When I was growing up in Boston, my Dad would frequently load the whole family into our old secondhand car and drive north to Canada. We visited Montreal, Quebec City, and Ottawa, stopping along the way in various small towns in New Hampshire and Vermont and New York. When my two sons were teenagers, we made a road trip to eastern Canada so I could revisit some of my favorite places and surprise my husband and sons with the thrilling strangeness of visiting a foreign country that is at the same time different but familiar. Unfortunately, during that visit, my husband came down with a 24 hour bug during our stay in Quebec City and could not see the sights with us. Our trip this year, then, was a chance for him to see what he missed and so I built in time for ‘playing tourist’ as well as do the race.
The marathon in Quebec was the third in my current attempt to complete a marathon in all 10 provinces of Canada (I’m not sure yet about trying to include a race in the 3 territories). Race weekend is a big event in QC, with several distances offered, including a 5k kids run on Saturday and a full marathon, half marathon, and 10k on Sunday. There were a number of reasons to select this race as my Quebec choice: it was in a quaint and beautiful city; the course ran along both sides of the scenic Saint Lawrence River; and probably most important to me, there was an early start for walkers, giving walkers and slower runners a 7 hour time limit.
Our adventure began on Friday, August 24. We were supposed to leave early in the morning from Jacksonville, change planes in Atlanta to fly to Detroit and then leave for QC in the early afternoon, arriving around 3:30 pm. However, the flight to QC was canceled, with the only option for getting to Quebec a 7:30 evening flight which would not arrive until late evening. It was a very long day. We were extremely happy to finally arrive at Jean-Lesage International Airport around 10:30. A short taxi ride for a flat rate of a flat rate of $35 (plus tip) brought us to the Hilton Quebec, a fairly new, immaculate, and attractively decorated hotel in close proximity to the Conference Center (site of the race expo), shopping, and restaurants. Our room was ready (naturally, since it was so late) and we were given an upgrade to the Executive Club; this was where we ate a continental breakfast every morning and snacked on cold and hot appetizers every evening. We even made a quick stop there for some bottled water and chips and dip before it closed at 11 pm.
After a good night’s sleep, we were ready to do some serious sightseeing. We headed down to the river since the race website had mentioned that we needed to take a ferry and then a bus to get to the starting line. This turned out to be not the case, at least not for this year; instead, there were buses (no ferry) that would pick up runners at the finish line in QC and drop them off at the different starting points across the river in the town of Lévis. We found this out at the expo, a mid-sized affair that had a lot of booths advertising Canadian and European races as well as several that sold various running products and services. Picking up my bib (with chip attached) and tee shirt (gray and green short-sleeved tech) and reusable tote bag was quick and easy; there were no lines at 10:30 in the morning, although I did return a couple of times during the day and found that the crowds had multiplied dramatically. I later discovered that several of the downtown hotels, including the Hilton, had special buses that would take us directly to the starting line without having to walk to other buses at the finish line, half a mile away. This turned out to be a real advantage, since I just had to walk outside the Hilton and climb on the marathon bus for the 30 minute ride to the start.
I managed to get on the first bus and was ready and eager for the early start at 7:30. I met up with Jim from Thunder Bay, Ontario, whom I had met at several other races. He was trying to do marathons that began with a letter of the alphabet and Quebec City was his attempt at the letter Q. Weather at the start was around 57 degrees but predictions were for the temps to hit the mid-80’s, with high humidity. We counted backwards from 10 (in French, of course) and we were off. I never really saw any course markings (unlike the yellow tape that clearly marked the Reykjavik course) but there were volunteers at every turn, so it was hard to take a misstep. I knew that once the regular starters began catching up with me, I would be surrounded by people, and that was indeed the case, so it was just these early miles that I had to watch for signs that I was headed in the right direction.
This course is point to point, with all races starting in the city of Lévis, on the south side of the St. Lawrence River. We ran and walked through neighborhoods and along bike paths, with the river almost always in view on our right. At 22k, we passed by the half marathon start, and some of the runners took advantage of the huge number of portapotties, now vacant, that had been set up for the people doing the half. Each kilometer was marked, beginning with 42.2k and counting down. I have a hard enough time wrapping my head around kilometers versus miles so it was really challenging to count down in k’s and trying to figure out how many miles I had completed and how many I had still to go. I finally just began looking forward to the next k marker and was grateful each time I passed one.
My favorite section of the course was as we passed over the Quebec Bridge; the view of the river and the two shores was magnificent. Once on the Quebec side, we followed the river almost exclusively; while it was very picturesque, there was no shade at all. The temperature was now in the upper 80’s and it was intensely humid, even for someone from Florida. I had worn a short-sleeve tech shirt but it was dark in color. I kept wishing I had worn a white sleeveless shirt instead. Many spectators had set up sprinklers for runners and volunteers handed out thick wet sponges. I gratefully took the sponges to wipe the salt and sweat from my face and arms. Some people inserted the sponges in the neckline of their shirts. We were warned by the bike-riding medics to slow down and take it easy, and I decided that was probably good advice to follow. I purposely took my time during the second half of the race because I could tell that cramps were inevitable if I moved too fast, despite my judicious use of S-caps and potato chips. A number of people were felled by the heat and several ambulances brought people to local hospitals. I considered it a good training adventure before the certain heat and humidity that would await me in Tupelo on Labor Day weekend, so I decided to forgo any attempt to come in under 6 hours.
There were quite a few spectators in Lévis; people came out of their homes to cheer us on (in French), saying the equivalent of ‘lookin’ good’ (I had to ask someone for the translation) and ‘great job.’ On the Quebec side, spectators were sparse but the wonderful volunteers provided a healthy dose of cheer. The aid stations were spaced about 5k apart but were more frequent for the last 10k. All had water and energy drink (Heed, I think) but several had bananas and oranges and other snacks.
Because of the intense heat, I was overwhelmingly grateful to see the finish line. I heard the announcer mention my name and town as I crossed the mat in a chip time of 6:01:06. I took a few more (very slow) steps and a volunteer placed a medal around my neck, photographers snapped my photo, and another volunteer handed me a bag as I passed down by a table loaded with food: chocolate milk, yogurt, oranges, cookies, trail mix, and bottled water. The medal was attractive, with a colorful blue and green lanyard, but the most unique aspect of the medal was the battery on the back; when the button was pushed, 6 little lights on the medal would flash.
My husband met me outside the runner’s area and we (even more slowly) walked up several hills back to the Hilton. Quebec is a hilly city and some of these hills are fairly steep. Now I was ready for a shower and several hours of sleep before we headed out to a unique restaurant called L’Astral in the Loews Le Concorde Hotel. This restaurant was on the 33rd floor of the hotel and rotated, thus giving us a panoramic view of the city; the food was excellent and well-worth the price (which was extravagant for us). I slept well that night.
Usually we leave the day after the race. Some faster runners leave immediately after finishing, since they can run a marathon, return to their hotel, shower, pack, and make a flight home. That is never possible for me, so I take it easy after the race and return home early the next day. However, on this trip we decided to stay an extra day so we could see more of the city. It turned out to be a good idea; we walked to the Citadel (QC is the only walled city on the North American continent), took a tour, and watched the changing of the guard. We had a buffet lunch in our hotel and then returned to the riverfront area for more shopping. Our goal was a chocolate shop, La Chocolaterie du village, and when we finally located it, of course we had to taste test several varieties of delectable Belgian chocolates.
It was an early night for us, partly because we were fatigued but also because we had an 8 am flight the next day. When we reached the airport, we discovered that the Delta computers were not working in QC so all the checking in, baggage drop-off, and passport identification had to be done by hand. Remember when everything was done by hand? It took a long time to get 39 people checked in, with all that involved, when only 2 agents were doing everything the old-fashioned way. As a result, our flight was delayed by about an hour, but fortunately our connection in Detroit was not due to return to JAX until afternoon. While it made our day a bit longer than it had to be, we were grateful that we made all our flights and managed to get home without any real problem.
The Quebec City Marathon is very definitely a walker-friendly marathon and a great destination race. I would highly recommend it. Be sure and take the early start and be prepared for temperatures that may be hot and humid. Take advantage of the sights and food and history of QC and enjoy the city and the race.