Montreal Marathon returns with runners pounding pavement all weekend long

Runners start during the Oasis Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in Montreal in 2019, the last time it was held in the city. (Al Bello/Getty Images - image credit)
Runners start during the Oasis Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in Montreal in 2019, the last time it was held in the city. (Al Bello/Getty Images - image credit)

Around 15,000 runners will be racing through the streets of Montreal this weekend as the city's marathon returns for the first time since 2019, and the head of this year's race says it will be well planned, safe and fun for everyone.

This will be the 30th edition of the Montreal Marathon, which was founded in 1979 by race organizer Serge Arsenault.

Now his son, Sébastien Arsenault, is stepping up to the plate, chairing the organizing committee with hopes of rebuilding the marathon's image after a disastrous race three years ago.

In 2019, a lack of staffing led to a 50-minute delay and a half-marathoner, 24-year-old Patrick Neely, died after he went into cardiac arrest.

A Quebec coroner's report  on the death said communication problems, poor organization, a lack of defibrillators and a lack of training likely contributed to the young man's death.

The race was nixed in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19 health restrictions.

Now it's back with a new name: Marathon Beneva de Montréal. Saturday's races include a series of shorter distances, from one to 10 kilometres, mostly around the Olympic Stadium.

Then on Sunday, about 10,000 people will start in front of Espace 67 on Île Sainte-Hélène at 7:45 a.m.

Some will run the half marathon, and the rest will go the full 42.2 kilometres. Both races end at the Olympic Stadium.

The marathon goes up through the middle of the city, following St-Laurent Boulevard to the Des Prairies River. It then goes back south to St-Joseph Boulevard, following it east to the Olympic Stadium.

"We want the course to be a bit like a postcard," said Sébastien Arsenault. "We want runners to be able to use roads that represent Montreal and that, from an organizational point of view, it is easy and efficient to ensure their safety."

Extensive planning for race

The route goes through five boroughs and it takes extensive planning to ensure the city is not brought to a complete standstill, he explained. Particular attention was paid to emergency routes for firefighters, police and ambulance services, he said.

The Jacques-Cartier Bridge long served as the race's starting point, but it's too tight of a space for physical distancing when COVID-19 is still a risk. And anybody who has ever participated in past events knows there are no bathrooms on the bridge and that has led to people relieving themselves on the sidewalk or off the side into the waters below.

After some study, Espace 67 was determined to be better suited given its proximity to the Metro station and the availability of restroom facilities, Arsenault said.

Submitted by Marathon Beneva de Montréal
Submitted by Marathon Beneva de Montréal

Over the summer, the Montreal Pride Festival cancelled its Sunday parade due to a lack of volunteers to secure the route, but Arsenault said that's unlikely to happen to the marathon because there will not only be 700 volunteers, but also 280 security guards from five different companies.

"Volunteers are not used for security," he said. "We are also planning a contingency of 20, 30 and even 40 per cent more guards because there is always absenteeism."

Medical plan designed for twice the size

As for health safety, he said the medical plan is based on 30,000 participants, when there will actually be half that.

"Everything will be excessively safe," he said.

The marathon medical team is made up of 250 people and includes 17 ambulances. That's nine more ambulances than in 2019.

If all goes as planned on Sunday, Arsenault and his team will begin negotiations to obtain a long-term agreement with Montreal, he said.

"Every major metropolis has its own marathon. It is a privilege to present it and it should not be taken lightly, because it is a colossal challenge," Arsenault said. "I encourage runners to enjoy the day and their race."