Quebec ultra-marathoner preparing to run nearly 8,000 km from Florida to Quebec

A Quebec ultra-marathon runner is preparing for a nearly 8,000-kilometre run from the most southern…

A Quebec ultra-marathon runner is preparing for a nearly 8,000-kilometre run from the most southern point of the United States to Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula.

Joan Roch, 49, is known for running more than 1,000 kilometres from Percé, Que., on the eastern tip of Gaspé, to Montreal in 2020.

Roch, who lives in the Montreal suburb of Longueuil, Que., said he plans to leave for Key West on Feb. 23. From there, he plans to follow the Appalachian mountain range to Forillon National Park.

He said he plans to run an average of 52 kilometres a day in order to finish the run in five months.

The planned route, which will take him along the Florida Trail, the Appalachian Trail and the International Appalachian Trail, is 7,745 kilometres long, he said, “but I’ll probably get lost enough to reach 8,000 kilometres.”

View from the back of a man running in shorts beside blocks of ice in a river.
Joan Roch, seen here running along the icebound St. Lawrence River in 2020, has made a name for himself as an ultra-marathoner who takes on endurance challenges in all kinds of weather. (Joan Roch/Facebook)

While some parts of Gaspé are particularly arduous, Roch said he’s more worried about Florida.

“It’s flat, there’s going to be heat, humidity, it will be swampy,” said Roch, who has never been to the U.S. state. “All these particularities don’t make the route reassuring, because I don’t know it at all.”

And that’s without mentioning the alligators, which he said worry him more than black bears.

Food will be the biggest challenge for Roch, who plans to travel lightly, using a tactic called fastpacking, a combination of running and backpacking.

“I’m going to have to eat 6,000 to 8,000 calories a day, and that’s something I handled very poorly during the Percé-Montreal (run), I didn’t eat enough,” he said.

Age not a factor

Another challenge is not knowing how his body will adapt to running for such a long time.

“The big difficulty is that there’s no way to train for this, you have to do it, because the adaptations will take place over several weeks,” he said.

Roch, who turned 49 last month, said he wants to show that people can take on wild projects no matter their age.

“You might think that I’m training non-stop. Yes, I train more than average, but I’m not an Olympic athlete, I have a full-time job, I have three children,” said Roch, who works in information technology.

He said he believes that anyone could reach his level if they want.

Portrait of a man with wilderness and water behind him.
Quebec ultra-marathoner Joan Roch is taking on a new challenge in 2023, running from the southernmost tip of the U.S. to the Gaspé peninsula in Quebec. (Joan Roch/Facebook)

“It’s clearly not age that’s a factor, it’s the will, the discipline to train every day,” he said.

That’s the message of his two books, “Ultra-ordinaire: Journal d’un coureur” and “Ultra-ordinaire 2: Odyssée d’un coureur,” which chronicle his running adventures.

“Despite an ordinary life, you can still add the extraordinary, the ultra, to your daily life,” he said. “In my case, it’s running, but it doesn’t matter what you set out to accomplish.”

Roch’s spouse, Anne Genest, a well-known Quebec author, said she’s an enthusiastic supporter of the run.

“I was immediately drawn to his project,” said Genest, who is also an ultra-marathon runner and plans to join Roch for his first week in Florida.

“Our relationship works like that,” she said. “Each of us is fuelled by projects.”

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