Photo : Alexis Berg

Simon Benoit Named Honorary President of Ultra-Trail Harricana

This year, under the theme of Health, Ultra-Trail® Harricana of Canada (UTHC) can count on the presence of Honorary President Doctor Simon Benoit, or “Doc Benoit.” The ultramarathon athlete, lecturer, collaborator for Distances+ web magazine, ambassador, teacher as well as consulting physician for The Running Clinic has become a key reference in endurance race medicine in Quebec.

The importance of “finding balance”

The president is very pleased with the choice of the annual theme for the 2019 UTHC under the slogan, “Finding Balance.”

“Finding balance is a huge challenge these days,” says Simon Benoit. “On one hand, there are still too many people who are sedentary and think that in order to be active, they have to give it their all and train for a marathon every day. On the other hand, there are those who go to the extreme and over-train.” According to Simon, the message that needs to be conveyed and understood is to differentiate between “active” and “athletic.” To be healthy, a person should be lightly active every day.

For Simon, trail running quickly became a daily workout, “At the end of my work day, I run home through the Mont Royal trails. It helps me recharge in nature. It’s a healthy kind of escape from my stressful and slightly hectic job,” he says. He runs every day, twelve months out of the year, to go to work at the Centre Hospitalier de Verdun, approximately 7 km from his home.

Before completing his specialization in medicine, the ambassador of active travel completed a Bachelor of Physiotherapy and a Doctorate of Chiropractic. Simon explains, “It’s the best way for me to remain active on a daily basis and to achieve my athletic goals while maintaining a healthy life balance.” He says that physical activity should be seen as a stress management tool, and not as a source of stress.

Simon Benoit on the 125 km course in 2015

A safe discipline

He also believes that ultra-trail running is a very safe sport when compared to other “extreme” sports. Most injuries occur due to overtraining too quickly, “Healthy and balanced runners are not influenced by anything other than what they have to do. They are indifferent to the opinions of others or of those found on social media.” According to Simon, this outside pressure is a runner’s number one enemy, as it can lead to burnout and other mental injuries.

Simon also stresses that it’s possible to put in the exact same number of hours when training for a 10 km or a 125 km: “What’s important is the process behind the race. It’s what you do in the months leading up to it to prepare for your challenge. And it’s this process that helps a runner grow. In running, there is no technology that can significantly improve your performance, like in other sports. It all depends on your training.”

Hiking: a passion that runs in the family

Simon Benoit developed his love for nature and the mountains when he was just a teenager. At the time, he would join different outdoor and hiking camps in Maine, in the heart of the Appalachian Trail. That’s where he met Julie Emond, who would later become his wife and the mother of his children. Julie herself is also an avid trail runner.

And it’s thanks to Julie that Simon enjoys trail running so much today. She challenged him to start running in 2014, during a period of his life when he was not active, and not in very good shape. In order to motivate himself, he joined the Club de trail de Montréal, which had just been formed.

After completing a 5 km track race, a 15 km at the Tour Mont-Royal Brébeuf, and a 30 km at Mont Gosford, he signed up for the UTHC 28 km, transferring instead to the 65 km, since his training was going so well. “That was the year I fell in love with running. It was magical. I ran a good part of the race with Lucile Besson, who finished in first place in the women’s category. It helped me relive my love for hiking from my younger days,” says Simon. He then went on to complete the 125 km three times, in 2015, 2016 and 2018. Together with his family, he is an active volunteer for the event.

Simon Benoit at the arrival of the 65 km with Lucille Besson in 2014

Ultra-trail running as a research topic

This immersion into the world of running made him want to take a closer look at treatments and injury prevention in ultra-endurance and trail running. He even chose to swap one work day per week in the ER for an office day, in order to treat his sports clientele.

Simon completed several training programs offered by The Running Clinic, closely monitors medical news on the subject, discusses the topic with runners, and tests out several different techniques on his own. “The scientific aspect of it is really interesting to me. I enjoy following new publications, dissecting quality studies and analyzing them. But I believe the truth lies somewhere between field experience and published works. Several elements in the field are still subject to debate,” he says. He’s tried minimalist and maximalist running shoes, several different hydration bags, various eating plans, and many more techniques.

In addition to his columns in Distances+, which will be shared on the Ultra-Trail Harricana social media platforms between now and the event, Simon will also share informational videos to help UTHC athletes prepare for their challenge in a healthy and balanced way.