If anyone had predicted several years back how Maxime Bernier might indulge a landmark mid-life birthday, it likely wouldn’t have been training for a 100-km run.
The Quebec MP, who turned 50 this year, is halfway through eight months of preparation for a gruelling ultramarathon in September to raise funds for a local food bank, la Fondation Moisson Beauce.
Bernier’s plan is to run the length of his riding of Beauce, Que., starting in the south end at Saint-Ludger, crossing 10 municipalities, and ending at Saint-Bernard in the north. His goal is to run the entire 100 km in less than 12 hours, with no walking breaks and only slowing his running pace to eat or drink.
“People in my riding they say, ‘Maxime, it’s crazy to do that,’ ” the MP said during an interview in Ottawa.
“When you turn 50, you ask questions about yourself and what you did the last 50 years and what you can do for the future. Some [people] are saying, ‘At 50 are you sure? What about your health? It’s not good for your knees.’ I have a lot of running shoes. I have a good trainer. It is not easy, but I like it. It is also a good way to manage my stress. It is a very stressful job.”
The MP had to get his doctor’s approval to ensure his heart and body can take the punishing training. He checks his pulse each morning, has added more protein to his diet and gets up at 5 a.m. to run five days a week. He does not drink beyond the odd glass of wine. “At nine o’clock, I am in my bed,” he joked.
He does 90-minute runs on work days and a long run of up to 40 km each weekend, covering about 100 km per week. He raced in a Toronto marathon recently, finishing in three hours and 40 minutes, five minutes under his target time.
His trainer is Eric Deshaies, a double-Ironman world champion from Gatineau, Que. Deshaies believes Bernier has the physical ability to complete the run but said he will hit a wall at 70 km, at which point it will become a mental battle.
Peter MacKay, the minister of national defence, told Maclean’s: “I have run with him in the past and he is fit—for a 50-year-old. It’s great to see politicians, not always known to be models of health and fitness, focused on undertaking such impressive initiatives.”
Bernier has raised $20,000 so far and hopes to raise $50,000. He will have family at the race. Bernier has two children and a girlfriend, who he wants to keep private about, given his history.
Bernier, the former minister of foreign affairs, made headlines when he resigned from his cabinet post in 2008 after his former girlfriend, Julie Couillard, revealed he left classified documents in her Montreal home. There were also questions about Couillard’s connections to a member of a biker gang and revelations she acted as an unregistered lobbyist for a real estate company and approached senior government officials while dating Bernier. Couillard later wrote a tell-all book about the romance and auctioned off the low-cut dress she wore to his swearing-in at Rideau Hall for $1,000 for charity. In 2011, Bernier re-entered cabinet as minister of state for small business and tourism.
Bernier is confident he will reach his ultramarathon goal. “I don’t want to fail. Sometimes I ask myself if I will be able to finish. It’s doable but it’s still a challenge at 50.”