Tales from the Trail

by Bill Hoffman

Hi my name is Bill, and I am addicted to trail running. I started running about eight years ago after reading Born to Run. Since then I have completed over 37 marathons and ultra distance races and many marathons or longer training runs. I have run in the mountains of the West Coast USA, Mount Olympus in Greece, the Inca Trail in Peru, France, and many other places. The bulk of the training for these adventures has been either right out my front door to a 2-hour driving radius from Clifton Park, NY.

When I started running, I spent most of my miles on pavement. Don’t get me wrong, I still love to run on roads as well, but crazy technical trails have a special place in my heart and soul. Albany NY’s capital district is close to some really amazing places to run each with its own character and feel. However, these trails are totally underused by local runners. I am going to start a regular column in The Pace Setter  with an aim to encourage other runners to discover the magic of the trail. I am going to define “the trail,” as any no paved path or bushwhack. It can be flat, but preferably it will have hills or mountains to climb or descend. I run on the trail year round through snow, sleet, rain, and heat waves so I won’t have a shortage of tales to tell both tall and short.

How did I get hooked

I would have to say my trail running adventures got started on a long run training for my first Boston Marathon. My friend J was talking about this race in the Adirondacks called the Wakely Dam Ultra. Wakely is a point to point 54K race along the Northville-Placid trail from Wakely Dam to Piseco Airport. The race is totally unsupported and has no exits. You either make it the whole way, turn tail and go back from whence you came, or get an expensive helicopter ride out. (BTW, no one has ever needed the ride out, there was one guy that ran 10 miles out of his way and hitched a ride to the finish line, the only DNF I know about). As J described it to my long run weary mind, I thought it sounded like a great adventure and I was all in.

Wakely Dam Ultra Course Map: Click Here

After Boston that year, I resolved to stay off the roads and stick strictly to trails to get ready for Wakely. Although there are some great trails 30 or 40 minutes away from Clifton Park, there are also an amazing number of miles you can run right out your front door if you look for them. In fact J and I once put together the great Clifton Park Trail Marathon. We started at Vischer Ferry dam and ran along the river, then connected with some power line trails, and worked our way past the Shen high school trails all the way to the Zim Smith Trail while only running 3 or so miles on paved road. It is basically how the deer get around suburbia without getting hit by cars.

Pace and miles “Riking”

I quickly learned that trail running is a totally different beast than road running. The first big difference is that pace becomes totally adaptable. With a road run, I usually set out to run a specific mile pace. It might vary some, but it is very structured. Eight minute miles for 3 miles, then 7 minute miles for 3 miles, then 8 minute miles for 4 miles. I think I first learned to totally ignore the pace on my GPS while running the Tongue Mountain Range Trail. This is a mountain range on the shores of Lake George. It is a 12 to 13ish mile loop that goes over 5 mountains. (Do you see the difference already. It is 12 to 13 miles. A GPS will vary each time I run it, but nobody really knows how far it is).

The first 5 miles of the loop are along the lake and are “relatively flat.” If I work really hard, I might be able to keep up a 10 minute pace in this section. However, once you start with the mountains, you learn the dirty little secret of trail running, sometimes you walk, hell sometimes you crawl hand over foot Gollum style to make it to the top of a peak. It was at that point that I realized looking at my GPS watch for pace was absolutely futile and pointless. I was going up the trail as fast as I could and no amount of looking at the watch was going to make me any faster. I have coined a term for this type of movement. I call it “riking,” a cross between running and hiking.

Run where you can’t drive or bike

1-GollumFINAL.jpgTrail running brings you to amazing places and lets you cover distances that most would think would require bringing a tent and spending the night. The Tongue Mountain Range can be run in 3 to 4 hours, and sports amazing views from time to time. But unlike hiking it is not all about the views, it is about being in nature and running places where running is the fastest mode of transportation. It might sound slow to a seasoned road runner to run 15 minute miles, but I have been on trails that 15 minute mile averages are better than you could do on a mountain bike, and a car, or motorcycle wouldn’t make it out of the trail head. Your own body is the best and most efficient way to cover the distance. It sends your mind and body back to a place where all humans once were, running free in nature.

Looking forward to sharing all the cool trails and races that can be found in the capital district.




Bill is a dedicated ultra marathoner who loves running on trails in sandals or barefoot. He also hikes and does yoga. He is a professional computer scientist who is a founder of Kitware, a company that specializes in computer vision, data and analytics, high-performance computing and visualization, medical computing, and software process.

To find out more about his running ethic, click on picture above for video of a TED Talk he gave.



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