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Meet the men who run commute on a frozen river

When Montreal's Jacques Cartier Bridge is closed to pedestrians for the winter, these two runners don't let it stop their morning run commute

Two men from Longueuil, Que., have taken the run commute to the next level, refusing to let a yearly bridge closure stop their training. When the weather gets cold, Joan Roch and Vincent Robert leave the streets behind and run on the Saint Lawrence River instead.

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Roch has been running to work since 2012, and Robert has been joining him since 2014. For the first few years of the commute, Roch—and Robert when he first started—stuck to the roads. In 2015, however, pedestrian closures and construction on the Jacques Cartier Bridge forced them to find a new route. Robert noticed ice huts on the river, and he suggested they run there. 

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“The next day, we tried, a bit stressed, but made it safely to the other side,” Roch says. “We haven’t looked back since.” Roch says he prefers the river route compared to the bridge and roads. 

“The views are amazing and even if the cycle path on the Jacques-Cartier Bridge was open, I would still take to the ice. Running next to five lanes of traffic is never fun.” 

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The commute (which is 10 kilometres each way) is not only a convenient and fun way to get to work for Roch and Robert—it’s a great excuse to train. Robert started running in 2012, and he competed in a marathon that same year, running 4:59. Since starting his run commute, Robert has seen his marathon time drop over two hours, and he now has a PB of 2:57. 

“Sometimes I don’t even consider myself as a runner anymore,” Robert says. “I just run to commute. I never do speed training or intervals. I just run to move from one place to another. Commuting keeps me in good shape.” 

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Roch has been at it a bit longer, having started running in 2005. He discovered ultramarathons and entered his first in 2009. Since then, he has completed over 20 ultras, including the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc and a podium finish at the 2014 Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run. 

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“My weekly mileage varies greatly, from 70 kilometres to 200 kilometres depending on, well, life,” he says. “But most of my training actually is commuting.” 

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Although many people are aware of the route that Roch and Robert take to and from work, Roch says that they see very few other runners on the river.

“After five years, I think we are still the only two runner to do this on a regular basis,” he says. “People are too afraid to try and, to be honest, it’s a rough patch for winter runners in any case: snow, ice, steep banks, wind, freezing water. It’s tough.”