The charm and challenge of the Quebec City Marathon
One of the country's most popular road races
This weekend, Oct 11-13, trees painted a rainbow of colours adds vibrancy to Quebec City, one of the country’s most charming cities, as thousands of runners will put their high-performance sneakers to the cobblestone of the old town on the St. Lawrence River for the 21st running of the SSQ Quebec City Marathon.
For those who want a race experience with a European flair, it is hard to top the historic and, let’s face it, drop-dead gorgeous thoroughfares of Quebec City from Rue Petit Champlain to the Grande Allée. And that’s why the race changed its course last year to concentrate on showing off its rather sizable heritage attributes in addition to getting a larger crowd out to support the runners.
We can still hear the chorus of thank you’s from the lucky and very happy runners who broke in the new course in 2018.
“The new Quebec City course unveiled last year, with its picture-postcard decor, is hard to beat,” says Marianne Pelchat, a race ambassador. “The view on the St. Lawrence River, the Château Frontenac, the Plains of Abraham and the chance to run through the streets of eight picturesque neighbourhoods is quite extraordinary.”
The event features a full marathon, as well as a half-marathon, 10K, 5K and mini-2K. Organizers are hoping for a cool 10,000 runners to attend the race this year, and thousands more to take part in the festivities.
The looped course takes in the best parts of the old town of Quebec City — a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the only fortified city north of Mexico. In addition, the route includes funky nabes such as Limoilou and Sillery that offer racers a different look at the provincial capital.
Pelchat, like many other runners, has her favourite spots along the route.
“Definitely the Plains of Abraham. It's a unique portion of the course and a must-see attraction for Quebec City,” she says. “When we arrive on the plains, we are just over half. The view and atmosphere give us this little boost of energy to finish the race.”
According to Samantha Picard-Tham, the race was changed to contain the route within Quebec City, fantastic for runners but also easily accessible to the legions of fans who now make a point of lining the route and participating in the fun.
“This is now a 100 per cent Quebec City race,” she says. “Before, there were not a lot of supporters on some sections of the course because it was out near the water, but since last year when we moved it all into the city, there are a lot more people cheering the runners.”
There are also many activities planned along the route to take runners’ minds off what some might consider a bit of a hilly course.
“There are animations on every part of the race,” says Picard-Tham, explaining that it could be anything from live music to students from the local circus school to colourful public artworks designed specifically for race day. “We want to make sure everybody feels welcome and has a great time all weekend.”
This Boston Qualifier offers many twists and turns along the route, a few hills as well as one long climb. All part of the charm, says Pelchat, who enjoys a good quad buster.
“Each marathon has its challenge anyway,” she says. “The climb from the Basse-Ville to the Haute-Ville is to Quebec City Marathon what the Heartbreak Hills are to the Boston Marathon! It requires to adapt the pace slightly. Don’t attack them, focus on moving the arms and enjoy the cheers coming for the crowd.”
Before race day, there is a race expo on Friday and Saturday with 50 booths. On Friday evening, there will be a complimentary yoga and fitness class for runners. Following the race, there is a cooling area for participants to unwind before taking in some of the city’s incredible scenery, in a more leisurely capacity.
“Old Quebec is full of small restaurants and bars to grab a bite and a drink,” says Pelchat, who also encourages racers to explore the various neighbourhoods along the route. And, those who enjoy a good biére after the race never had it so good. Noctem Artisans Brasseurs, write it down.
Quebec City is, well, ideal for a runners vacation. Mon Dieu, more than 40 per cent of participants come from outside of Quebec just for this race, and half of all participants will be running their first marathons.
Pelchat is enthusiastic in her appreciation of the event.
“I would tell everyone this is the challenge they need in their running career,” she says. “The route is amazing, the view is fascinating, the festive atmosphere and events are fun and the people of Quebec are so welcoming!” says Pelchat. “In addition, this year, the event is held on Thanksgiving weekend. So, all the little families can come to participate!”