Into the Forest I Now Run

By Olympic Authority Content & Communications Manager Jaime Collins

In the summer of 1978, I went for my first run ever. I was entering high school in the fall and decided to join the cross-country team. So, I laced up my Reebok court shoes and started circling the block we lived on. Those were my first steps on a life-changing journey.

Back then, I didn’t think much about the sport or what I was doing. I just wanted to be part of the team. But even after not sticking with the team, I stuck with running. Now, after 46 years of it, after tens of thousands of miles on city streets and country roads, down dirt trails, deep into the forest, and high over mountain tops, sometimes with friends, occasionally in races, and far more frequently all on my own, I know I’ll never stop. Not until I have to.

It’s become part of me. Part of my soul. There something mystical, even magical about distance running. Some miles into a run, the simple action of it transcends the body. Further on, it transcends my mind. Further yet, if I let it happen, running will lay bare the deepest, most hidden places in my soul.

That declaration made, all runners are different, and their own personal experiences will also be different. Beyond any doubt, however, running can change one’s life.

Trail Running in the Adirondacks

Selfie of the author of this article Jaime Collins after running up Mt Van Hoevenberg, smiling with a panoramic view of the summer High Peaks in the background.
The article’s author Jaime Collins atop Mt Van Hoevenberg’s East Trail.

The big difference maker for me is where I run. Living in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks, I’ve come to identify more specifically as a trail runner. There are unique advantages to running trails that bring this soul baring experience into my life on a regular basis. Even before I began running, my father instilled in me a love of the Earth, nature, and mountains, which is what brought me to the Adirondacks in the first place.

Here, inside the Blue Line amidst these six million acres of wilderness, there are more trails to run than almost anywhere else on the planet. Still, one particular place among them all is especially dear to me. For years, my friends have heard me call it my favorite place on Earth, and that’s true in winter and summer.

Mt Van Hoevenberg is a trail runner’s paradise. There’s so much to this Olympic venue that make it practically perfect. For starters, there’s the terrain. Flats are often exactly what one needs, and they’re easily accessible here. Of course, so are the hills! They’re here whenever you want them in any combination you want them.

They’re well-designed and laid out in a network of loops, so you can run any distance and any type of terrain. The looped network means you can get away from it all and still easily get back out again whenever you want. Even if you bite off more than you can chew, you can easily change your mind in the middle and circle back.

Running the Mt Van Hoevenberg Trails

My favorite long run is the Porter Loops followed up by a tour of the Three Trails and the Perimeter Loops. Porter is a gorgeous, wild, hammer of a run that goes deep into the wilderness and serves up a series of seemingly relentless hills. It finishes coming down a long stretch onto and across the flats. Then a quick run through a tunnel brings me to the Three Trails and Perimeter loops where on gentler terrain I can add distance without such intense climbs.

Within this network of Mt Van Hoevenberg’s 55km of Olympic ski trails lies much more than forest. With just a little looking, you’ll find a network of single track, too. In mountain biking here, I became familiar with the well-designed single track that connects the broader ski trails. Then, last year, I discovered even more! In photographing the inaugural Spartan 50k Trail Race, I discovered miles of single track trails I didn’t even know existed! I thought I knew every inch of this forest, and here were amazing new footpaths that added in a very big way to the massive collection of possibilities at my old friend Mt Van Hoevenberg.

Importantly, three additional qualities make this incredible network of trails here in the Adirondacks uniquely inviting. Number one is that it’s an easy way to escape everything, including the multitudes of hikers. Anyone can hike or run these trails, but truth is, almost no one ever thinks of these trails except for the new Mt Van Hoevenberg East Trail. While that one offers spectacular running, the other trails at Mt Van Hoevenberg you can run free of traffic.

Number two is something totally unique among trail heads – Mt Van Hoevenberg’s incredible built-in conveniences and comforts. One never has to deal with the hassles of parking or parking reservations or parking on busy highways. Getting there and accessing everything is safe and easy. Unlike everywhere else, bathrooms are right there for you before you start running and after you finish. And they’re clean! Not hot, smelly porta-potties with no place to wash up.

And the food! The 81-18 café inside the Mountain Pass Lodge is a great place to get a healthy hot meal from burgers to vegan. Plus, they even have essential gear in either the SWIX concept store upstairs (the only one in the U.S.) and Mountain Mercantile downstairs, so if you forget anything, you can cover it. That includes energy bars. Even if you remember to bring everything with you, it’s fun to check out the Team USA and other tech gear and goods in these retail outlets.

Experiencing the Mystique

Image of the wooded trail along the old 1932 bobsled track.
A portion of the trail on a straight segment at the top of the historic 1932 bobsled track at Mt Van Hoevenberg.

Number three is, for me, my feelings about the place which were not entirely born from the tangible trail features or its conveniences. It’s the historical mystique of the place that makes it all extra special for me. That and my countless rewarding experiences there over the many years I’ve been going there. Being immersed in the Olympic history and the history of Henry Van Hoevenberg is what creates that mystique. I see it and feel it every time I’m there, and it’s not something you get with any other trail head.

I started bringing my daughters to World Cup bobsled events decades ago, and I’ve been going to those and other major competitions ever since. Each time, we see and often talk with Olympic sliding sport, Nordic, and biathlon athletes of both the present and past. I’ve also hiked up and down the old 1932 bobsled trail and seen for myself the old rock construction over which they laid the ice and snow. Every time I’m up there, my imagination runs wild with how they ever survived sliding on those early bobsleds down that wicked track through the forest. Even the old 1980 track – still in place – looks almost ancient in comparison to the modern combined bobsled, skeleton, and luge track next to it. The new one is today considered by most to be the most challenging in the world, and to be close enough to each of them to reach out and touch them is a rare and remarkable experience.

Feeling at Home

I’ve always felt at home here and always been warmly welcomed by the Mt Van Hoevenberg staff. They’re people I’ve gotten to know well, and I’m glad for it. Having had so many wonderful experiences here in every season, having mingled with Olympic champions, having had the chance to watch and learn from top athletes, and having such easy access to endless trails and their historical significance, all only a few miles from Lake Placid, makes it all feel even more like home. To me, it’s like a big backyard.

I run these trails because I love it, and I share my passion for running at Mt Van Hoevenberg because all its beautiful possibilities deserve to be shared. You see I admire other trail runners because I know what it takes and the joys it brings, and I also share it to inspire others to give it a try. The people who inspire me most, truly, are those who start running when they’ve never run before. Or start trail running though they normally only run roads. One doesn’t have to be fast or have some ideal runner’s body. All that trail running really requires to get started is courage, and that makes everyone who comes out do it people I admire.

Summer Trail Running Series

This year, there’s something coming to boost our collective trail running experience. In partnership with Paul Smith’s Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC), Mt Van Hoevenberg launched a Summer Trail Running Series for all ages and all abilities. What this series means for everyone interested in trail running is on Wednesday nights through the summer, we can run alternate weeks on Mt Van Hoevenberg trails and on VIC trails and enjoy evenings being part of the trail running community.

It’s a totally unique series of eight timed runs, each with a variety of distances and terrain types. It’s something for seasoned trail runners and beginners alike, and it’s a rare opportunity to come together to discover these soul stirring moments running through beautiful Adirondack forests.

The details on the series and schedule are here online, and if you come out, I’m sure to see you there. Join me on my continued journey. Let’s all enjoy every moment of this we can. This is a chance for us to do together as John Muir so evocatively urged us all to do, “And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.”