With the race season put on hold all over the world and only more cancellations to come, runners have been finding unique ways to test their fitness in solo challenges that replace real competitions. Last week, Mathieu Blanchard—an ultrarunner from Quebec—joined the party when he ran around the entire island of Montreal. He covered the 125K route in 10:29:11, which is the fastest known time for the run, titled the Montreal Circumnavigation. Blanchard had several reasons for wanting to tackle this challenge, but the simplest explanation is the best one: “Like Forrest Gump,” he says, “‘I just felt like running.'”
Blanchard’s running resume
Blanchard says he still considers himself to be pretty new to the sport of ultrarunning, but he’s had some successful races in his young career. He placed 13th at the 100-mile Ultra-Trail Du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) in 2018, and in 2019 he came in 10th at the UTMB CCC, a 101K race with 6,100 metres of elevation gain. In February, Blanchard finished second at the Tarawera Ultra 100K, an Ultra-Trail World Tour (UTWT) event in New Zealand.
“My result [in New Zealand] was unexpected,” he says. “This second-place finish confirmed my potential, and my training recipe, which I guess I have finally found to perform and progress well.”
Before the coronavirus outbreak put his season on hold, he had several other big races planed for 2020, including three more UTWT events, including the UTMB once again in August. So far, the UTMB is still set to go ahead on August 28.
The Montreal Circumnavigation
One of the UTWT races Blanchard had planned was the 110K Penyagolosa Trails in Spain, scheduled for April 18, but it was postponed until October 16. Instead of forgetting his training or dialling it back, Blanchard decided to stick to his plan and replace the Spain event with the run around Montreal, which was a challenge he’d been thinking of for a while.
“I had already thought about doing it for two years, but with a very busy race calendar, I had never managed to get to it,” he says. “The cancellation of the whole season finally gave me the opportunity to do it.” Blanchard continued training “as if nothing had happened.” The only difference was that, on April 18, he took to the streets of Montreal rather than the trails of Spain.
The day before his run, he stashed three bags of supplies in bushes along his route so he could refill on water and food. On the day, a friend checked in on him halfway around the island and took some pictures, but other than that, he was solo for the 10 hours.
Although it was a run he’d been eyeing for some time, Blanchard says he doesn’t think he’ll do it again.
“Running on asphalt is very painful for my body,” he says, “and I find it unnatural compared to running in nature.” He still hopes to run similar ultra challenges to make up for the other races he’ll miss this summer.