Full Name: Justin Snair
Hometown: Worcester, MA
Current Residence: Evergreen, CO
Occupation: Managing Partner of SGNL Solutions, a health security consulting firm
1. How did you discover trail running and what makes it different/better for you than running on the roads/track?
I’ve been running since I was 11 and did all the normal school XC, track, etc., but I have always preferred trail running (and managed as a child to annoy my family on every single “hike” by running and playing instead of walking). I was brought on my official trail run by an upperclassman on my highschool track team. It was a gnarly trail at a place named Boynton Park in Worcester, with rocks and roots everywhere and falling hard was likely. And I loved it. It felt like play to me. I suppose I have never moved on from that feeling that running is play. Roads and track running always felt too structured, civilized, and most negatively for me – measurable and comparable to my past performances.
Even when racing roads post-collegiately as part of New Balance GRC in DC, I trained on trails as much as I could. Trail running is better for me because training fulfills my need for adventure and play. While my training is well organized and planned, I don’t worry about times or paces when trail running. I just enjoy the process and I happen to be ready for races as an output of play. Plus when I run with airplane arms on roads I get weird looks.
2. Are there any lessons/experiences from your time as a Marine Combat Engineer in Iraq that apply to running?
The 7 Ps…”Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.” There’s no faking fitness. You have to put in the work – the daily rise and grind – to see improvements. Also, the Marine Corps is known as “The Suck” and that’s accurate. It’s designed with the intention to be hard and teaches you to deal with that hardship through preparation, confidence, and grit. Ultra trail running requires the same.
3. Why do you think so many military veterans are drawn to the sport of running versus other endeavors?
There could be a lot of unique reasons here and I can only speak to my own. I think those drawn to the military crave challenges, camaraderie, and situations requiring grit, which can be absent in routine civilian life. Even 17 years post-military, I want to be in situations where I am not sure if I can make it - where I can tuck my chin, clench through the pain, and see what I can do. I think others may be called to running for similar reasons.
4. You had high expectations at the Canyons Endurance Runs 100k this past April, but ended up with a severe ankle roll 40 miles in. While you toughed it out to the finish, you recently underwent surgery and have a long road to recovery ahead of you. What did you learn from this race experience and how are you staying optimistic?
What did I learn? First, Dont Skip Leg Days, especially when you have a very qualified and patient lifting coach (@the_chiro_lab) telling you exactly what to do to improve your ankle stability. I have no excuses! 😉 But really, a surgery to repair torn tendons and faced with 4 months of no running and 6 months of no trail running sucks.
I have also learned that I am not (and never have been) a one person training machine. With a family and business, my training has always required sacrifices of those around me; mainly from my wife Megan. I wasn’t very good at seeing that before Canyons. Now, at least for a few weeks, I need help taking a shower, I can’t drive.
I need to lean on those around me. Tearing tendons during a race where I hoped for so much has taught me a bit of humility, grace, and to appreciate those around me. I still have a long recovery ahead of me, but I am remaining optimistic by looking at the recovery as a part of a training process ahead of me.
5. What prompted you to move with your wife and two kids to Colorado from Ohio? Has this positively impacted your family, work, and running life?
There were a few reasons for moving out of Ohio. I struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder and often have very low levels of Vitamin D, which can lead to depression during long periods of low sunlight. Ohio had a lot of clouds for long periods. So we wanted to move somewhere with more sunlight to help with my mental health.
We also wanted to live where we’d want to vacation and play and we wanted to get our son Curran, who has allergies and asthma, to a dry and less moldy environment. We considered a few places, but ultimately, we found it would be easier to see friends and family around the country with Colorado as a home base. I wanted backyard high-peaks in my life.
My wife and I both work for our own business, so our work lives haven't changed much. Our kids seem happier and healthier. With 340 days of sunshine and near normal Vitamin D levels, I am not a grouch as much either. Training here has been amazing and once my ankle gets onboard; I hope to have my best running performances in the future.
6. What advice would you give to a runner who feels “past their prime” but wants to keep testing their limits and chasing bold running goals?
Great question. My primary advice is stop waiting for the perfect time to go after bold goals. There are always hindrances. Find a way to work big dreams into your routine life. Whether it’s an epic day of alpine running or a big race, make time for it, prepare diligently, and lean on and give thanks to those around you.
7. Your Instagram handle (once.a.runner) is a nod to the iconic “Once A Runner” by John L. Parker. Do you have a favorite quote or passage from the book?
I have two favorite quotes from the book:
“You have to be satisfied with the shadows.”
“The drained elation, special property and reward of those who have been to the edge and back, would come later. But for now he had a while longer to hurt.”