BAR HARBOR — For the second year in a row, local runner Jennifer Britz brought home medals from the World Snowshoe Championships. This year’s event was held Feb. 14-16 in Myoko, Japan, hosted by the World Snowshoe Federation and the Japan Snowshoeing Federation.
Britz placed fifth overall for women and second in her age group in the open 10K race. As a team, the U.S. Women finished in first place.
The races took place at a ski resort several hours north of Tokyo, in a region known as the Japanese Alps. “There were beautiful snowy and jagged mountains,” Britz described in an interview with the Islander.
Racers ran on a cross-country ski trail at the resort. Though it was warm on race day, there was still about three feet of packed snow on the trails, Britz said.
The ski resort was in a natural hot spring area. Even with snow all around, Britz said, “streams were steaming. Every hotel had a hot spring you could go into.” A soak in the hot spring was nice after a long snowshoe run, Britz noted.
Britz flew in and out of Tokyo, and enjoyed her time sightseeing there as well. Tokyo was “very clean, very pedestrian friendly,” she said, and it felt very safe for such a large city. “Rush hour was lots of people walking,” she said. Britz’s own preferred method of sightseeing was taking jogs through the city, enjoying the temples, parks, and public gardens. Cherry blossoms were just starting to bloom.
“I definitely want to go back,” Britz said. “The food is really good.”
To Japan and beyond
Britz qualified for the U.S. Women’s Snowshoeing Team last March at the U.S. Snowshoe Championships in Cable, Wis. A total of 27 racers were on the U.S. team, including men and women.
The snowshoe team is not yet officially recognized by U.S. Track and Field, Britz said, so they don’t have the funding to pay for travel for team members. “We have to pay our whole trip,” she said, though the team members get a package discount.
Britz was able to raise money through financial sponsorships, including one from Linda Parker of Mount Desert Island Ice Cream, who also has a connection to Japan.
“Linda just recently opened a new [ice cream] shop in Japan that was only 30 minutes or so from where I was racing,” Britz said. In addition to being a financial sponsor, Parker “was such a great help with information on traveling to and around Japan.”
In addition to raising funds, Britz had to train for the World Snowshoe Championships. An avid mountain runner, Britz worked on faster runs as the race drew closer, she said. Despite a general lack of snow this winter, Britz was able to get in one run on snowshoes: a 12-mile run that included going up and down the Cadillac Mountain Road.
Britz compared running in snowshoes with running on the beach in soft sand, with two extra pounds on each foot. Racing snow shoes are lighter and narrower than standard snowshoes, she noted.
“When I come off snowshoe season and back on solid ground,” Britz said, “it’s so much easier. You build a lot of strength snowshoeing.” In addition to the added weight on each foot, you also have to lift your leg higher, she said. “It’s a great way for runners to get off the roads in the winter” when road conditions are icy.
Britz plans to continue to race at the World Snowshoe Championships. Next year’s event will be held in Caviahue, Argentina in the Andes. Timed to coincide with winter in the southern hemisphere, the event is expected to be in August or September 2021.