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Marathon P'tit Train du Nord

By: Jim Westrich

This year the Marathon P'tit Train du Nord in St. Jerome, QC in the Laurentians held its fourth edition on October 3rd. I had planned to run this marathon in 2020 but after it was cancelled I decided to roll over my entry. Because of the uncertainties of the event and restrictions on crossing the border from the US I was one of the few US runners in the race with over 2000 finishers. I am glad I made the effort (in many ways).

If anyone is considering various fall marathons I highly recommend Marathon P'tit Train du Nord. It is a beautiful, flat, and fairly relaxing run entirely on the P'Tit Train du Nord railtrail (which itself is part of a larger network of bike/run friendly routes in southern Quebec known as La Route Verte). The race used to be held a few weeks later in October so the colors were nice but a little post peak—this year there were lots of beautiful colors but it was a bit pre peak. I think the pictures will speak for themselves on how pretty the route is. 

The route is also very flat with a little net elevation loss. The beginning of the race is in Val David, a quaint ski town and it is a point-to-point course to St. Jerome. You can see a lot of hills early in the race but you do not have to run up any of them (!)—the start line even has a very steep little hill right next to it. There is a few miles of pavement at the start and end but it is mostly very packed crushed gravel. The course is designed to be relaxing and easy so you can enjoy what you want of the scenery. The water stations were every 4k or so and had plenty of water and sports drinks available. I had no medical needs but saw plenty of medical people on bicycles ready to assist (I heard from family that there was a golf cart that transported a runner who needed more serious attention). There were around 2500 hundred runners and we had a staggered start of 200 people every 2 minutes. There was also a last minute set of Port-a-Potties right next to the start line which I think every race should emulate.

For me it was definitely the least dramatic of any marathons I have run (this was my 4th). There were always people around to make pacing easier and racing more enjoyable without anyone getting in the way. There were maybe a thousand spectators at the start and finish but generally the race did not have a lot of cheering crowds. One unexpected touch was that a lot of the people on the course took the time to read the name on the bib and cheer for you personally. I guess in Quebec Jim is an uncommon enough name that a lot of people changed it to "Jimbo"—getting cheered on as "Jimbo" made me smile several times.

The flat course let me try to keep a steady pace. It was going pretty well but then around mile 10 I started to get wildly varying pace readings on my watch. I am not sure what was happening (it is certainly possible that there were some GPS issues running through valleys the whole way) but seeing some paces 2 minutes slower than I wanted got me to speed up (I ran a too fast 11th mile). I then got wildly fluctuating readings for another 2 miles and eventually whatever the problem was sorted itself out. There really was no other drama. I ran, I got tired, I thought about writing a children's book for runners called "Oh, the Lactic Acid You Will Know", and then I happily finished.

My goal for the race was to qualify for Boston 2022 and around mile 20 it was clear that as long as I did not totally fall apart I could meet my goal. Not completely confident I could keep at the pace I was at all the way to the end, I did slow/tire a bit over the last 3 miles but qualified easily for Boston (3:25:17).

We capped off the day by going to the Findlandais Spa in Rosemere and drinking Le Castor beer. An even more relaxing finish to my fairly relaxing marathon weekend.

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