Tales from the Trail – Sharing the Joy of Trail Running

by Bill Hoffman

Top of the climb at mile 7.5 of Breakneck Ridge

While heading out for an early morning run, I noticed one of my neighbors returning from an even earlier morning run. Juan and I talked a bit about running for a few minutes. Juan is an accomplished Ironman athlete.  Always looking to promote trail running, I invited him to hit the trails with me. We were not able to work anything out last year and never made for a run together. After a few misfires, we finally found a weekend that worked for both of us this April. We both signed up for the Breakneck Point Trail Half Marathon the Wednesday before the race.

We left Clifton Park at 4:15 am to make the 7am start, and had some quality car time to get acquainted on the way down. Turned out I had run next to him briefly at the Mohawk Hudson Marathon several years ago. I have realized that I am a purple cow when it comes to running. (The concept of the Purple Cow was introduced by Seth Godin in his book by the same title. ... if you drive by a herd and standing in the field is a Purple Cow, you have to tell someone because it is so different.) I stand out because of my sandals and bare feet. At least half a dozen folks recognized me from various trail races because of my sandals during the race.

This would be Juan’s first mountain trail race. There was a full and a half on the same course. The half had 215 finishers with finishing times from 2:15 to 6:49. The full had 79 finishers with times from 5:38 to 11:26. The half had 4300 feet of vertical gain with some crazy climbs.

To get a good feel for the race, you can watch this video:


Here is the purple cow turning into a brown cow.

For a flythrough of the course see my relive video:


The course is an excellent introduction to trail running. The course was well marked with two aid stations. There was a good mix of gollum climbs, helter skelter downhills, and lots of water and mud. Thankfully what there was not any of was snow and ice! It was great to be running on dirt/mud again. Both Juan and I had a great time on the trails. We had so much fun on Saturday at the race that we decided to run the Moreau lake 15k course on Sunday. The weekend turned out to be Bill and Juan’s excellent trail adventure. About a week later Juan sent me an email saying “I’m hooked.” Mission accomplished! Bringing new runners to the trail is a big part of why I write these articles. Since Juan is so new to the sport and hooked I thought I would ask him a few questions and share his answers.


Juan when he completed the Spartan Race Obstacle Course New Jersey (31 mile mountain trail and 60 obstacles, 4/27/2019)

How long have you been running/racing?

I started training for a future Ironman in 2012.  That year I completed my first sprint and olympic triathlons, and a 13.1 road half marathon.  In May of 2014, I completed my first 26.2 road marathon and in June a 70.3 Half Ironman. I continued to increase my distance and in June 2015 completed my first full distance 140.6 (Ironman distance).  My first Spartan Mountain Ultra OCR, 30+miles, 60+obstacles, was Sept 2018.  Since 2015 I've managed to complete 6 road marathons, 9 Ironman, 2 Spartan Ultras and countless other races as buildup to long events.  This year I did my first 13.1 trail half marathon at Breakneck Point.  That was fun and challenging in a totally different way.

How did Breakneck half differ from what you expected?

I expected it to be challenging and it exceeded my expectations.  The technical course and very steep climbs. It left me wondering how I could get better at mountain trail running.  I had a blast.  Just running and free in nature.

How does trail running compare to ironman?

Totally different animals.  On the trail you move and adjust with varying terrain.  Nature and the moment takes you over.  All your leg muscles are used and challenged.  The core has to stabilize more and upper body is used to climb and balance.  In the Ironman you have to switch gears 3 times for each discipline but within that discipline it is much more predictable and requires less coordination and focus due to paved roads.  On the trail there's no time to leave the moment or Ouch.

What were your thoughts on the trails at Moreau?

The trails at Moreau are incredible.  I was totally taken by surprise and I live only 1/2 hour away from them. There are trails for all levels and distances.

Would you do it again?

I intend to mountain trail run every week now.  I think the conditioning will be superior to road racing and training.

What was the hardest part of the trail race?

The steep inclines are challenging but I feel the downhill is very difficult given rocks and roots on the trails.  You don't want to fall here.

What was the most fun part?

Aside from hanging out with Bill and checking out the Tesla (I drove us there in my model 3), I really enjoyed running in nature and discovering the beauty of the land.  I felt like I was meditating and in the moment.  The trail and vistas were unique and beautiful.

How do you think the "feel" of the race differed from a road race/ironman?

You have to totally engage so time goes by without notice.  You are out communing with nature.  It feels very natural. Minimal equipment necessary.

Anything else?

In January of 2012 I couldn't get down and back in a 25 yard pool without stopping.  I've always been active in sports and exercise but ultras really intrigued me.  I think the key is to try new things until you find something you really like and if it gets dull, well try something new.  Your mind, body and spirit will be happy and free. It's amazing how far you can go one step at a time.  I said I would never do a 100 mile ultra.  Stay tuned.

Now that the snow and ice are gone, it is open season for the trails at least as far north as Lake George. I am sure the high peaks still have some winter left in them, but there are miles of mountain trails open for business. If you're looking for a great place to find some trails close to Albany/Saratoga Moreau lake state park is a great place to go.

Moreau top of staircase of death

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