This race report is written by Kelly Pollock, a mom of two from Chapel Hill, N.C., who is Dimity's "cadet" in the Saucony 26Strong program. Next month, Kelly will be taking on her first 26.2, the Philadelphia Marathon, with Dimity by her side. Kelly ran the Rock 'N' Roll Montreal Half-Marathon last weekend as a lead-up to Philly. Next Thursday, Sarah's cadet, Alison Pellicci, will report on the half-marathon she's running this weekend, Grete's Great Gallop in NYC.
My husband, Mike, and I headed up to Montreal, a gorgeous city with an "old-world," European feel, without our kids, which is a big deal for us. I was set to run the race with gal-pals Jen and Sissy, and Sissy's 25-year-old daughter, Keuren. Race day dawns in the 80s with high humidity--far-from-ideal race conditions, but c'est la vie. (Ha, ha: I actually don't speak a word of French.)
On Sunday morning, Jen, Sissy, Keuren, and I ride the Metro across the St. Lawrence River to the starting line. Not being a big city girl, I always get excited riding any type of subway, and the cars are packed with other runners. The race starts on the Jacques Cartier Bridge, and we are greeted, in French, at the top of the bridge by an electronic sign. I’m pretty sure it says, “Have a good Half Marathon”, which is “Demi-Marathon” in French. Somehow, “demi” sounds so much more chic than “half."
Despite most of the runners being from French-speaking Quebec, we all speak the universal language of running. Everyone is chatting in a combination of English and French--runners are such a friendly group of people! The entire bridge is a sea of pep and bright colors.
Dimity and I had discussed my race strategy, and I go over it in my mind as we wait in starting corrals that feel more like mosh pits. There were 35,000 people in this race and the atmosphere was pure excitement, with the announcer releasing the groups with countdowns in French.
The race takes us off the bridge and immediately into a beautiful park on the edge of the city, across another bridge, to St. Helene’s Island. The hotter-than-expected weather begs us to watch our pace, but I'm so excited, I just haul butt! There is no shade on the island and we running on asphalt, with the sun really beating down. The first six miles are on the island and through an amusement park.
Sissy, Keuren, and I are running three abreast when, over the sound of my headphones at Mile 6, I hear what sounds like cat-calling in French. I take out one earbud and hear a man, calling something out in French, running past me, only to be greeted with a view of his leopard-print sarong'ed-bootie once he passes me. Ooo, la, la!! I can’t say I’ve ever seen THAT in a race before! All the women around us laugh and joke about this guy for at least half a mile.
We continue on through the rest of the park to the bridge connecting us to downtown Montreal. The aid stations, attended by groups of enthusiastic teenagers, are plentiful, and there is a band about every two miles along the route. So much fun!
The last third of the race has us running through Old Montreal on the cobblestones down by the port. It's like running through an old European city--on tricky footing. The cobblestones are about the size of bricks, and some of them are missing, which results in holes. Someone had the forethought to put orange traffic cones over the holes so at least we do not step in them but we certainly had to stay alert. Thankfully, the cobblestones are only about a mile of the race along the waterfront by the port.
Running through history is wonderful, but the hills hit right after we turn off the waterfront and into the heart of the modern city so my pace slows down a lot. The sights, though, were plentiful! The course winds through what I think can only be described as Montreal’s “red light district." Being a slower runner, I often have the opportunity to take in everything during a race, so I see a lot during those three blocks! (I took pictures but none of them are PG-13 so I won't share.)
As I head away from the, ahem, adult entertainment around Mile 10, I round a corner and am greeted with a Molson sign. I start a mantra in my head, “Run toward the beer, Kelly, run toward the beer.” (I love beer!)
Alas, the course makes a turn away from the beer for the final 2.1 miles. The spectator crowds grow thicker and I start scanning them for Mike, who has never before seen me finish a race. The atmosphere becomes electric with the crowds screaming in French and the final band playing. I hit the entrance to Parc La Fontaine, where the finish line awaits. I pass the turn-off for the full marathon and am grateful I don't have to run another 13.1 miles, only to remind myself that, on November 23, I will be one of those people heading toward that distant finish line.
The park is absolutely beautiful and, mercifully, shaded by canopies of trees. I come around the last corner with a little pep still in my legs and hit the finish line, where Keuren is waiting for me. Sissy finished next, then Jen. Mike gives me a finishing hug. I am off my PR by three minutes (probably due to the heat and taking so many pictures!), but it was an amazingly fun race through a beautiful city! I'll drink to that!
Half Marathon #5 – done. Onward to 26.2!