This Montreal Running Club is Part of an International Movement

If you’re passing through the Plateau on a Tuesday evening, chances are that you’ll find the East Laurier Running Club taking the streets; their name emblazoned on the shirts of those keeping the pace. A weekly tradition since East Laurier’s inception, the Tuesday social run serves as the nucleus of a club that prides itself on creating a community around a sport that’s notoriously individual. And while many running clubs do exist on the island of Montreal, and have existed for a number of years, East Laurier stands out among the pack. Driven by a passion for running and glued together by a sense of community and shared aesthetic, it’s a local running club with its fingers on the pulse of a global movement.

Led by captains Chloé Allard, Elise Gagnon-Levert, Lecia Mancini, and Stephane Boucher, East Laurier is named after the part of the city where the original members first resided. Inspired by Toronto’s Parkdale Roadrunners, the club was created by Jean-Philippe Lalonde and his roommates in 2012; beginning first as a small group that would meet on the corner of Laurier and Garnier, and growing into a crew that boasts 30+ regulars on a weekly basis, now meeting at Laurier and Brébeuf.

Since the early 2000s, urban running clubs around the world have seen a surge in popularity, thanks – in part – to the reach of the internet. Cities formerly closed off to the world have now been opened, with runners around the globe taking part in communities traditionally reserved for those “in the know.” Over the past few years, East Laurier has grown to incorporate what’s known as the Bridge the Gap ethos into its mission. A movement created Mike Saes (NYC Bridgerunners) and Charlie Dark (Run Dem Crew, London), Bridge the Gap “connects the dots between running culture, lifestyle, music, art, and creativity with events around the globe.” Other crews in the movement include NBRO (Copenhagen), Ssideline City (Stockholm), Berlin Braves, Patta Running Team (Amsterdam), Harbour Runners (Sydney), and more. Runners, now more than ever before, are able to join these communities and be instantly included, with East Laurier representing a piece of this rather large puzzle.

And while all of this may seem intimidating to the average runner, East Laurier prides itself on being a democratic, all-season club that allows runners of all levels and skill sets to participate. And how do you join? Well, you just show up.

Partnering with by big names like Nike, Ciele, Stance, and Off the Hook for races and apparel, it’s clear that East Laurier is a running club for a generation of runners that consider running to be a lifestyle, rather than just an activity. We sat down with the four captains to discuss the club, its history, and their next moves.

Your club has been experienced a steady increase in popularity. Can this be attributed to anything in particular?
Stephane: The way that I see it is that we just have a certain vibe about the club, and by osmosis, people just kind of stick around. People show up and they decide whether it’s for them or not within a run or two, but most of the time they just keep showing up! So the group has been growing, slowly but surely over the last few years. We don’t actively search for new members. They just kind of…find us and show up!

Do you have to separate the team on your Tuesday night run?
Stephane: Not for now! We’re still comfortable with growing, but there’s a number in our head that we feel comfortable with. And if it comes to that, we’ll split the group by pace, or by some other delimiter. For now, especially on Tuesday, the vibe that we want is community oriented. There are other nights where runners will coordinate runs that are a bit more focused on different aspects like speed, hills, and distance on Sundays, but Tuesday’s the night when everyone can show up and see what the group is all about.

Elise: I think what people like about running with us is that we don’t take ourselves very seriously. It’s easy going. It’s about a shared passion for running – it sounds very corny, but at the same time we’re all super into it and motivated. We have people that are beginners, and we also have people that are super amazing that do crazy times, but they’re all together and they don’t judge each other. It’s not a place where we say “you have to do this time or this pace.”

Lecia: Despite all the different levels, everyone still trains for the same events together. On Tuesday nights, the faster runners will loop back. So it’s fun that we get to take the streets and run through as this huge gang.

Is East Laurier’s aesthetic unity something that’s happened along the way? Or was it a defining part of your vision since day one?
Stephane: It’s something that we’ve kind of inherited from Jean-Philippe. We don’t have any strict arrangements with any brands, just ones that support grassroots running –
Elise: – but it’s not something that’s necessary for us.
Lecia: It just gives everyone a sense of belonging.
Stephane: So we’ll make an effort, whether it’s Nike or anyone else.
Chloé: It makes you feel like you’re part of something.

You guys just finished organizing the third edition of MTL Mile.
Chloé: Yeah! there were 85 people, it was sold out, actually.
Stephane: Logistically it’s a bit difficult, since we’re relying on the four of us and a few core members who stepped up as volunteers, so you know, it’s just simple stuff you wouldn’t think about: like moving bags from the start to the finish, especially in a one mile race –
Chloé: – it’s fast –
Stephane: It’s a fast race! It’s over quickly, so often times the runners get there before the bags.
Elise: And it’s also taking the streets, so there’s a lot of unsanctioned people –
Lecia: – through traffic –
Elise: – so we had to keep it to a level that was manageable –
Stephane: – and that would keep the police away.
Elise: Or try to. We’ve never any problems with that, not yet.
Lecia: They encourage us! Like station 38, when they see us running, especially in the winter, they’ll get on their loudspeaker and cheer us on. We’re repping their neighbourhood too.

Do you have a lot of international runners coming in on a regular basis?
Chloé: Yeah, with the Bridge the Gap movement, it’s easier, we had someone from Copenhagen, there’s a guy from Peru, Paris, Parkdale in Toronto.
Lecia: All parts of Canada.
Stephane: Especially with Bridge the Gap, it’s really easy for any runner visiting Montreal, or for us, in turn, to visit almost any city in the world and have immediate friends, and people to run with. We run because we love it, but at the end of the day, when we finish our runs, we usually hang around and have some beers in the park and, the talk isn’t always about running – at first it is, because that’s what we came here for – but we talk about our lives, and our jobs, and we’ve become friends. And I think new people coming in, seeing the others act that way makes them feel that much more comfortable and ready to engage. It happens by itself, really. We organize the runs, but the people make the club themselves. It’s very easy.
Elise: I find that it doesn’t look forced, which is what I think people like about it. You come, and everyone enjoys each other’s company. We run, we have beers. Simple as that.
Stephane: Well, it doesn’t have to be more complicated than that, right?

Do you find that this running club is on par with say, the clubs in Berlin, or New York?
Elise: They’ve been there forever, so we’re a bit younger.
Stephane: We’re also a fair bit smaller, but I mean there are groups of different sizes all over the world. We’re growing at a pace we’re comfortable with, but we’re happy with where we’re at. It’s all about respecting the spirit behind the movement, right? I think that’s the most important thing when people come here from elsewhere. They get here what they get at home – just the feeling of acceptance. The social side to running might not be so obvious with every club.

How long is your usual Tuesday run?
Chloé: Usually between 6-9k
Elise: Anywhere between 5 and 10k in the winter.
Chloé: When the temperature is shitty, it’s shorter.

What are you training for right now?
Lecia: The Montreal marathon.
Stephane: Our runs are getting long, on non-Tuesdays.
Lecia: I try to encourage almost everybody to sign up for sure.
Stephane: Signing up for something that you don’t think you can do can be the push you need, right? You never know that you can run a marathon until you actually try one! I mean, there’s training involved, absolutely.
Elise: And everyone trains together, so it really motivates you to do it.
Chloé: It keeps you motivated.
Stephane: It’s a good support group
Lecia: And if you don’t run you cheer, that’s the team motto.


Words by COURTNEY BAIRD-LEW | Photos by LOGAN MACKAY

This article is part of Issue 2: Outdoors