Latest reviews by Tim Snow
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.
I am so conflicted with this race!
First the positives! The race benefits the Quebec Lung Association which made running it a no-brainer as my father passed away from pulmonary fibrosis, a little known and studied lung disease which seems to be on the rise. So yeah...this one’s for you pop! The morning turned out to be beautiful, a breeze off of the water and cool temps made for a pleasant run. The race had small-town vibes (more on that later), a decent course through the local streets (again, more on that later) and a very flat out-and-back course.
It was also a great early season half-marathon to get primed for a summer of running and racing!
Overall though I left feeling pretty neutral. I was stoked to finally break 2-hours and PR in the half-marathon + finished 14th overall! Ok so there were only 38 entrants but I’ll take it!
I was a bit underwhelmed from the moment I arrived. Let’s just say the curb appeal left a lot to be desired as the start/finish area was in a construction zone.
Race packet pickup was super easy as most local runners picked up the night before. The race was a 1h45 drive for me so pickup the prior day wasn’t much of an option. There were a few kiosks set up promoting the local triathlon and running store but that’s about it.
Prior to the start there was a brief group warm upanimated by a local cardio trainer.
The half-marathon started at 9am. The 10k went off at 9:10am. The race itself was on local streets which followed a waterfront off and on and ran through some farmland. Sorel-Tracy is a smaller town with a very suburban feel. It felt much like I was running on the streets near my house. The views along the course were kind of underwhelming; it’s probably a good thing as the streets were not closed to traffic so you had to pay attention to people pulling out from driveways and cars travelling at 50 MPH a few feet from you. There was not one spectator along the route either...if it wasn’t for the bib safety pinned to my shorts I would have thought I was on a training run occasionally passing others out on their Sunday AM run as well.
The website for the race had links to the course but unfortunately the links were dead...I had no idea where the aid stations were or really where we’d be running. There ended up being 2 aid stations along the half-marathon route...one at the 5k mark and one at the 10k mark. As the race was an out-and-back you technically had 4 chances to get water or a sport drink (I think it was Gatorade in throw-away paper cups...c’mon races! Go cupless!)
I like using Tailwind so I ran with a 500ml Nathan handheld and drank most of it by the 10k mark, emptied it out, added fresh water and the powder I had in a baggie in my pocket and was fine like that. There were supposed to be gels available but I did not see those anywhere...a good reason why you should carry your own stuff!
The course was flat and fast with volunteers encouraging runners at major intersections and turns. Really easy to follow...especially since the majority of the course followed the same road.
I have one piece of constructive criticism. Start the 1k a bit later or have the 1k course go a different direction. Myself and a few other runners were dodging the kids at the end of our race...not the end of the world but could have ended badly if a kid darted out in front of a runner.
As the race was a fundraiser there were no finishers medals for the 5-10-21.1k distances. The kids in the 1k race did receive one. The t-shirt was a cotton one that was basically sponsors logos and not much else. Everyone who finished regardless of distance was given a reusable plastic bottle.
All-in-all it was an ok experience. A decent race if you want to help contribute to the Quebec Lung Association ($8000 was raised which is rad!) but not a race I would suggest as a destination race if it is your only one for the season.
This is a well organized trail race in the beautiful Eastern Townships of Quebec. Door to door it is a 2-hour drive from Montreal and is well worth the drive as the race happens during peak foliage season. On a good year (like last year) it seems the trees are on fire with color! This year was a bit underwhelming due to our warm and dry autumn...the colors never really materialized. As I say no sense in complaining about weather as we can't do anything about it!
As I said I have run this race 2 years in a row now...it is just that fun! There are a few different distances
- 1k fun run for kids
- 5k - 480 ft of climbing
- 11.5k - 2027ft of climbing
- 20k - 2800ft of climbing
- 23k - 3195ft of climbing
I have chosen the 20k distance both times and it is absolutely gorgeous with a little surprise at the end. The first 10-12km are beautiful rolling cross country ski trails and are a blast! You almost forget that you are racing, settling in to a nice pace and talking with friends and fellow runners. Save your energy here...you'll need it later in the race! I've seen people be sucked into the ease of the trail and pay for it at the end!
Around the 14th kilometer you start slowly climbing...and keep climbing...here's the twist. This race is on a ski hill and you spend most of the morning running away from it. And then slowly back to it. And then over it. From kilometer 14-17 you gain 1300 or so feet on some already tired legs. This is where lots of people, myself included, walk. It is a challenge and it makes you curse, and it is a good reason why I love this race! Part of the climb is technical singletrack, then some of it is a straight shot up the mountain before you hit some switchbacks.
The final 3km are downhill; you get around 1km of reprieve on a fire road flying by leaf peepers climbing to the summit and get a bit of encouragement, but then it is back into the woods for some technical singletrack to test your tired quads. You re-emerge from the woods and onto a black diamond ski slope for the final KM, but that is also pretty technical...watch your step or you will go down!
Some final notes: the finish meal is great! A nice chicken and cranberry sandwich, some cheese and some chocolate milk! as the race is in October a hot meal would be nice; it's pretty chilly outside! Not unbearable but definitely puffy jacket weather. There isn't an expo but some vendors are set up at the start/finish area including Salomon and as I'm a Salomon ambassador I made sure to stop by and say hi...they had some nice puffy chairs and my friend and I made sure to take full advantage!
The shirt and medal are nice, and though there isn't a ton of crowd support it does have a small town feel to it. They lose some points for organization in my eyes as all of the signage/announcements are only in French. I am bilingual so it doesn't bother me but if anyone was traveling to this race from NY or VT it could be a problem for them...hate for them to miss the start of their race or any important information!
Overall, a great race that I am sure I will three-peat next fall!
What a wonderful experience for my first marathon!
After a couple of years being a runner and close to 20 years photographing races of different lengths I bit the bullet and decided to run my first marathon. I chose Burlington Vermont for a few reasons; I have always had a love affair with Vermont, growing up I spent many weekends couch surfing in South Burlington after incredible concerts at Burlington's 242 Main, an all-ages punk rock venue. As I discovered hiking and later trail running Vermont's Green Mountain and the Long Trail were always high on my list as a destination...an easy 2.5 hour drive and I'm there! I also didn't want my first 26.2 to be a cattle call type of affair with 50,000 other runners, crowded everything and a really impersonal feel.
When I signed up for the race I also signed up for the "New to 26.2" option which included a Marathoner In Training type shirt, and most importantly, a coach who offered a training plan and a private facebook group where all of us new marathoners could share our training stories, positive or negative, nutrition and gear tips. It turned out to be a great group of people, and we regularly keep each other up to date in our current training and goals.
As race weekend approached it became clear that I made the right move in booking a hotel early (I drove down the day before from Montreal, roughly 2 hours from Burlington). My biggest piece of advice for this race: BOOK YOUR HOTEL EARLY!!! Burlington does not have a ton of hotels. The Vermont City Marathon is a Boston Qualifying race, it falls on Memorial Day weekend AND it is the weekend that most Burlington university students graduate...I heard a lot of people complaining that the hotels were all booked and they had to stay 30-45 minutes away. As the race starts at 7AM, this means an even earlier wake up call then normal.
I arrived the afternoon before the race to pick up my race kit and check out the expo. Picking up the race kit was simple, I didn't even have to wait in line. The race shirt was really nicely designed though I took some points off as I can't stand race shirts that have all of the sponsors logos on the back. As Hoka One One are a title sponsor they had a large presence at the expo, and the majority of the tables were local Vermont companies from maple syrup to medical practitioners to the local Fleet Feet. It was nice but I didn't linger as they didn't really have much to offer me.
Race day! Most hotels offer a shuttle service to the start line which is a nice touch. I decided to drive so I could have a speedy return to my hotel to shower and change after the race for the ride back home. I found free parking 15 minutes walking distance from the start line which was a perfect warm-up/cool-down before and after the race. Lines for the porta-potties were predictably long but that's pretty much par for the course. Weather was weather...can't complain about stuff we can't change!
The course itself was beautiful! Starting on the water in Battery park then running through Church Street was a lot of fun and the crowd support was fantastic! You then do a roughly 5-mile out and back on the Burlington Beltline surrounded by green...beautiful place to let your mind wander, run through some misting tents to cool off, stop to pee again at some less crowded porta-potties (I drink lots of tea...) and have the elites breeze by you on the other side of the road...they are flying!
After that you do another fly-by on Church heading towards South Burlington. Again, the crowds were fantastic! I ended up running into (heh!) some folks from the "New to 26.2" group and we stuck together for some great miles, chatting as we ran, swapping stories. it was great!
Once we left South Burlington we were met with the Assault On Battery, the climb that everyone dreads near mile 15. I actually quite like hills so I loved it, taking in the crowds that were there encouraging everyone!
From there we headed into northern Burlington and the neighborhood section of the race. It was absolutely festive with people set up on their lawns handing out water, popsicles and maple syrup to the runners. It was a super section of the course, especially as I was in a bit of pain suffering from some IT band issues from miles 20-24 and had to walk in parts. This is where the community kicks in as runners and spectators alike offered encouragement! I finally flagged down a medical person who gave me some pain killers and was able to run again from miles 24-26.2...which features some beautiful scenery and you run along the bike path parallel to Lake Champlain with views of the Adirondacks across the water.
The finish was electrifying! The chute was super loud as people lined both sides to cheer on their loved ones and encourage strangers for what felt like a half-mile! Wow it was loud!
After collecting my medal and realizing I ran a marathon (never thought I'd do that!) i grabbed some of the great food for the finishers including hot pizza and hung around but sadly couldn't really enjoy the atmosphere as I had 30 minutes to get my car, get to the hotel, shower and head home.
All-in-all it was an absolutely incredible experience that I could not recommend any stronger. Be it your first or 20th make sure you add the Vermont City Marathon to your list! Oh another nice touch is the free race photos...make sure to thank your photographer!
A freezing cold half in the middle of a Montreal winter...yes please!
This is a race put on by the Canadian running store chain Running Room (or here in Quebec Coin Des Coureurs).
They have some fun races that are well organized but seem to have a corporate cookie cutter feel. Their philosophy is to get people into the store, signed up for a training club, then set one of their races as the goal. Not a bad system, just not really my cup of tea. I tend to do a couple of them every year, but they are always B races to test fitness and practice pacing/nutrition etc...
The real draw for me with this race is the idea of a challenging winter run...I love running in the winter! It was a cold one but that was to be expected. I arrived a couple of hours early to park and pick up my race kit. Parking can be tough on Ile-Ste-Helene so an early arrival is always recommended. The nice part is that the start/finish area is steps from a metro station so public transit is a great option! Race kit pick up was easy enough and I used the 10-minute out and back to my car to drop extra stuff off as a warm up.
The swag is ok. It's a backpack with the store's logo on it...but really feels mass-produced and cheap...no Patagonia or North Face gear here! We use it as a diaper bag.
The course scenery is pretty basic; it actually skips the nicer parts of the island but there is a lot of construction going on so that may have been why they did that. Part of the run is on the Gilles Villeneuve F1 race track which is kind of nice. I felt the whole experience to be somewhat underwhelming as I have run there recreationally as well as photographing several races there...been there done that! It was nice seeing everything shrouded in white though, gave it a different feel.
The footing is icy for sure! It's a Montreal race in the winter! Make sure you wear traction aids or shoes with lots of grip! One thing they should add is warming pads in the aid stations as the road was treacherous there due to the spilled water and Gatorade! The pads could melt the spilled liquids! Careful out there!
I took it a bit easy and stuck with the 2-hour pace group and they ran a great pace...nice and steady!
The finishing meal was a highlight though...after freezing for a couple of hours hot pancakes were amazing!
Overall it is a pleasant experience, a bit on the expensive side, but not one that will stand out after years of racing experience. The Running Room races and good and reliable, kinda like upscale fast food. You know what you will get every time and it fills a hole in your belly but you wish it was something better...