Long-distance runner Justin Pozin is used to travelling on rough, unfamiliar terrain — just not usually with snowshoes strapped to his feet.
But in March, the 31-year-old found himself participating with the best of the best in the World Snowshoeing Championship in Forest of Montmorency, Quebec.
Pretty impressive for someone who picked up the sport two winters ago and had only competed in a snowshoe race twice before.
“Probably 20 times I had been out snowshoe running, getting all these weird looks from people in the Don Valley Golf Course and these huskies chasing me,” the York Mills resident says.
The unfamiliarity didn’t stop the experienced runner from signing up for a snowshoe race on a whim. Unable to run on icy roads and sidewalks during the winter, Pozin figured snowshoeing would be a good way to maintain his training.
A week before the 2010 race in Sydenham, his snowshoes — one size too small — arrived by mail.
“I think I was able to go out once before the race and try them out,” he says. But his prior running experience obviously helped him — he placed third out of 30 participants. With not that much more experience on snowshoes, Pozin was back in Sydenham this past January, seeking success this time in the World qualifying race. He found it, placing fourth.
Though still relatively new to the sport, Pozin wasn’t faced with a huge learning curve. He’s learned to adjust to a slightly wider running style. It’s a misconception snowshoes are “giant tennis rackets,” Pozin says. They’re actually quite compact and lightweight.
For the most part, Pozin keeps drawing upon his prior experience. He began pursuing long-distance running about 10 years ago, completing his first half-marathon in 2002.
Today, the married father of two has kept up the pace. He won’t go longer than three weeks without racing.
“I’m always training for something,” he says. “Most runners think I’m a little bit crazy.”
But Pozin says the short-term training goals keep him on track.
“I need that little carrot,” he says.
Though many competitive runners will travel outside the city to get to remote trails, Pozin generally stays close to home, hitting the pavement for roadwork with a local running group, or travelling the trails solo in Sunnybrook Park.
An elementary school teacher at Blythwood Public School, Pozin is currently on paternity leave, but taking care of two kids under the age of five (son Jacob is four, daughter Ella is one) is full-time work.
“I’ve always been a very outdoorsy person, and it’s hard with two kids,” he says. “I don’t often get opportunities to do that kind of stuff anymore. It is nice to have that two hours just to get away.”
That said, Pozin’s pursuits also afford the family of four some quality time together. At the Worlds, parents and children bunked together in a university dorm room.
“That’s the main thing, that my wife and kids are so incredibly supportive and tolerant of this whole craziness,” Pozin says.
Unfortunately, things did not bode well for Pozin the day of the race. His training hindered by a virtually snow-free Toronto this winter and feeling bogged down by a nasty cold, Pozin says he wasn’t in tip-top shape, especially in a mountainous region.
“It was the toughest 10K I’ve ever done, no question,” he says. “I’m not used to running in anything close to elevation here in Toronto.”
Snowshoeing the 10-km race in about 56 minutes, Pozin came in last out of the 50 participants in the World event, but beat out most participants of the Quebec championships, a race that took place at the same time as the Worlds.
Not knowing what to expect beforehand, Pozin decided he was just going to enjoy the experience.
“Most races, I feel a lot of pressure going into it because I know I’ve done the race before, I know what times I’ve done,” he says. “But this was, like, I’m just happy to be here. I know I’m not going to beat the Italian guy who won out of 6,000 runners.”
Back in Toronto, Pozin is now gearing up for a spring and summer of running.
Next winter, he’ll be strapping on the snowshoes, but on one condition: “If there’s snow,” he says with a laugh.
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