Quebec City’s unique (but wildly difficult) stair-running race

Quebec City's unique (but wildly difficult) stair-running race

If you’re searching for a fun and unique event to add to your race schedule this year, look no further, because it doesn’t get much cooler (or more difficult) than Quebec City’s Défi Escaliers. Je Cours QC’s Défi Escaliers (which translates to “stairs challenge”) offers a number of races on the many stairs in Quebec City. It’s not an easy run by any means (if you race the full distance 19K race you’ll run close to 3,000 steps), but it’s definitely one for every runner’s bucket list. This year’s race is set for June 17, and registration is open now.

Photo: Louis Charland

The Défi Escaliers features several different distances, all of which (as the event’s name suggests) take participants up and down Quebec City’s staircases. Other than a kids’ 2K race, the shortest option is 9K, although this race is still plenty tough for anyone looking for a challenge. In the 9K run, which has a time cutoff of three hours, runners will run up or down close to 30 different staircases and a grand total of 1,250 steps.

The next step up is a 13K run; participants will see more than 30 staircases and just under 2,500 steps. Finally, there is the main event: the brutal 19K slog that will beat down even the strongest of runners.

Photo: Louis Charland

The 19K race features more than 40 staircases (it covers every staircase that connects Quebec City’s Lower Town and Upper Town), and runners will see 2,828 steps between the start and finish lines. The cutoff for the 19K race is a bit longer than the other two, and participants will have three hours and 45 minutes to complete the course.

In all three distances, runners will alternate between ascending and descending the staircases. Runners entered in the 13K and 19K races get an extra treat (or extra torture, depending on your mindset), as they will encounter the Cap-Blanc staircase, a 398-step behemoth of a climb. If runners survive that, they’ll still have a long way to go before the home stretch (but trust us, it will be fun!)

Other noteworthy spots on the race routes include the steep 59-step Breakneck Stairs (the city’s oldest staircase, built in 1635), Faubourg Stairs (a 99-step iron staircase with a tremendous view of the Laurentian mountain range from the top) and Lépine Stairs (118 steps bookended by beautiful wrought-iron arches).

Photo: Louis Charland

The Défi Escaliers is an event that every runner should consider. It’s wildly difficult and will take you out of your comfort zone, and while your legs will be screaming at you throughout the run, it’s basically a guarantee that you’ll have tons of fun in this interesting spin on classic road races.

To sign up for the 2023 event, click here.

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