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Josh Shanks from the Saint John Track Club has been selected for Team Canada to compete in the World Youth Track and Field Championships being held in Donetsk, Ukraine. Photo: Kâté Braydon/Telegraph-Journal

Runner headed to world champs

SAINT JOHN – On a sunny Thursday morning, the track at the University of New Brunswick Saint John is deserted, save for a lone jogger and Josh Shanks.

Shanks darts around the track in the inside lane, its reddish-orange surface and pristine white lines contrasting the greenness of the field. He takes long, fast strides, legs stretching forward as his arms pump.

If it wasn’t for the audible breathing as he zooms by, you’d think this was completely effortless for him.

Shanks, 16, is headed to the International Association of Athletics Federations World Youth Track and Field Championships in Donetsk, Ukraine. He’ll be competing against international athletes ages 17 and under in the 3,000-metre race.

It’s the first time the Saint John High School student will compete internationally, and he’s the only New Brunswicker who qualified.

“This is the fastest I’ve ever felt,” Shanks said, sitting on the bleachers after his warm-up. “We got a good base coming into the spring and I still don’t feel like I’ve hit my peak yet, which is a good thing. I definitely feel our training plans worked out really well.”

His goal is to beat his personal best time of eight minutes and 31 seconds, which is also the NB youth record for that distance. It’s something he thinks he can do.

“Once you get into that competitive field, the other competitors pull you along and it takes you to a whole new level,” Shanks said.

Athletics Canada is sending more than 50 young runners to the championships that begin July 10. Shanks’ race is the following day. He’s flying to Toronto Friday night and then to Ukraine.

He’s had his sights set on this race since September, when he and his coach, the Saint John Track Club’s Bill MacMackin, started training.

Shanks’ first outdoor track race this year was in May.

“He set a time at that time that was exactly what we were looking for, and it put him first in the country,” MacMackin said. “And he kept that spot until now, and then at the tail end of the qualifying time, he beat that again by two seconds. Solidified himself right in the top spot in the country.”

The 3,000-metre race is one Shanks loves, though he competes often in the 1,500, too.

“It’s long enough that you have time to make moves,” he said. “You can sit and wait and you don’t run out of time like you do in an 800 (metre race). It definitely pushes you to a limit. It’s that threshold where you’re running between aerobic and anaerobic, you’re building up lactic acid. I’m a distance guy, so that’s what I like.”

Shanks’ parents are coming with him, but MacMackin won’t be. The runner will be working with Athletics Canada coaches while he’s there. They’ll help him and the other athletes with workouts, jet lag and settling in.

“He’s a pretty calm athlete and has always handled competition well,” MacMackin said. “So a lot of my philosophy is don’t treat it any differently. Enjoy the experience but don’t get caught up in the hoopla, ‘Oh, these are people from foreign countries.’ Pretend they’re from Nova Scotia or Fredericton or Moncton, and just go through the motions of the same things as always.”

He hopes to watch Shanks’ race through an online live-feed, or at least follow along with the live results, even though Ukraine is six hours ahead, which means the run will happen at about 3:30 a.m. here.

This is Shanks’ last major workout before the big race, though he’ll have “easy” runs over the weekend and some minor workouts once he arrives in Ukraine.

“Being at that whole new level of competition where I’ve never seen a strong field like this before, that’ll be good experience for sure,” Shanks said