and bagel figuring maybe the medal would be there, saw it wasn’t so I walked all the way back to the finish line, took the pedestrian tunnel under the street and into the mall where the Marathon Info Center was, asked them and they told me it was next to the stage in the park where the post-race bananas were. Um, ok? I walked back there, searched around a bit and finally found someone who worked for the race. I asked them and was finally told where to go…it was near the finish line on the other side of a fence in an unmarked tent. I added what felt like 4-5k of walking after the race; in hindsight it was probably great for recovery but still not a fun way to spend 40 minutes.
All of that could have been avoided had it been explained at race packet pickup…you know…in the dedicated Remix Challenge race packet pickup line!
Speaking of lines:
This has since been addressed by local race officials but bag-check was a nightmare! People waited over 2 hours to pick up their checked bags…some runners waiting longer for their bag post-race than time spent actually running the half-marathon. That’s just wacky! A new system will undoubtedly be in place for the race next year but the damage was done…
My race experience was mostly positive because the stuff I complained about really didn’t affect me; I speak French fluently and didn’t check a bag, the running around post-race for the medal was an inconvenience but it wasn’t the end of the world.
I’d definitely recommend the race if for no reason other than it being an awesome time to visit a city that is full of amazing restaurants, a great night life and tons of history! It’s a great course hitting lots of the highlights the city has to offer and once some wrinkles are ironed out it’ll be a fantastic event!
All photographs are mine: please do not republish without my permission!
All photographs were made using an iPhone 8.