46. Montréal Marathon, 2009

I recently completed my second marathon. A single marathon is plenty of accomplishment for anybody, of course. The sensible thing would be to declare victory and go back to your regular existence. It’s just not that easy, though. Something about the experience draws a person back into the mix. This time the event was held in Montréal, and the weather was better than I could have hoped for.

Training Up

There are all sorts of schedules and things that you can get for training. I didn’t follow any of them. I just kept extending my route and hoped for the best. I was moving in with my girlfriend near the end of it, and there were a few other things in the way. The weather kept me indoors a few times, and I’ll admit that there were days when I just didn’t feel like going out there for two hours.

The bright side of this is that I’m sure I haven’t reached my top-end. With better training, I’ll get better results. My times should continue to decrease before my age eventually catches up with me. I did a good bit of hill training here in Burlington, so I was ready for a bit of elevation. The farthest I ran before the event was just under 17 miles, although I would recommend a longer top-end for others who wish to train up for this kind of event.

The Hotel for Single Guys

Cara went with me to Montréal to lend moral support. (And to drive me home after the event.) I had chosen a hotel from Travelocity based upon proximity to the metro lines, but I noticed a couple of things upon reaching the place. First, there was a Starbucks maybe five doors up the street. That was good. Second, there was a strip club immediately next-door to the little hotel. That would have been good if I had been single. Hell, it would have convenient. In my case, it just provided a little comedy. The photo below was taken on Sunday morning as we left for the event.

Montréal Marathon, 2009
Hotel Quartier Latin, right next to Gentleman’s Choice.

Cara managed to get the weekend off, so we went up on Saturday. That gave us a day to walk around and enjoy the city. There were parks, restaurants, homeless people with pets and lots of walking. By the time we got back to the hotel, we were ready for bed.

About the Course

Cara at the Métro
Cara doesn’t want to mess with the crowd while we wait for the train.

There were several events going on at the same time. 1K, 5K, 10K, half-marathon, full marathon, and even a bike race. All sorts of people were doing all sorts of things all over town. It’s hard to imagine how the city functioned on race day, unless everyone just took the metro.

Our hotel was near a metro hub which led in straight lines to both ends of the course, so it was easy enough to find our way. I figured we would see a few people, but I didn’t anticipate the numbers we saw. It seemed like the whole city was in the metro station with us, and they were all running that day.

Showing up Early Has Its Perils

Montréal Marathon, 2009
We had no coffee, but we smiled anyway.

My pre-race Starbucks semi-ritual was foiled by a locked door. Nothing was open when we left the hotel. What the hell? Even on a Sunday, the coffee shops should open up before 9am.

We didn’t have much of a breakfast plan since we didn’t know the area very well, so we just checked out and took our stuff to the parking garage to dump it in the car. Once we went to the metro, there was no coming back until the marathon was over. There was no breakfast or coffee. I would have to eat my goo packet just before the race began, and Cara would have to grab food after she made it back to the downtown metro station.

Run Naked!

I should explain this shirt. It’s from Run Naked Sports in California. It was sent to me as a gift from my marathon buddy Amy. She blogs as well, but with a longer list of marathons. When I first met her at the Kiawah Island marathon, she was wearing a similar shirt. After the obligatory jokes, we made friends pretty much instantly. Here’s a link to my post on the Kiawah Island Marathon from 2008.

Amy has been a source of internet support since I met her. As this marathon approached, she would post encouraging comments on my Facebook page, send me messages… you know, all the good stuff. Then out of the blue she asked for my home address and sent me this shirt. Clearly I don’t deserve her.

The response during the marathon was pretty good. I don’t suppose I have to tell you how the French react when someone suggests being naked, even by way of a t-shirt. Let’s just say that there were a few pleasant comments, and plenty of smiles.

Aside from the fun name, the shirt has many virtues. It’s really comfortable, it breathes well and the words are reflective. Even with Body Glide I was expecting to chafe a bit, but it wasn’t anywhere near what I expected. After the event I gladly sent photos to Joan at Run Naked Sports. I’m glad to endorse her products, and I hope I wind up on her website somewhere.

Montréal Marathon, 2009
Showing off my Run Naked shirt.

Gathering Up the People

As the moment approached, I left Cara behind and joined the gathering crowd. The half-marathon started first, which allowed me to visit the porta-johns before we started. When we finally gathered up for our event, I looked around for the 4:45 pace runner. It was a little old man. Seriously, he had to be in his late sixties. Maybe he was older, though. Runners age really well sometimes. I was looking for a 5-hour finish, so I worked my way back a little and settled into the crowd.

The Race Itself: First Half

Things were pretty standard in the beginning. We had to shuffle to the Starting Line as the crowd spread out, but then we could slide into a light jog. I waved to Cara as I rounded the first corner and we were off to the city.

Montréal Marathon, 2009
After I went by, Cara went back to downtown Montréal to get some food.
Montréal Marathon, 2009
I had just run through a traffic light before it turned red. Seriously.

After maybe two kilometers I made a few friends. Chad works in downtown Montréal and was running his very first marathon. Before his father passed away earlier this year, Chad promised to run the Montréal Marathon, 2009. Fortunately, he has some very experience friends who helped him train. Mark and Christine were running as bandits on the first half, just to keep Chad on schedule. After the half-way point, they left and were replaced by Chad’s uncle. It was really cool. Somebody was with him all the way to the end.

For my part, I really enjoyed running with them. We chatted and joked around, and just generally had a good time. There was just one problem. Chad had been training harder than I had been, with help from some really experienced runners. As a result, his pace was just a little bit faster than I should have been doing. They were planning a 4:30 finish while I was planning for 5:00.

We reached the half-way point at 2:12 or so, and I decided to let them go. I waved to Mark and Christine as they left, met Chad’s uncle, and then said my fond farewells. I wish I had gotten some contact information, but who knows? Maybe I’ll bump into them again sometime.

The Race Itself: Second Half

Between Kilometers 21 and 30, my lack of proper training began to show. Things got harder and harder. I walked a couple of times, but never for very long. Only enough to take the sting out of my legs. As usual, my wind was fine but my muscles were burning a little.

I didn’t mind it, though. I wish I had the words to describe how much energy there was on the streets. There were so many people cheering us. Some just stood by the street calling to us, while others waved from sidewalk cafés. It lent us power, and put smiles on our faces. Kilometer by kilometer, the experience was wonderfully positive.

Montréal Marathon, 2009
Cara made an attempt to find me during the event, but without success.
Montréal Marathon, 2009
Marie was a fantastic running partner.

Somewhere along the line a woman passed me while I was walking and said “Allez, allez…” (Translation: “Go, go…”) I had seen her before. We had passed each other on a few occasions. I picked the pace up to a light run and we were off. After a few minutes we introduced ourselves. Her name is Marie. We spoke only in French, but we didn’t say much. Mostly counting the kilometers and deciding whether to wait until the next water station before we walked.

On several occasions I simply had to walk a bit. I pushed farther on this run than I ever had before. At first I was guilty about it, but Marie turned out to have about the same strength level as I did. We were a good pair, and we kept each other from slacking. I’m certain that she took several minutes off of my time at the very least. We walked through each water station, but we never stopped. Even when we slowed to a walk, it was a brisk one. Marie and I stuck together all the way to the stadium. It was an incredible stroke of luck to find her.

The Big Finish

The marathon finished in the Olympic Stadium. This is where the olympic marathon runners finished in 1976, so it was a pretty big deal. We came in on one side, ran the length of the track and then turned around in a rough “U” to the Finish Line. And of course, once I got a visual on the Finish Line I picked up my jogging pace and moved into a sprint.

Final Sprint

The big difference here was that I didn’t spend much time walking. Last time I was better trained but more lazy. I walked a good bit during the Kiawah Island Marathon, so there were enough energy reserves to run the last mile or so at a good clip. This time I had pushed myself through the entire event, and all I had left was my force of will. It was enough to push a couple hundred meters, but not enough for the whole stadium. That last crazy push was costly.

There were some medical people at the Finish Line, and they asked me if I was okay. I said yes, but my left leg had locked up after I stopped running. I was walking with a stunted limp. Several people were looking at me like I was delirious and about to fall over. As I started to head for the kids with the medals, another pair of people in white clothing asked if I was okay. This time it was in English.

Okay, I get it. They have to be satisfied that I’m not burned out or something. I told the lady that my leg had cramped up, and she directed me to the physical therapy tent. I thanked her and moved on. The young man who put the medal around my neck looked at me with a mix of concern and surprise. I really must have looked terrible.

In the photo below I was coming out of the Finishing Area to meet with Cara. I was glad that she had been there to see me finish, but I couldn’t put much expression on my face. Marie (behind me in the photo) walked up to share the moment of victory, and I introduced her to Cara. After that we moved off towards wherever the Québecois had stashed the bagels.


I got my bag of food and sat down on the floor to eat it with my girlfriend. She had a concerned look on her face, as if she couldn’t decide whether I needed a doctor or a psychiatrist. I looked at her through my exhausted mask of a face and said “This is fun.”

“Okay,” she replied.

“I paid for this,” I said.

“That’s nice,” she replied.

After a few minutes I was ready to leave. Unfortunately I was in for a bit of a shock. We had to climb these crazy blue stairs to escape the stadium.

I just stood there and stared at them for a moment, while Cara waited patiently. Finally, I screwed my courage to the sticking place and moved forward. We had to get back to the Metro, after all.

Final Thoughts

There are certain things which go without saying. Montréal is beautiful and the people are really nice. A marathon is a fantastic accomplishment, and completing two of them deepens my membership in a sub-culture which I’ve come to love as much as I admire it. And of course, now that I’ve done more than one marathon I can claim to have a “personal best” time.

Got My Bagel and Water
Got my bagel and water. Ready to go home.

There’s more to it than that, however. This time I had someone to look out for me. Cara was there to take pictures, lend moral support, and more importantly to get my barely-functioning carcass back home to Burlington. Everything is much easier and much more enjoyable when somebody has your back.