Running from Montréal to Québec City To Help Malik and His FamilyFrom August 25 to 28, 2022
270 km – 70 km/day – 4 Days
On August 28, 2017, Malik Fontaine was born and injected his natural joie de vivre into the small family of Mélanie McCann and Martin Fontaine. Éloïc, 4 years old, is overjoyed to finally see his little brother for the first time at the CHU de Québec-Université Laval.
Energetic, resourceful and of a stunt nature, Malik triggers palpitations in his parents, but fortunately, without major accidents. Malik, their little happiness on two legs, is a healthy little boy who likes to explore and discover new things. He loves going to daycare to meet his friends and it is with a smile and hugs that he is welcomed. It is with a head full of imagination that Malik bites into life and has fun with his comrades around stories of dinosaurs and superheroes.
Months and years pass and Malik is doing well, except for the inevitable minor colds that regularly arise during the long winter months specific to Quebec.
In 2022, at the age of four and a half, the tide turned. Monday, February 21, 2022, Malik seems to have a little less energy and interest in the activities offered at daycare. The next day, a high fever seizes him and lasts for 5 days. A visit to the local clinic reveals nothing major about his health.
Apart from this fever, Malik has nothing physically to suggest a diagnosis of cancer, but the results of the blood count come out less than 48 hours after his admission to the hospital on February 26, 2022. Bad cells are noticed in his bone marrow.
The results of the blood tests are disturbing. A blood test poor in white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets, requires transport by ambulance to the CHU de Québec-Université Laval for a blood transfusion.
After two days of uncertainty, unanswered questions, worry and very little rest, the diagnosis is announced to the anxious parents. Malik has very high-risk (grade 4) acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Her parents are devastated.
Time freezes. Ideas are blurred. The sky is falling on their heads. This terrible news hits them hard. This is the kind of news that no parent wants to hear.
The hemato-oncologist explains the upcoming process to them. Dr. Bruno Michon with extraordinary calm takes the time to explain the next steps to them. Mélanie and Martin quickly gather their belongings and rush to the Charles-Bruneau Cancer Center where Malik’s real fight will begin. He is taken care of the next day. He undergoes a bone marrow puncture to measure the degree of his leukaemia. The diagnosis is confirmed, but the exact process of chemotherapy that Malik will have to endure is not yet identified. The next day, he must be fasting for surgery to install a Port-A-Cart (PAC) on his abdomen, connected to the vena cava of his heart, necessary for chemotherapy treatments.
The first official diagnosis is communicated to them. Malik is at low risk (grade 1). The parents are relatively relieved although they are predicted that the treatment will be intense, but less invasive than normal. A few days pass and they read all the documentation they can find on this type of cancer. They try to assimilate everything explained to them by the oncologists, pediatricians, nurses, social worker, physiotherapist, massage therapist and the Leucan team.
This overdose of information is like a tidal wave that grabs them and makes them lose their footing. Nevertheless, she stimulates them to redouble their efforts to support their little champion who is already fighting a powerful enemy from the height of his 4 years.
Unfortunately, a few days later, a second diagnosis is announced to them. Since science isn’t always exact, they learn that Malik ultimately has very high-risk (grade 4) acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). This new diagnosis hits them, once again, with full force. Already at the end of their strength to take turns at the hospital because of the restrictions due to COVID-19, they learn that Malik’s treatments will be more aggressive and more invasive. Nevertheless, they remain hopeful by clinging to the prognosis of 80% treatment success.
Armed with the little energy they have left, they get up to support Malik and the rest of their little family.
In their heads, it is chaos. Questions flood in and parents wonder how they’re going to get there. In addition to their respective jobs, they must accompany their little Malik in his daily fight. But they also have to take care of their big 8-year-old boy, Éloïc, who has to pursue school, hockey and his life in general, still not understanding why he can’t visit his little brother who is bedridden in the hospital.
The new situation of Mélanie and Martin imposes important readjustments on them. They must terminate the daycare contract, because Malik will no longer be able to return there. They must also find a solution for Malik who will not be able to start school in September.
Fortunately, family, friends and work colleagues are mobilizing to help them manage their schedules, which have been a huge challenge since the beginning of this fight. This wave of mutual aid still warms their hearts today. Meals, washing, cleaning and the rest of their daily life has been restructured to allow them to take care of Malik and his older brother Éloïc who is going through this difficult situation at 8 years old.
The financial challenge of their new context also worries them. They have to cover the costs related to long periods of hospitalization, medication, parking and the resulting loss of income. A GoFundMe was therefore set up by a close friend to alleviate the stress of their new situation.
Five long months have passed with ups and downs, but Malik’s leukemia is responding relatively well to treatment. Her little body is extremely weakened, but her smile has nevertheless returned, which warms her parents’ hearts day after day.
Malik gives them the energy to support him in his fight against leukemia. However, he still has 19 months of chemotherapy at the end of which they will finally be able to ring the bell of the long-awaited victory.
Little champion, great warrior, your parents are so proud of you and they will be by your side to celebrate the end of your long and arduous fight.
Follow me live
You can track my progress in real-time and see where I am at all times during the four days of this 270 km run.
If you feel courageous enough and want to be a part of the adventure, you can join me and run a few kilometres.
Whether you track my run or participate, your interest is a source of energy for me.
Malik and I thank you in advance.
(Available only when I’m running)
After Action Report
The 2022 One Run For One Life Edition is over, but I would like to offer a complete account of this event from my perspective.
As you all know, I was involved in a run from Montréal to Québec City to raise awareness and funds to help Malik Fontaine, a 5-year-old boy from Levi (Québec) afflicted by a very high-risk (grade 4) acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), and his family.
The idea to perform this 270 km run came during lunch with a good friend and business partner, Sophie Massé, who mentioned that our former colleagues, Mélanie McCann and Martin Fontaine, had the youngest of their two boys sick with leukemia. Upon hearing this, without a second thought, I elected to undertake this run.
Later that same day, I contacted Mélanie to tell her about my plan and ask her if she wouldn’t mind me running to raise funds to help her and her husband during this gruelling 24-month-long ordeal. At first, I could feel she was shocked and hesitant. I assured her it was no trouble, and that I was glad to put my running talent to good use. She accepted, although I could still feel her discomfort at having people donate money and me going through my form of suffer-fest to help them.
The project was taking shape at a snail’s pace as the communications between the young couple and me took time to become fluid. Eventually, the couple answered back-and-forth texts in a timely fashion and the project went into overdrive.
I devised a training plan to prepare for the next twelve weeks. Fortunately, I could do my long runs up North in St-Sauveur and focus. Also, I could plan the other aspects of the run in a friendly, quiet, and welcoming environment. And so, for the next twelve weeks, I would train, train, and train some more.
Before I started training for this run, I asked a good friend if he wouldn’t mind following me during the four-day run to film and photograph every aspect of the event. He seemed delighted and accepted. However, a couple of weeks before the event, he backed out, leaving me with a big problem to solve. He “did not have the time to spare.” I suspected that time was not the issue, and later, facts confirmed my suspicions.
I asked my friends on Facebook if any of them had connections that could help me overcome this video/photography hurdle. No one stepped up, even those who owed me favours, even those I gave paying video contracts in the past. I was so disappointed.
Martin, Malik’s father, stepped up to the plate and offered to follow me on his bike and snap video clips and photos as I ran toward Québec City. At first, I was stunned, but then I read between the lines and understood that he was still uneasy with this whole thing and that he needed to be an active part of it. I gladly accepted. Problem solved.
Next, there was the event logistics issue. I needed someone to drive a vehicle that would carry all my spare gear, food, hydration, and other necessities. Sophie Massé (who mentioned Malik’s illness to me at lunch) offered to be that person. But I declined the offer because I also needed someone with great medical skills to assist me when things would inevitably go south. Also, I needed someone I could boss around and who would not take it personally, an individual who knew me very well and had the required skills to manage me when I would be in the darkest place mentally. Sophie Charland was this person.
My crew now counted two individuals, a driver with an SUV and medical skills and a biker with a pro racing bike and a personal stake in the game.
I needed to build a website to promote the run and create Facebook and Instagram accounts to raise awareness about the event. I did everything by myself. Although I am not a graphic designer, I designed all the visuals, logos and graphics. Also, to help people see where I was at during the run, I purchased a GPS device and had an interactive map designed by an external firm. I linked the map to the site.
Training progressed and got harder gradually. Unfortunately, other aspects of my life were in complete chaos, and my focus was not as it should have been. I could not reach the level of concentration I needed, and recovery after each run became difficult. Also, I was eating less and less. I was not recharging my energy stores adequately, which made my training even harder than necessary. Still, I managed, and I felt confident I could complete the upcoming challenge.
DAY ONE: August 25, 2022
Finally, the first day of the event was upon me. We loaded the car with everything I needed and drove to Montréal’s Sainte-Justine Hospital, where I would start running toward Québec City. When we arrived, I greeted Martin, who I had not seen in over ten years, and a few members of his family. Hugs, kisses, and a few photo snaps later, at 9:00 am sharp, I started running.
My friend Pascal offered to run a few kilometres with me, accompanied by his girlfriend and children. I accepted. His business partner, Merlin, hopped into the SUV that would follow me and started snapping photos and video clips. Although I said I would run slowly, the moment the gun in my head went off, I bolted. It was finally time to go to Québec City.
As I ran across town, and to make it safer, the city provided me with a police escort. The cops on mountain bikes stopped traffic and managed bystanders like real pros, which they were. In no time, we reached Old Montreal. I missed a turn and had to make a detour to get back on track. Pascal was still hanging on behind me. Upon reaching the Jacques-Cartier bridge, I bid farewell to the police escort, Pascal and Merlin, then proceeded toward Québec City, followed by Sophie, the nurse driving the SUV, and Martin on his bike. It was going to be a very long day.
As I started moving relentlessly toward Québec City, the heat became an issue. I was drinking profusely but careful to avoid hyponatremia. Unfortunately, I could swallow no food. All I could eat during the first day was four energy gels and a small piece of a ham sandwich. This fueling problem would become a serious challenge. At this rate, I was stealing from the energy I needed the next day. The result would be a growing energy deficit day after day. Things were not looking good at around 50 km into the run. I still had 20 km to cover before I could eat, sleep and recharge. I stopped abruptly once the GPS hit the 70 km mark. My mind did not want to take one more step.
Walking to the car, 10 m behind, felt like an impossible task. Once in the car, we drove to the hotel in Lanoraie. As soon as I entered the room, I showered and stayed motionless under the hot water for about 15 minutes. It was time to refuel. Unfortunately, it was late, and there were only frozen, ready-to-eat dishes at the hotel. Regardless of how hungry I was, I could not eat. I swallowed a spoonful of vegetables and a dime-size piece of chicken. I could not manage more food. I drank profusely, then I wrote a short post, and finally, I linked the route. Sophie then took care of my medical needs. Swallowing my meds was difficult. She massaged my legs with a special anti-inflammatory cream and prepared my recovery drink. I went to bed and fell asleep within seconds. Day one was complete. Jesus, I have another three days to go!
DAY TWO: August 26, 2022
I woke up with my legs feeling like concrete blocks. I was hungry. Sophie took care of ordering breakfast while I prepared for another gruelling day. Unfortunately for us, the weather was going to be cold, windy and rainy all day. The wind will slow me down; the cold will drain my energy, and the rain will make me feel even colder because I would be completely soaked. Not a cheerful prospect for someone who had to run another 70 km. Also, my legs, shoulders and back were hurting very much. It was going to be another long day.
We drove to where we had stopped the night before. I prepared my hydration bladder, put on my running vest, turned on my earphones, cued my playlist, and took off. I could not move faster than 7:30 min/km. The headwind was not pleasant. The temperature was around 15 degrees Celsius, but I was freezing wearing shorts and a t-shirt. And now, the rain started. Lightly for a couple of hours, then pouring for another couple. I was so cold that I battled cramps in my feet for about 40 km. Also, I could not swallow any food again, just gels and fluids. I tried to have a ham sandwich, but after two bites, I felt full. The prospect of running another 30 km seemed insane. Still, I battled against the pain and the mental issues triggered by the cold, and kept pushing on forward.
By now, it was dark, and even though Sophie was driving 10 metres behind me with her lights on, things became dicey at this point. I saw a rabbit cross the road, then another, then many. They were jumping around while I ran toward them, then disappeared. A few minutes later, I saw what appeared to be a 10-foot black snake slithering on the asphalt. I jumped, then realized it was only a crack in the road filled with rubber. I quickly understood what was happening. I was so low on calories from not eating, drained of energy from the cold, and exhausted from running in a headwind all day, I knew I was hallucinating. Considering the situation, it was time to call it a day before serious and permanent harm came to me. So I stopped running and sat in the car.
We were in Trois-Rivières by now. Sophie drove us to the hotel where the three of us would crash for the night. The boiling hot long shower was welcome. While I was running earlier, Sophie bought dinner at Thai Express. I love their soup and fried rice. I was eager to eat finally. But, I could not. The only things I could swallow were berries and fluids. After a long leg, back and shoulder massage with Extra Strength Voltaren cream, I instantly fell asleep. Day two was finally over.
DAY THREE: August 27, 2022
As soon as I woke up, I knew today would be a problem. I felt weak from not eating for two days and in pain from not recovering quickly enough. Apparently, my body was feeding on itself, eating up my muscles as fuel. I could not consider running safely. We drove to where we had to start, and I started trotting slowly. Still, everything was hurting. And, just to make things clear, I can endure a tremendous amount of pain. So, when I complain about it, people usually quickly head to the emergency room. I ran 8 km and felt it was time to ask for help, so I turned to Martin and confided in him. I admitted could not run anymore today without getting seriously or permanently injured and I was very much in need of food and rest. As I spoke to him, I realized his role was now shifting from observer to active participant. I felt he wanted to be one of the key actors in this performance rather than a mere figurant. He happily accepted to bike the distance I would not cover today. And like a champ, he did just that.
Once the remaining distance was covered, and we reached the town of Deschambault, Sophie put her foot down. “You must eat tonight or you won’t be able to run the last day.” We drove to the hotel she booked in advance and after a quick shower, we went to the hotel’s restaurant. I ate a thick and bloody steak with baked potatoes, salmon tartar, and a large profiterole. No alcohol, but a copious amount of tonic water and lime. An hour later, I felt much better. I went to bed after another vigorous massage session and fell asleep. The next day, Sophie told me I screamed in my sleep and tossed and turn frenetically. She had to yell at me to stop. I remember nothing about this, nor can I recall even hearing her voice. I was out cold.
DAY FOUR: August 28, 2022
I woke up feeling energized and ready for action. But my right ankle was not happy at all. While we were having dinner, Sophie mentioned that apparently, Martin was grateful for biking the day’s distance and felt very emotional about the experience of actually playing a lead role in this project. I was happy for him. It never occurred to me to make this 270 km run a relay with him. Things sometimes take a better turn than expected. My injuries and health issues turned out to be good things for him and me. In retrospect, I have no regrets about letting him help me.
I ran 10 km to test my legs. They were fine again, except for my right ankle, which was killing me. Every step felt like a dagger was being stuck through it. No way was I going to quit because of this. So I ran, regardless of the excruciating pain. A marathon runner from the area, Eric Tremblay, ran a section with me. I was running at a relatively slow pace because of my ankle and for fear of additional injury.
Martin brought to my attention that the distance to cover today was going to be shorter than projected because the hospital in front of which we were supposed to finish the run decided, the day before the event, to cancel our access to its parking lot. This one staff member declared that “insurance” was an issue. Seriously? Now? I was floored and furious.
Fortunately, IGA des Sources in Cap-Rouge stepped up and allowed us to use a section of their parking lot. They supplied the crowd at the finish line with food and a 10-foot by 10-foot tent. They acted like real pros.
All said and done, the distance today was going to be 20 km shorter. But it was going to be a scorching hot day. I asked Martin to bike 20 km so I could run the last 21 km. Martin’s brother from Alberta joined us and ran with me, then another run, a friend of Martin’s, joined us for the last 16 km.
6 km from the finish line, other runners joined in. By now, we had a police escort to help us navigate safely. The fire department joined in, and we looked like a procession. My legs were feeling great, except for the crazy pain in my ankle. Still, I did not realize that I accelerated substantially and left everyone behind. The only thing in front of me was a police car blocking streets as I relentlessly moved forward. Martin caught up with me on his bike and asked me to slow down a few times so the rest of the runners could catch up. I eventually did. They caught up.
One kilometre from the finish line, Malik’s older brother Éloïc was anxiously waiting to run the last 1000 meters with me. He ran like a champ! Martin and I were very proud of how he conducted himself on the run, and I asked him to grab the finish line banner when we arrived. I allowed him to finish slightly ahead of me so he could have this privilege. I was so happy for him. He was the star now. We crossed the finish line, and suddenly, it was over.
People were clapping, cheering, snapping photos, and a few were crying. Everyone expressed gratitude for what my team and I have accomplished for Malik. Mélanie introduced me to Malik. What a cute little boy! He was still under the impact of his latest round of chemo and was not himself. But he smiled at me as I held him in my arms. We took photos in the fire truck. Then he asked me why I was wet. We laughed and paused for more photos. People came to shake my hand and offer their thanks and congratulations. I am not a person who accepts compliments easily or stands willingly in the spotlight. All my life, I wanted to be invisible. But for this child, I was prepared to walk through fire.
The run was complete. Everyone was glad. Sophie was probably relieved to see me still standing and feeling better, except for my right ankle, which was still throbbing. I said my goodbyes to all, hugged Malik, Mélanie, Éloïc, and Martin, and got into the car. Sophie drove us to the hotel. It was finally over. I was happy. I was relieved. I felt alive.
The hot shower was a benediction. I was filthy, stinky, tired, and mentally exhausted. My ankle was hurting even more than before from the pounding in the last 16 km. But I expected to recover and heal promptly. I had no worries about that.
Sophie and I went to dinner. I wanted a burger so badly! I had onion rings, a large burger and tonic water with lime. No dessert. Now, all I wanted was to sleep.
Now, throughout this entire narrative, Malik did not come up much. I can assure you he was in my thoughts every inch of the way. But before I touch on Malik, I would like to clarify why I wanted to undertake this run. For years now, I have observed that in North America, the genuine sense of community is slowly, but steadily, evaporating. People have never been so isolated. Regardless of how much we expose ourselves to social media and promote our beautiful life for all to see, for many, the reality is far from glamour and glitter. And while we anxiously curate our collection of followers into tidy groups, feed them our life trivia and pretend we are a part of a virtual community, when it is all said and done, we go back home and we still feel alone. I long for the days when people touched each other without fear, talked to each other without tiptoeing, and expressed love and care without feeling embarrassed about looking soft. I still remember when people went out of their way for each other. Yes, most family members extend a hand in times of hardship, but this is no longer the norm. It seems we have become self-centred and are no longer willing to assist a stranger, or even a friend in need (unless we get something out of it.) I have grown tired of seeing people suffer and scream in silence. It has become taboo to ask proactively for help. The perception is that if you need help; you do not appear to be successful enough or that your misfortune could be contagious (so let’s get out of the way.) Believe me, I have experienced this several times. When times were hard for me, family and friends ran for cover like I had the plague.
When my friend told me of Mélanie and Martin’s predicament, I understood that, once again, it was time for me to help in my own way. Yes, I could have sent $500 and satisfied my conscience, and there would be nothing wrong with that. But I believed I could do more by putting one of my talents to work and raising awareness and, hopefully, more funds to help this family. I completely understood why Mélanie and Martin felt uneasy when I first extended my proposition. I would have felt the same, no question about it. And accepting my help demanded a substantial amount of courage and humility. But sometimes, we must humble ourselves for the greater good, in this case, for their child. I cannot imagine how I would feel if one of my boys had Malik’s leukemia. I would move heaven and earth to ease his suffering. Unfortunately, this condition is not an enemy anyone else can fight, except the patient and his medical team. This fight creates collateral damage. A family’s life is turned upside down. The focus on the sick child creates another situation with the other child who probably feels left behind or maybe loved less. But this is unavoidable.
So, the reason I wanted to help was to try to lighten the burden on these parents who have enough on their plate by trying to work and handle all the family’s requirements, on top of all the additional stress and logistics associated with caring for a long-term sick child. I don’t know if I could successfully manage all this if I were in their shoes. And while we did raise a bit more money, and for that, I can’t thank you enough, there is still a long way to go. Malik will undergo aggressive chemotherapy treatments for two years. He is the true endurance athlete here. He is the one who is not quitting when things get tough.
As I said earlier, Malik was in my thoughts every inch of the way because things got sketchy very quickly for me during this run. I was flooded with negative thoughts harassing me to give up. But if Malik didn’t quit, I wouldn’t. However, let’s be realistic, quitting, from my perspective, is only allowed for three reasons. One, you are at risk of permanently injuring yourself. Two, you are about to pass out from exhaustion. Three, you die. During this run, I experienced numbers one and two. I could have stopped, called it quits at any time and gone back home. And no one would have had the right to comment on it. But I thought about Malik and his own fight, he did not have the luxury of giving up. He kept me going.
I also wondered what lessons could future Malik learn from this adventure. I believe he would learn that it is OK to accept help from others without feeling diminished. He would learn that selflessly helping others is one of the noblest qualities a human being can possess. He would learn that perseverance in the face of adversity builds character. He would see how many people cared for him. And he would see how much his parents love him. There are many more lessons to learn from what just unfolded throughout these four days, but if he only understood what I just mentioned, mission accomplished on our part
I want to conclude by saying that I felt honoured and proud to run for Malik and his family. I hope that the experience has created a special bond between us. Maybe in the future, I will get to know Malik better and get to play with him. Maybe I will be called upon to help again. Who knows? I finished this run feeling happy, spent and grateful.
I could not have completed this event without the special help from Sophie Charland, who was a real trooper. She dealt with my neediness, my bossing around, my dry tone, my sarcasm and my injuries without failing even once. I am so grateful for her help in every aspect of this project. She gave me energy when I felt exhausted, strength when I felt weak and perseverance when I felt all was lost.
I want to thank Martin for his patience when things turned dark for me. He was a true champ, picking up the torch for me and biking the distance when I could not take one more step. He acted with a solution-oriented mindset when things got difficult with logistics. Malik is very lucky to have such a father.
I want to thank the runners (Denis Fontaine, Jean-Michel Boutin, Marie-Ève Landry, and all the others) who volunteered to cover some sections of this long route with me. I needed this. You were all champs!
Also, I want to thank Mélanie for everything she did behind the scene. I was fortunate to experience her coordination talents and professionalism firsthand when we worked together over a decade ago.
I want to thank all the people who donated to our cause; some even donated multiple times.
I want to thank in advance all those who will continue to donate and support this wonderful family.
Thanks to all who shared our posts, you help spread the word.
I cannot thank enough sponsors who helped in their capacity with donations, logistics and services. Special thanks to Jean Lemieux for his gracious photography, to Sylvain Gélinas from Mono-Lino for all his generous printings, to IGA des Sources in Cap-Rouge for the finish line logistics.
Thanks to the Montréal and Québec City Police Departments and Fire Departments for escorting us.
Thanks to Sophie Massé for her patience and generosity during my training.
Thanks to Pascal Guzzo for the photos and videos at the start of the run and for running with me the first 10 km.
Thanks to 2XU for the best running gear.
Thanks to Nanuk for the best and safest crash cases that money can buy.
Thanks to the hotels who waived their fees.
Thanks to Follow My Challenge USA for their precise mapping services.
Thanks to all those I forgot.
«The only competition worth a damn is the one against yourself.»
Photo: Merlin Little – Green Horizon