Ottawa triathlete Jamie Stephenson is no stranger to distance running, but running on snowshoes in Wakefield, Que., Saturday was something new.
"It feels kind of like a bad dream, where you are running hard but not going anywhere," said Stephenson after completing the 2.5 kilometre snowshoe leg of the Bushtukah Frost & Fire Triathlon Saturday.
"As a runner, I thought '2.5 kilometres, that's nothing.' But I couldn't believe it when I got to the first kilometre marker and I thought I was nearly done. I was already dying at the point," he said.
The race, which featured a cross-country ski and running portion, was one of two events Saturday featuring a competitive snowshoe race. The other race, the Mad Trapper Snowshoe Series, ran Saturday night.
Organizers of both events say it is a growing fitness trend.
Former world biathlon racer David McMahon leads a professional trail running team and is helping to popularize snowshoe running in the Ottawa region.
"It's like just going exploring in Narnia. I mean it's a different world. There's total escapism. There's total freedom," said McMahon.
Modern snowshoes — made from metal, plastic and fabric — are now favoured in retail outlets over traditional snowshoes made from hardwood and hide, and running snowshoes tend to be even lighter and smaller.
Mike Caldwell, the race director of the Mad Trapper Race Series, which ran Saturday night, said the newer shoes helped spur more people to the sport. He said his first event 10 years ago had a dozen participants, while this year's race had 80.
"Before, you had to run with your feet like you were riding a horse – three feet apart. Now you can just run with a natural stride. So we have a lot of athletes using it for cross training," said Caldwell.
Ian Rathwell, a supervisor at outdoor retail outlet Bushtukah, said he has sold more pairs of the running snowshoes this year than any year previous.
While Stephenson ran Saturday's race in a pair of modern snowshoes, he didn't have the lighter running model many of the competitors were wearing. He said it was still enjoyable.
"Some of the guys had really pro looking equipment and I was there with my bigger, heavier snowshoes so it was really kind of a struggle," he said. "But it was so much fun, so much fun. I'll definitely do it again."