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Quarantine routines: Mathieu Blanchard on running empty streets in Montreal and creativity

Montreal-based ultrarunner Mathieu Blanchard has only been running ultra trail events for a few years, but he’s already had considerable success including a 13th place finish at UTMB very early in his career and second at the Tarawera Ultra 100K, an Ultra-Trail World Tour (UTWT) event in New Zealand earlier this year.

We all know what happened next. Nothing. Blanchard was, for example, set to run UTMB again this year along with a few thousand others, before it was cancelled. But, Blanchard is okay. He’s found that the last couple months of quarantine in Montreal have opened his eyes up to a new way of being, to reevaluate some parts of his life that he was taking for granted, and to get in touch with his creative side — as you’ll see below. 

Get Out There asked Blanchard about his quarantine routine, the fourth in our series.

Hello Mathieu. Where are you isolating?
I’m isolating in Montreal, Quebec. In our confinement, we had to stay on the island of Montreal. It was a great chance to experience the small mountain of Mont-Royal in the city center. Running in the deserted streets has also been very special. 

How has it been going?
Things are going well. Like everyone, the first days were difficult because it was a sudden change. A form of denial was there. But I quickly accepted the situation, and I found it positive.

What are you looking forward to most when you are able to move around more and start getting back to normal?
There is only one thing that I really miss and that is the social bond! When we get back to normal, the first thing I will do is organize adventure trips, close to my home, with friends, to enjoy beautiful days of trail running in nature, and then share good meals all together at the end of the day. I miss traveling too, but this situation made me aware of an excessive approach, I am thinking of reviewing my way of traveling.

What has been your fitness routine?
When social life disappears (restaurants, cinema, moments with friends), we have more time in our days. So, I added new routines that I didn't do before. When I wake up, I now have a mobility routine, it's not stretching, but more a kind of yoga flow, which allows me to activate my muscles, wake up my nervous system, and help with mobility which will have a positive impact for running (for example in the hip). I also added at least 1 hour of muscle strengthening, mainly the core, the legs, and the posterior chain.

How about nutrition?
It is true that by staying at home, with boredom and stress, it can be tempting to fill up with snacking. I see nutrition as a running training program. It takes discipline, rigor, and determination. Even if I like to enjoy Netflix and chill, from time to time, with a good beer and ice cream.

And mental fitness?
I see this pandemic as a big challenge, just like an ultra-race would be. With experience, I know that there are sometimes lows in our morale, it's part of the process, you have to realize it, accept it, and build yourself up to be more resilient.

You’ve been getting creative. Tell me about the video project. 
I took the opportunity to work on an artistic video, showing the Montreal streets without pedestrians and cars. I think it's historic in our big cities to see this ghostly atmosphere ... 
 

 
 What inspired you to shoot a film during this period?
COVID-19, three billion people are now confined to their homes. Half of the world's population. A city completely empty of pedestrians and cars, striking and historic images. This situation turned my life upside down, it worries and inspires me. This is why I wanted to work on this project, images like this are historic, and I'm not sure (I don't hope so) that a situation like this will happen again.

Tell me what you've been doing during this period that is new to you, or how you are looking at things in a new way?
All international races are cancelled. These were the projects that took me the most time: physical and mental preparation, travel logistics, racing, emotional engagement, etc. I had to keep this energy and this feeling of challenges that make me vibrate. I then decided to see my nearby environment from another angle, while trying to organize ambitious challenges. That's what I did, and I managed to motivate myself in this way: running around Montreal, the video art project "Confined,” challenges of elevation gain on Mount Royal, and many others to come in the coming months.

Quebec is opening up, more people on the streets, have you gotten back to the trails?
Yes sure, as soon as we had the opportunity to leave the island of Montreal, I went into the wild. I almost never came back to Montreal, I missed nature a lot, and I now spend a lot of time on the trails, especially since we rediscover the trails when the snow disappears.

Who shot the film with you?
The talented Jerome Binette.

What are you hoping people take from the video?
I hope that people, who are still in denial of the situation, leave it as soon as possible to accept this page of history that we are living, with no control. Let them see their own garden with new eyes, appreciating what is around them differently, take the time to slow down, and be happy with the essentials. Do not put life on "break" while waiting for "normal" to come back, and take advantage of each day because they are all precious.

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