Craft beer, pizza and coffee: Montreal’s Mile End is a food-lover’s destination for all of this and much more. On a weekend in mid-September, many of the local restaurants and cafes in this boho residential neighbourhood are packed with runners taking part in the Beneva Montreal Marathon.
Mile End spans about 40 blocks bordered by Mount Royal and Saint-Laurent Boulevard, and after arriving in Montreal on Friday, the margarita pizza at Pizzeria Magpie hits the spot. Getting back to a few of the restaurants in the area, is part of my motivation to push through the last few kilometers of the half marathon on race weekend.
Sunday morning, runners are up bright and early and on the subway to the start line, it is clear this is a city that embraces race days as if everyone is a runner. Boarding the subway to the race start line in Jean Drapeau Park, passengers are buzzing with a high level of excitement, and conversations are bright and lively. Runners speaking with fellow racers and some interested Montreal residents who are not running, all are curious to know more about the race. It’s exciting and encouraging to witness people from all walks of life, finding common ground, inspiring a sense of community, in these early hours.
On Saturday Ciele Athletics hosted a community shakeout run and pasta dinner at its flagship location with proceeds donated to DESTA Black Community Network, a local organization that offers employment and training opportunities for youth. Nearly 100 runners came out in support and it’s this energy and community spirit that I’m reminded of as my foot strikes the timing mat. This race feel different than others because Montreal is different in spirit and community.
For 30 years, runners have had the opportunity to explore Montreal’s diverse neighbourhoods which has contributed to a running community that is as warm and inviting as the city’s restaurants and cafes. Whether you’re racing the full marathon, or half, the course is an incredible tour of this historic city. Starting at Espace 67 on Île Ste-Hélèn, and ending at Olympic Stadium, runners weave through some of the city’s iconic neighbourhoods including the popular Rue Saint-Catherine shopping district, and Little Italy, and past historic sites such as Place D’Armes, through La Fontaine Park, one of the city’s oldest green spaces, and past Montreal’s Botanical Gardens which is home to some 22,000 species and cultivars.
This is my second time running the half marathon course and as my feet hit the first stretch of cobblestone there’s a newness underfoot. Inspired by this running community’s sense of pride, warmth and spirit, I have a renewed energy that comes from embracing the pure enjoyment of this sport. When I’m asked why I’m running this event once again, my answer is simple. Along with its community, Montreal offers backdrop for runners that’s part historically rich, filled with natural beauty, so much so that it gives you an entirely new experience every time.
As I take in the views of the streetscape around every turn, I’m taking note of the juxtaposition of architectural styles, old and new. A I turn a corner near Notre-Dame Basilica, the sound of church bells and the aroma of fresh coffee and possibly bagels wafting out onto the streets, reminding me that I will also need make another stop for bagels at Fairmount Bagel, which serves up fresh bagels around the clock.https://www.stviateurbagel.com/en/our-story
On the course, I’m trying my best to focus on enjoying the moment I’m in, feeling the joy that running gives me, and not get caught up on my pace, which is much slower than I’d like it to be at this point. Instead, I’m reminding myself of my post-race plan which includes a return to Mile End for what I’m anticipating to some of the best gnocchi and marinara I’ve ever enjoyed at Drogheria Fine. Since 1997, this family-owned operation has been serving up its signature gnocchi through a walk up window right next door to Fairmount Bagel.
Looking back, this race was a reminder of the warmth of the. running community, a feeling of belonging, one that extends far beyond race day. Knowing you’re a part of something great, and greater than who you are on your own. Pizza, gnocchi, and bagels aside, this is what fuels us through our training. On days when we maybe don’t want to, community will get you across the finish line, celebrating with the ones you love and enjoying all the destination has to offer, after the race is in your rear view.
Anna Lee Boschetto is a runner and regular iRun contributor.