words by: Stephane “Butch” Boucher
images by: Gophrette Power
How could we say no? In fact, some of us barely remember saying yes.
The Run Rite Athletics Club (Notre-Dame-de-Grace, Montreal) is a small group of like-minded people who make most of their important decisions after 2am and don’t understand the concept of “sober second thought.” We pride ourselves on being willing test subjects for whatever silly run-related ideas our friend Goph (or anyone for that matter) has cooking up. In 2018, we helped establish a route and base time for his “RunAround125” event: a 125km relay race outlining the island of Montreal. Late last year he revealed that it would be part of RUNK, his newly-minted series of unsanctioned running races being held throughout 2020. An alternative to traditionally crowded, expensive events that offer little in the way of an authentic urban running experience, RUNK’s concept lined up nicely with Run Rite’s own values (minus the shameless boozing… but we’ll find a way to shoehorn that in).
So this time it was deep in the throes of a wine “tasting” that, sensing our collective vulnerability, Goph proposed Run Rite help him put together the first edition of “La Ultima Carrera,” an alleycat-style race. Nobody bothered to ask about the meaning behind the name because Goph is essentially a space-traveler with a French passport… so it’s likely something a brown tabby whispered to him in a dream. The alleycat format is pretty loose, but it generally involves giving runners a list of checkpoints a few minutes before the start and letting them plan the order in which they are visited. A checkpoint can be simple (ie. have your manifest checked by a volunteer and move on) or involve an activity one needs to complete and “earn” their check mark.
Since we were planning a relatively long distance for an alleycat, we opted to keep things manageable in terms of what we required people to do. A route was thrown together that would send participants through Montreal’s “backcountry” if you can call it that, without any major curve balls but for which the optimal route would net roughly 15km. I’m not sure anyone got close to that.
La Ultima Carrera finally kicked off on the evening of February 15th in front of Gusta Foods, a vegan eatery in Marché Jean-Talon. The start was called, and runners sprinted over to a box, grabbed a manifest, and while some took a pause to fully read the list of stops, others scrambled off like lunatics towards the first one they recognized. Both valid approaches, but the latter made it easy to overlook the one catch we put in there: the checkpoint at the abandoned ski hill would provide you with a single shoe that needed to be delivered to Summit Circle Lookout in Westmount. More on that in a bit.
The nearest checkpoint was less than a mile from the start. Marty and MC waited in a bar, ready to offer the classic runner’s “Sophie’s choice”: use your noodle arms and give us 50 good push-ups or flex your non-existant alcohol tolerance by sculling a beer. I’m told one guy did both. He didn’t win the event, but sometimes it’s life’s little victories that matter the most. I sincerely expected people would save this checkpoint for last (I’m more of a late-race booze hound), but 15 minutes into the race Marty messaged us that 19 of the 27 participants had already gone through.
After this the field split between “the statue” (George-Etienne Cartier Monument) and the abandoned t-bar hill behind Université de Montreal. At the former, they found a high-stakes game of “Prosecco or Pickle”: one round of rock-paper-scissors, winner picks what the runner consumes but a draw means both. Geoff and Tina were the only people with the mental acuity to carry that out 27 times without messing it up. Personally, I preferred our initial idea of having each runner spend 1 minute arguing with Geoff (strict vegan) about the merits of factory farming, but I admit I’d rather eat a whole jar of pickles before subjecting myself to that.
The rest immediately went to meet Jerome and his adorable kids at the bottom of the ski hill. They had a little tent set-up and were clearly the only volunteers prepared for the weather. In arguably the most pivotal part of the run, runners were given a shoe, told to climb the ski hill, get their manifest checked by Pierre at the top, then deliver the shoe to the last and farthest checkpoint, Summit Circle Lookout, a few miles away.
It was there that myself, Lecia, Maris and her two daughters were waiting to collect some footwear. Some of us (me) volunteered some decent kicks and were scared they would get tossed by tilted racers. We were obviously shocked… SHOCKED when the first 6 athletes came screaming in, not a single one holding a shoe. A few them were angry, even confused at this fiendish turn of events! It’s like we had concocted some kind of Dan Brown riddle gauntlet. Where’s Tom Hanks when you need him?! We hydrated ourselves with tears and gleefully refused to mark their manifest lest they return with a shoe that was waiting 4km closer to the start. The rest of the field to their credit got it right. Each runner posed for a picture at the lookout so I could later photoshop them as if they were all present at the same time. Let’s face facts, I will never get that done.
In the end, I don’t think a single person ran the “intended” order. The distances ranged from a handful of DNFs to a hilariously long 25k from the 3 legends who misread the manifest and backtracked a great distance to bring us that stupid shoe. We like you guys.
A huge shout out to the brave men and women who signed-up for a night race in Canada in mid-February without the luxury of a single detail being provided ahead of time. I’d be remised not to mention all the Run Riters that volunteered to sacrifice a perfectly good Saturday night standing in blistering cold. We never expected the inaugural La Ultima Carrera to be such a success and are frankly disappointed with the absence of hate mail we got over the course. Do people still send hate mail? Seems like a lot of work and I don’t read DMs. Do your worst.