With new management and an updated title sponsor in the Quebec insurance company Beneva, the Montreal Marathon is set to make its return later this year, and organizers are focused solely on planning an in-person race. The event, which has been a part of the Montreal running scene for decades (this year’s race will be the 30th edition of the run), was cancelled in 2020, but Sébastien Arsenault — the CEO of Événements GPCQM, the new parent company of the marathon — is confident that he and his team can make it work this year. The race’s new name is the Marathon Beneva de Montréal, and it is set for September 25 and 26.
While Arsenault and his team have their eyes on an in-person run this fall, he says simply holding the race is not the main priority. “The city of Montreal, Beneva and I agreed right from the start that everything would be focused on security, security, security,” he says. “We’re not focused on profits, we’re focused on runners 100 per cent.”
In addition to being dedicated to runner safety (which is important in general for race directors, but especially during a pandemic), Arsenault is uniquely qualified to be in charge of the Montreal race. At Événements GPCQM, he organizes and oversees world-class cycling races in Québec City and Montreal, giving him plenty of experience in dealing with endurance sporting events. He also has deeper ties to the marathon itself, as his father founded the race in 1979.
“My dad was the one who started the Montreal Marathon,” Arsenault says, “and my uncle took it over in 1992.” His uncle sold the race in 2013, but when the city of Montreal began its search for someone new to take over the event, Arsenault jumped at the opportunity.
Since it’s his first year at the helm, Arsenault says he hasn’t even considered organizing a virtual race. “Going virtual is a no-go, that’s for sure,” he says. “It’s not like we’re planning an event in the Bell Centre. Our stadium is outside.” Of course, Arsenault acknowledges that the fact the race will be held outdoors isn’t enough to ensure it can go ahead, and he adds that his team will work closely with local officials to have tight and government-approved restrictions on race day.
If September comes and the pandemic forces Arsenault to cancel the race, he says he will accept that and look to 2022. Should that happen, runners already registered for the event will have two options: accept a full registration refund (other than the transaction fee charged by Race Roster) or defer race entry until 2022 at no extra cost. This is thanks to Beneva, Arsenault says.
“When I first negotiated with them, they promised to leave money on the table even if there’s not a single race,” he says. “That, for me, is like a gift from God. We’re extremely fortunate, and that says a lot about the collaboration with Beneva. They don’t want to be a sponsor, they want to be a partner.” Many races have been unable to offer refunds to athletes during the pandemic, but Arsenault says runners can’t compare his event to others across the country, as every organization has different sponsorship deals.
If the event can go ahead in person, Arsenault’s team has an exciting addition to the race lineup. There are the usual distances you can find at most races, with a 1K, a 5K, a 10K, a half-marathon or a full marathon, but there’s a new event called the “National Cup” that will debut this year.
This race, which has been planned in collaboration with the Quebec Athletics Federation, will feature teams of four. Each team will have one runner race the marathon, one in the half-marathon, one run 10K and the on in the 5K. The rankings will be scored in two ways: through time (adding up the cumulative time of each team) and a points system (which will allow officials to “balance the performances according to distance, gender and age”).
The National Cup is open to athletes of all levels, but Arsenault hopes to turn it into a race that elite runners from all over the world will eventually look to race. “I’m in great admiration for all those elite athletes,” he says. “I think it’s our responsibility to get them opportunities to race.”
To learn more about the Marathon Beneva de Montréal and to register for the event, click here.