Lost in Translation – My Montreal Marathon Training Attempt

J’aime Montreal.  Really, I do. You are a foodie’s emporium, an architectural wonder, a historical link from imperial rule to modern radicalism. You are worldly and cosmopolitan and everything I want in a big city.  It’s not you – it’s me. I was not ready for you. I was not prepared to accept you for all that you are.  I think I need to mature, maybe see other cities. You are so much more than I deserve. We’ll chalk this up to a messy, one day stand.  Thank you Jesse Dryden and Alisan Funk for hooking us up on this blind date.

I set myself a test goal of three marathon distances in the month of November.  As I had a little time off and the weather had been holding steady, I thought a nice trip across the border would be pleasant.  Phenomenal friends had been urging me to visit all year. It’s a beautiful city, the altitude map of the marathon didn’t look too daunting, and I had good friends who knew the city and wanted to support my endeavor.  This should have been a dream date run.  Where did it all go wrong? What can I do better?  Let’s start with the big lessons that I learned or were reinforced on this trip.

Surveying the Route 

When you are running a race without the normal race crew in place, you need to study the roads back and forth and up and down.  No volunteers blocking the wrong route, no signs saying you have reached mile 12, no friendly officers to wave you through intersections.  Three things I need to be aware of before I start my run.

  1. Construction.  The late fall has inspired many structural road repairs.  There were a number of areas under construction that were a little unsafe for me to be running through, even on a relatively empty Sunday morning.
  2. Road/Sidewalk/Shoulder Quality.  Most races shut down roads or at least limit access so the runners are actually racing on the road. I will not have that luxury.  In Montreal for the most part, I had sidewalks most of the run. In the more rural areas, I will be running on the side of the road where dirt, gravel, and sand will not give me the same purchase.
  3. Special Access.  Some races provide access to unique areas to run through. Montreal has La Ronde, a small amusement park that sits on the north end of Île Sainte-Hélène.  I thought I might sneak through, but security guards were sitting at the entrance, flashing their lights at me.  I need to prepare contingencies not only for connecting the route, but also for making up any lost miles.

Race Preparation

I am grateful for the wonderful friends I have and I am sometimes overwhelmed by the amazing people they are and the remarkable things they do.  In planning my trip next year, I haven’t been allocating enough time before the race.  I’ve been thinking I could just cruise into town, run my race, then decide what to do from there.  I now realize I need at least one more day before the race if possible.  This will give me time to either catch up with old friends who are hosting me or learn more about the incredibly generous strangers who have extended me the hospitality of their homes and get myself together for the task at hand.  Certain hosts may not have time for me or have no desire to extend themselves to me.  That’s fine; I can make the most of that time then, but that is usually not the case with my friends or friends of friends. I may have got caught up in the pleasure of being surrounded by kith and kin and may not have gotten everything done the night before I needed to get done. I didn’t actually drive the course and Google Street View was not as helpful for imprinting landmarks as would have hoped. Also – note to self – Print Race Checklists.

Don’t Believe the Weatherman

The day before my trip, Accuweather said I could expect a High of 54 and a Low of 32 in Montreal.  As I set out, Sunday morning, it was a balmy 21 degress and that’s not including the winds over the river or whipping down the larger causeways. If we topped 40 degrees I’d be surprised. I did have the wherewithal to grab an extra shell jacket but I was really freezing my butt off.  I generate heat like a furnace when I run, but I have learned that although I stop feeling the cold as my body warms up, I am wasting energy in the cold that I need to be saving for the end of the race.  I need to pick up some cheap extra layers that I can easily discard along the route.  If you see me running some morning in Memphis or Oklahoma City with an “I Love My Cute Kitty” sweatshirt and pink sweatpants that say “juicy” on the backside, expect to find them on the side of the road later that day.


I got lost.  Multiple times I missed streets, took alternate routes, had to double back.  That was ok because I had some miles to make up for missing the amusement park midways, but overall it’s disconcerting and discombobulating.  The course is not overly complicated – for the most part Montreal is laid out nicely on a grid.  However a combination of the the French, missing signs, and construction areas led me astray and became disheartening.  This is Canada which is international – a whole other country.  My phone was not working properly and even with a program designed to not need data to operate, it was a struggle.  A struggle that eventually beat me up that day.  I now know to make sure I have print outs of the more difficult areas of the map.  Perhaps I’ll have GloboRun stickers to put on buildings or signs to keep me on track. I will probably switch from Nike as a running app to an application that will track me in realtime like Runkeeper so people and hosts will know exactly where to find me.

I may not have finished the run, but I did take away many lessons and really enjoyed running the city and getting to explore.  I could not have had better hosts.  Jesse and Alisan are incredibly supportive and even offered to run 3 or 4 of the final miles with me.  Jesse met me on the trail with water and energy and then waited forever when I got lost and couldn’t find my way back to our next meeting point. During my stay, I got to play a game with the two of them where we kept changing the rules to improve the experience of the game.  Even though the rules kept changing and I would occasionally get hung up on one of the discarded actions, we kept moving forward towards the larger goal of enjoying ourselves while establishing rules which duplicated that most consistently.  Hopefully I can approach my trip with the same perspective. My trip is malleable.  I am the captain of this vessel, and I will change course as I see fit and the tides allow. If something isn’t working, I hope I can allow my ego to let it go, so I can follow a new flow that will lead to a more enhanced experience.

One thought on “Lost in Translation – My Montreal Marathon Training Attempt

  1. Wow, Derek- what incredible insight and such a way with words! Sorry it wasn’t the best run but what a learning experience…it’s all “good” right? You’re amazing!

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