When I traveled to Mexico in January, I woke up to find that there was a marathon running right past my hotel. My first thought was “I can’t believe I didn’t think to look to see if there was a race this weekend.” Ever since that experience, I decided to make it a point to check out local races when I travel, especially if I’m visiting another country. Fast forward 6 months and I began planning a work trip to Montreal. Once I had the dates, I started looking for races. There were several to choose from, but for some reason, I was drawn to the Pointe-Claire Half Marathon. The race supports the Alzheimer’s Society of Montreal which is a great cause, but I was hesitant because it was pretty far from downtown Montreal. I went with my gut feeling and signed up anyways. Here are my thoughts and my full race review.
Race Review: Pointe-Claire 10K and Half Marathon
Since this was my first Canadian adventure, I didn’t really know what to expect from Montreal and I was a little nervous about the commute outside of the city center into the suburbs. I had never heard of the little town of Pointe-Claire, but when I saw the race map, I just knew it was the one. It turns out that Pointe-Claire is one of the cutest towns I’ve ever visited! If you’ve ever watched Gilmore Girls, the Stars Hollow vibes are just oozing out of this sweet little town. It is small, quaint, and just overall adorable. I didn’t see Luke’s coffee shop anywhere, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a cousin in town with a similar setup.
If you aren’t familiar with Montreal, you may not be aware that most of the city speaks French. Even though most people will greet you in French, I didn’t meet anyone who didn’t also speak English (which is good since I know zero French other than the Le Poisson song from the Little Mermaid). Most of the menus, signs, etc. are all in French so it is good to have some sort of translator app if you need some help. The same thing goes for the race registration website. If you don’t speak French (like me), you are in luck because it is easy enough to switch to the English view on their website. They have several race options ranging from a half marathon (or a 21.1 KM as they call it) all the way down to a 1 KM or 2KM for the kids. Registration is very simple and there are no hidden surprises. The race coordinators are wonderful about sending email updates and they post even more frequently on their Facebook page so you can stay up to date with everything that is happening.
This race does things a little differently from other races I’ve ran. You have two ways to pick up your race packet. You can either do it in the days leading up to the race, or you can pick it up on race day. This sounds pretty normal, except if you want to pick up your race packet early, you have to schedule an appointment. Personally, I didn’t want to have to schedule a time because I knew I would be busy exploring the city and I didn’t want to be locked into a certain time or day. Because of this, I opted to pick up my packet the morning of the race. The Pointe-Claire race was very small with only about 3,000 runners total across all the races, so picking up day of was not an issue at all. They were very quick and efficient and I had plenty of time to watch the half marathon group take off before my race started. The entire process took maybe 5 minutes total. The “race packet” was very basic with a bib equipped with timing chips, a race shirt, and some safety pins.
Race Morning Logistics
My main concern on race morning was getting to Pointe-Claire from Montreal early enough to get my race packet and be ready by the start of the race. This race has a pretty late start time compared to most races I’ve done which was nice for the morning commute (especially since I stayed out WAY too late the night before). I was originally planning on taking the metro to the bus station and taking a bus into Pointe-Claire, but I panicked and thought I wouldn’t make it in time so I took an Uber. The Uber ride was about $30USD and took about 25 minutes. In hindsight, I should have taken the bus because I would have had plenty of time. Montreal has an awesome public transportation system and it is really easy to navigate your way around the city. There is a weekend transit pass you can purchase for $13.75 CAD that is valid from 4 PM Friday to 5 AM Monday morning. If you are in town for the weekend, I would highly recommend you take advantage of this deal! We used our passes not only to get around the city all weekend, but we also used them to get back to our apartment from Pointe-Claire as well as getting to the airport for our flight home. Had we used Uber the entire weekend, it would have cost hundreds of dollars. If you take advantage of the bus system, you can make it to Pointe-Claire in about 45 minutes to an hour depending on how close you are to a metro station/bus stop. Give yourself a little bit of extra time in the morning and save your money for post race beers and poutine.
Since packet pickup went very smoothly, I headed to the bathrooms and then on to the start line. There were only a handful of portable toilets available, so I would recommend using them as early as you can. If you go early, the lines are short, but the closer it gets to the start of the race, the longer the lines get. Even when the lines are long, they move quickly, but I would still recommend going early if possible. There is a bag check available if you would like to leave stuff at the registration booth. Just drop off your stuff with the attached ticket on your race bib and you will be able to pick it back up after the race. The bag check is supervised, but I probably wouldn’t recommend leaving any valuables just in case something were to happen.
One of the unusual things about this race is there are different starting lines for each of the distances. Make sure you are familiar with where your race is starting because you can’t hear the announcements very well from the registration area unless you are paying close attention. The half marathon course started right by the registration area, but the 10K started quite a ways up the road and was not visible from the registration area. All of the announcements are done in both English and French which means it takes a little longer to get started, but I definitely appreciated the English announcements. Even though this is a small race, they release runners for the half marathon, the 10K, and the 5K in 3 waves for each race. There is one minute between the release of each wave.
If you like awesome small town views and fast, flat courses, this is the race for you. For most of the race, I was blown away by how gorgeous this course was. You run by the lake, through the parks, into neighborhoods, and through the middle of town. It had all of the small town charm you could ever hope for. You start the race running by the lake and through neighborhoods and parks. Once you make your first big turn, you go down into a tunnel that goes under the main highway. One of the cool things the race coordinators did was they let all of the race participants vote on which song they wanted to hear in the tunnel and Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” won this year. The tunnel is warm and muggy, so it was a nice distraction to have some fun music blaring. After you get out of the tunnel, you will run through several more parks and there is quite a bit of shade on this part of the course. However, once you turn onto the bike path that runs beside the highway, be prepared to get some sun because there is no tree coverage for this stretch of the race. Once you reach the golf course, you’ll go through a second tunnel back to the other side of the highway. You’ll get to run through more neighborhoods and then through the middle of town. Once you make it to town, you’ll know the finish line is right around the corner. Normally this is where I would give a full analysis on all of the hills on the course, but there weren’t any hills that are worth mentioning. They are all very small and very short and I couldn’t consciously call them “hills.” The overall elevation gain for the 10K was 161 ft. If you are looking to set a PR, this could be a great course to do it on.
If you are running the Half Marathon….
You will make two loops around the course I described above. The half marathon starts at 8 AM and the 10K starts at 8:30. For your first loop, the course will be pretty wide open and you won’t hit much race traffic. Once you start your second loop, you will join up with the 10K group at some point but where exactly depends on how fast you run. If you are trying to set a PR, be aware of this because some of the course is fairly narrow and you’ll have to make your way through the end of the 10K group before you can get back into a crowd that is going your speed. Another thing to note is there is a 3:30 time limit to complete the half marathon. You have to be off the course by 11:30 so the roads can resume normal operation.
One of my favorite things about this race is there are 3 pace bunnies available to help you pace yourself at the right speed. The 3 paces are 1:45, 2:00, and 2:15 finish times. You may be asking yourself “what’s a pace bunny?” and it is exactly what it sounds like! Instead of running a half marathon carrying an awkward sign, the pacers wear hats that have bunny ears attached to the top. The paces are written on the bunny ears so you know which one to stick close to. This is the first time I’ve seen “Pace Bunnies,” but it is kind of a genius idea! I’m hoping it catches on and more races start doing it.
The course support was very well organized. There were water stops along the course every mile to mile and a half for a total of 6 stops (unless you are doing the half marathon and then you can double it for 12). The first stop was around mile 1.5 and the next 3 stops were spread out pretty evenly about a mile apart. The last 2 stops were very close to each other towards the very end of the 10K course. Every stop had adequate amounts of Gatorade and water when I went through with the 10K group. I’m not sure how the second lap was for the half marathoners, so it might be wise to bring a handheld water bottle as a backup. After going down the sunny greenway for a second time, you definitely won’t want to get caught without water. The volunteers were very attentive and made sure you weren’t standing around waiting for water or Gatorade. There were not portable toilets on the course that I saw, but if you are running the half marathon, you will have the opportunity to stop at the ones by the registration area. I didn’t notice volunteers handing out GUs or snacks, so if you need it, you may want to bring your own nutrition.
Since this is a small town and a small race, there weren’t large crowds out to support the runners every step of the way, but there were quite a few that had cute signs and cheered us on. If you need a lot of crowd noise and music on the race course to keep your morale up, it may be a good idea to bring some headphones to distract yourself. Personally, I was so distracted by the beauty of the course and the town that I barely noticed there wasn’t music around every corner. A lot of the local residents also recognized how hot the weather was that day and had sprinklers and water hoses set up to cool off the runners.
Post Race Food and Activities
All of the post race food was set up by the registration area and included water, juice, kind bars, and bananas. When I finished the race, there was no line at the snack station, but once all of the half marathoners started rolling in, the lines got pretty long. The volunteers were great at keeping the line moving though.
There were quite a few booths set up in the park area by the registration tables that had gear and information about local shops. There was some apparel for sale as well if you wanted to do a little bit of shopping. I did a quick walk through, but I didn’t spend much time looking since I was planning on riding the bus back to the apartment and didn’t want to carry a bunch of stuff back with me. There was also a kids fun zone set up by the lake full of bounce houses and activities for the kids. Since there is a 1K and a 2K race for the kids, it was a great place for the kids to hang out before and after their races.
After the race was over, I grabbed my medal and my snack and headed back to the bus stop. I originally planned to spend the morning in town and eat breakfast after the race, but I decided to head back to the apartment to put on some dry clothes. It seemed like there were a few options for food in town, but I would expect them to be pretty busy after the race.
If you head to Canada and think this is going to be a nice cool race, you may be sadly disappointed. Compared to June in Tennessee, the weather was very pleasant, but it was still pretty hot. The humidity was low, but since some sections of the course aren’t shaded, it would be wise to put on some sunscreen to protect yourself from the brutal sun. I talked to some local women on the course and they said it was hot every year for this race. Make sure you hydrate and dress for hot weather.
Lodging and Activities
Pointe-Claire is a very small town which means there are not many lodging options that are close to the start of the race. You may be able to find something on airbnb, but your best bet is to stay close to the airport or in downtown Montreal. The public transportation is very easy to navigate, so enjoy a weekend downtown and take the bus out of the city on race morning. I talk more about the transportation system under the Race Day Logistics section. If you choose to drive into Pointe-Claire, the later you drive in, the crazier the traffic gets. The roads begin closing at 7 AM so it will be a little harder to navigate into the neighborhood and towards the park. By the time we headed back to the bus stop, there were cars parked on every side street and many more trying to find parking for the 5K, 2K, and 1K races that were about to start. Plan ahead and get there early.
Montreal is an amazing city and is only about 10 miles away. Even though it is a long bus ride into the city, I would highly recommend staying there. There are lots of amazing restaurants, shopping, and plenty nightlife options. The half marathon doesn’t start until 8 AM and the 10K starts at 8:30, so it really isn’t a bad commute. If you are looking for more info on what to do in Montreal, I will have more info about that very soon. Until then, just shoot me an email and I’ll help you out.
Even though the race swag was simple, it was well made. This was my first international race and I love that I was able to bring home a medal as a souvenir. One of the really nice things about this race is that they offer a medal for all of the races, including the kids 1K and 2K. If you are traveling with kids and wanted to do something fun and active that is out of the norm, this would be a great option. The shirts this year were a fun shade of neon green and have a V-neck top which I find much more comfortable than the crew neck shirts. They are also a little longer in length which is great if you have a long torso like me. I rarely wear race shirts because they are usually too short and very uncomfortable, but I will actually wear this one around!
All of the photography for this race is free of charge. The coordinators post all of the pictures into albums on their Facebook page and encourage participants to download them and share them on their social media pages. I almost always buy my race photos, so this was a nice surprise for me. The only downside of the free photos is you will probably have to spend some time digging through the pictures to find yours. They are free though, so it’s hard to complain about that!
The Pointe-Claire races support the Alzheimer’s Society of Montreal and some of the proceeds from this race are donated. Since 2013, they have donated $187,000! In order to generate more fundraising, this year the race web page includes a link where you can create your own campaign to raise money for Alzheimer’s research. All you have to do is go to the fundraising tab at the top and you can either start a campaign or you can donate to a runner. If you start a campaign, you can register as an individual or as a team. Starting a fundraiser is an excellent way to stay motivated during your training. I’ve done this before to support a cause I believed in and it made the race and the training much more meaningful to me.
This was my first international race and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Everyone I talked to was so nice and the views were beautiful. The proceeds go to a good cause and I was able to bring home an awesome medal as my Canadian souvenir. I love that this can be a race you do on your own, or you can make it an event for the entire family. Montreal is an amazing city and June is a beautiful time to visit. If you have been thinking about visiting, I would 100% recommend planning your trip so you can include this race in your travel itinerary. If you have any questions or want any more information, please feel free to send me an email or leave a comment and I’d be happy to answer any questions.