Steve Schallenkamp: Charting the growth and popularity of trail running

Sheryl Wheeler competes in the 2016 Escarpment Trail Run.

One of the fastest growing segments of the running world is the growth in popularity of trail running and ultra trail running.

From 2006-2016, the number of trail enthusiasts grew from 4.8 million to nearly 9 million. Since 2016, this growth has continued to surge. Once seen as a fringe or “cult” activity, there are now more and more races every year.

Our local area has rail trails, carriage trails and the Catskill Mountain trails for people to hike and run.

Two of the oldest and best known trail races in the country are the Pike’s Peak Trail Marathon and the Western States Endurance Run.


The Pike’s Peak Marathon in Colorado was started in 1956. In conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the discovery of America’s most famous mountain, Dr. Arne Suominen started the race as a challenge between smoking and non-smoking runners. Suominen believed smoking was dangerous and limited a person’s endurance.

It is believed that a tobacco company offered a bonus of $20,000 to a smoker who could win the race. While a smoker did reach the summit first, no smokers were able to complete the race. The Pike’s Peak Marathon was ahead of it’s time in another significant way.

Women were not barred from entering and in 1959, Arlene Pieper is credited with being the first woman to complete a marathon in the United States. The Boston Marathon did not let women officially run until 1972.

The Western States Endurance Run, a 100 mile trek from Squaw Valley to Auburn, California, emanated from a horseback competition. The Tevis Cup was contested using an old Pony Express route. Gordon Ainsleigh competed in the Tevis Cup in 1971 and 1972. In 1973, his horse came up lame 29 miles into the ride. Ainsleigh completed the race on foot.

A debate ensued about whether it was possible for a person to run and complete the 100 miles in under 24 hours. In 1974, Ainsleigh completed the course in 23 hours and 42 minutes.

Palenville’s Dick Vincent started the granddaddy of local trail races, the Escarpment Trail Run, in 1977. The Escarpment Trail Run (ETR) is an arduous 30K (18.6 mile) run over 5 peaks of the northern Catskill Mountains. The course features running, rock scrambling and hand over hand climbing.

One year while the race was going on, a hellacious electrical storm rolled in and turned the race into a literal “hair raising” experience. The ETR has often been dubbed “the Boston Marathon of trail running.” The course record was set in 2004 by Ben Nephew with a 2:45:20.

Two weeks ago, the Manitou’s Revenge Ultra Marathon Trail race was held. The course is run from Maplecrest to Phoenicia, NY.

When asked why he puts on this race, Race Director Charlie Gadol responded, “Manitou was conceived as a way to see the best and most challenging parts of the Long Path through the Catskills in one run. It turned out to be 54 miles. The Devil’s Path, the crux of the course, is especially tough and beautiful.”

This year 104 runners completed the race.

The top 3 men were Andy Vermilyea, who won in course record time of 10:47:21. Vermilyea was followed by Nephew (10:54:42) and Liam Davis (11:27:46). On the women’s side, Kehr Davis won in 13:49:15 followed by Kelly McDonald (14:10:53) and Hurley’s Meghan Young (14:29:45).

The top local finisher was Mike Siudy (13:08:15). Siudy recently set a fastest known time for transversing all 35 peaks of the Catskill Mountains, a distance of 144 miles, in a mind-boggling time of 57 hours!

There are many reasons why people do these races and why people fall in “love” with trail running. Jason Friedman of New Paltz indicated it has become a new “frontier” for him. “A desire to really test myself by attempting something where success isn’t guaranteed.

“I gain something by extending myself toward where I think my limits might be. Ultra marathons tend to expose all your weaknesses and really force you to question everything and trying to overcome that can be a very fulfilling experience.”

Faithe Anderson of Saugerties also emphasized the appeal of testing your limits, of going to the very edge was deeply emotional and heightens the experience.

Dick Vincent related that trail running was a way to get away from being a “slave” to the watch. He talked about trail running as therapy.

“Even in bigger events, there is a solitude, an escape from the pace of today’s society. To run through the forest, come upon a vista, a bear, a meadow, a pond can be spiritual. I love it all, but if I had to choose just one kind of running it would be the trails.”

Vincent has run 6 Pike’s Peak Marathons and two Western States Endurance Runs. Other trail runners related to me that they found the trails to be more forgiving, easier on their bodies. They found that by having to use more and different muscle groups, trail running helped them to stay away from injuries and to be able to run pain free.

In trying to parse out the reasons why people are passionate about trail running, you risk the danger of creating false dichotomies. The truth lies in all the reasons; in this case, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

This column focused on the very intriguing and more difficult trail races. However, the trail running world is very broad; with a range from the upcoming summer cross-country series to running on rail and carriage trails. There are easier double and single track trails and events for beginners.

So, get off the roads and see where the trails take you!


On June 20, the Shawangunk Runners Club presented the 8.4 mile Summer Solstice Run at Lake Minnewaska. This race climbs up and over the Shawangunk Ridge. 250 participants were greeted by a perfect evening for running.

The top 3 men were Geno Arthur (48:06), Stephen Smith (50:51) and James McGowan (51:52). The fastest women were Catherine Herne (60:20), Tanya Beyer (64:39) and Michelle Davis (65:52). While feasting on a smorgasbord of post-race refreshments, everyone was treated to a spectacular early summer sunset.


Race directors, please submit information for the race calendar to Information should be in the form of a concise email with important details highlighted and included in the body of the email. No race flyer PDFs.

Race results should be submitted directly to me at

Steve Schallenkamp has been active in area running circles since 1966 as runner, race director, volunteer and coach. He is a member of the Onteora Runners Club and president of the Shawangunk Runners Club.