On Sunday September 23, 2012, I just finished my first Montreal Rock ‘n Roll Marathon event. In fact, for approximately 27,000 of us, it was all of our first time as it was the inaugural running under the RnR banner. I participated in the half-marathon and savoured the entire experience from the expo, to the race course, to the post-race festivities. Let’s review what made this event special.
The Course: The best of Montreal means hills
The course is scenic and guides you through some of the best parts of Montreal which also means that it’s hilly. The Jacques-Cartier bridge serves as a stunning start line for the full- and half-marathon course. I was awestruck at the sight of thousands of runners swarming over a bridge normally occupied by cars. The race starts with a descent from the bridge where you get to enjoy the thrill of running through La Ronde amusement park as the rollercoasters and rides loom over you in silence.
You then head to Notre-Dame Island and then over a bridge back which affords some beautiful views of the St. Lawrence River. You are then routed through Old Montreal where you can enjoy the old architecture while the course avoids you running on cobblestones. It’s at this point where you start to encounter the hills – there are a few of them but there are some flat “breaks” in between. For half-marathoners, this is towards the end of their race so this can be quite difficult for some. For full-marathoners, however, they benefit in tackling these hills earlier on in their race.
The finish is at La Fontaine Park and it is relatively flat so you can pull off your most amazing sprint finish at the end and not look too much in agony. All-in-all, it is a fun course to run through but it’s best to approach this as an opportunity to run through a beautiful city rather than targeting a personal best.
The Logistics: A smooth orchestration of five simultaneous races
The race logistics were very well run (pardon the horrible pun) and everything flowed smoothly from the race kit pickup at the expo, to the starting corrals, to the on-course water and aid stations, to the festive finish at the end. What’s quite impressive is the fact that there is a simultaneous running of a full-marathon, half-marathon, 10K, 5K, and kids 1K all on the same course, all at the same time. As a testament to the race organizers, I didn’t notice any of this complexity.
The full- and half-marathoners were divided into at least 18 start corrals which would be released at two minute intervals. Given a race of this size, a staggered start is critical to providing runners with enough room to hit their desired pace. There was, however, some degree of congestion at the start as the paths leading away from the bridge were not that wide (and a little treacherous due to some rough patches on the road).
The aid stations were well managed with sports drinks, water, gels and bananas available to keep us fueled up. I do wish, however, that the volunteers would have shouted out what they had both in French AND English to make things a little easier. I also wonder why they don’t have the gels and bananas at the front of an aid station so that you can have your drink at the end in order to wash things down. Otherwise, the aid stations were more than fine.
My only minor quibble with this race is with the bag check. At the race beginning, I checked my bag on to a numbered bus corresponding to where my last name fell alphabetically. My last name starts with “Cha”, so I checked my bag into bus #4. When I finished my half-marathon, I looked for my bus to see that it was in a long queue of busses waiting to park. Busses were parked in reverse chronological order (from #30-something) and it was taking a long time for them to do multiple 3-point turns (does that mean they’re 6 or 9 point turns?) in order to get into their parking spots. Bus #4 wasn’t parked until an hour after I had finished. Fortunately, it was not too cold so I was OK, but if conditions were colder it would not have been good. I’m sure that RnR will factor this into their bag check approach for next year. Anyway, let’s finish off this review on a good note and talk about the ambience, shall we?
The Ambience: A Rock ‘n Rolling great time!
This event had rock and roll everywhere. There was a band playing near the transit arrival area at race start. There were bands strategically scattered throughout the initial part of the course where less spectators were expected to be. And these bands were good – really good. They played lots of covers of songs that many of us would be familiar with and would enjoy on a run. This RnR event lived up to its namesake.
As we headed back through Old Montreal, the crowds were euphoric to run through. As an English-speaking Ontarian, hearing French cheers was an unforgettable and encouraging experience for my ears. “Bravo monsieur! Bravo!” These foreign phrases would lift my spirits and fuel my legs to strengthen my pace.
At the end, La Fontaine Park provided a cozy setting for food and festivities. There were showers available (first time I’ve ever seen that!) and a family zone which included multiple bouncy castles and balloon animal artists. I relished at how inclusive this race was as it spanned multiple distances and I enjoyed seeing all different ages, shapes and sizes come together to celebrate the shared accomplishment of a run well done. And that’s exactly what this race was.
Rock ‘n Rollingly yours,