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RUNK’s unsanctioned Blue Line race enlivens Montreal at dawn

This is not your typical 10K

Photo by: Stirling Myles

It’s 5:30 am, and I’m waiting for a train at Montreal’s Jean-Talon station. It’s the first train coming through, and if I miss it, I’ll be out of the race. I’m both nervous and excited—the station is deserted, except for one other person in the distance. He’s wearing running clothes, so I know I’m in the right place.

According to the spy novel-esque instructions, I have to get on the last car of the first Blue Line train that comes through the station. I’ll be given a sticker to show proof of participation at the finish area. Like clockwork, the train arrives at 5:40 a.m., the doors open and I’m greeted with a subway car full of bleary-eyed runners. There’s not much time before the train stops at Saint-Michel station (the race’s starting point), so no one has time to fully question what we’re doing. The train stops, the doors open, and the race is on. We run right out of the car, through the station and up the escalators, passing confused morning commuters.

Photo: Gophrette Power

Some context: the “Blue Line v2.0” race is from one end of Montreal’s Blue Line (Saint-Michel station) to the other (Snowdon station), or approximately 10 km. How you get from start to finish is entirely up to you. It’s important to note that I don’t know Montreal very well. So I have two goals: 1) to finish the race, and 2) not to get lost.

I learned about the race from my running coach (and previous year’s winner), David Jeker; it’s put on by the somewhat mysterious RUNK series, whose website states, “RUNK is a series of unsanctioned running races organized in Montreal and held throughout the year. It aims to offer an alternative to large, traditional events that are often perfectly groomed, keeping only the essentials: the athletes and the authenticity of the streets of Montreal.”

Photo: Stirling Myles

To enter, you must donate money to a charity (and show proof by email). Then you’re added to a WhatsApp chat, with further instructions. The chat is lively, with an intimate and supportive group of excited racers. This is the second installment of the Blue Line race, so some runners already know what to expect, and some (like myself) are just along for the ride. The RUNK series draws runners of all abilities, from beginners to elite ultrarunners, all joined in a common search for adventure.

RUNK is a word combining “Running” and “Punk.” After growing up in the punk community, I’ve learned that it’s more than the music; it’s a philosophy and shared expression of self-reliance and community-building. As the running culture continues to evolve, it’s shaped by our search for connection, growth and community. To find our place, our people, and ourselves in the complexity of life, we need both the grandiose races and the quiet ones shared by only a few.

Photo: Gophrette Power

When I get outside Saint-Michel station, most of the running pack is already far ahead, so it’s just me and a few others. My focus now shifts to not losing the runner ahead of me; she’s my unofficial pacer and lifeline. Our loosely-tethered pack of 21 wild runners follows the Blue Line stops as mile markers through neighborhoods including Villerary, Little Italy, Outremont and Côte-des-Neiges as the sun rises.

Once the route turns off the main street, the runner in front of me turns back and says, “do you know where to go?” A strange and cosmic humour sets in, and I fully accept that I might be lost. After a couple of turns, the route becomes clearer, with Metro stops in the distance.

After zigzagging through small streets, hopping over construction and cutting through neighbourhood parks like Mackenzie King, the tour through the waking city is nearing a close.

The run ends at the doors of Snowdon station. There’s no finishing tape, PA system or medals. It’s a small congregation of 21 smiling racers sharing the joy of running (and some Timbits) before continuing with their day. I come in third-to-last, at a modest 5:15 pace. The same racers who boasted an astonishing 38-minute 10K are met with the same enthusiasm and high-fives as the ones who come in last. I meet Gophrette, one of the race’s organizers, who wears a permanent smile, a camera and a Lightning Bolt shirt (a noise-rock band I grew up listening to). He animatedly tells me about unsanctioned races like this in New York City, where runners aren’t told the race distance until they arrive.

It’s 7:30 am, and I’m at Montreal’s Snowdon station, waiting for a return train, happy, sweating and smiling. Stories are shared, hugs are exchanged, and everyone departs to their daily life–until next time.

Stirling Myles writes about running, ultrarunning, music and mental health. He lives in Sherbrooke, Que. and Gainesville, Fla., and is currently training to run a 100-mile race while sharing his love of tacos to anyone within earshot.