September 2016 - ATHLETE PROFILE
Family: Wife, Naomi, and sons, Max (15) and Liam (12)
Residence: Clifton Park
Occupation: CTO of Kitware in Clifton Park
Primary Sport: Trail and Road Running
Secondary Sports: Yoga and Hiking
Bill is not your stereotypical computer guy, as seen in his TEDx Talk, “From Couch to Ultra-Marathon,” (youtube.com/watch?v=sQsaI8wfr8k), where he displays the image of the Jurassic Park hacker Dennis Nedry, an overweight, maniacal nerd behind the monitor. Or, maybe Bill is the modern computer guy. In true techie fashion, Bill requested a Google Hangout for our interview and with webcams it became clear to me that Bill takes his running and geek seriously. He aimed his webcam at his elevated desk and pointed to his feet resting on a balance board. Ultra-runner Dean Karnazes said “no sitting allowed!” and Bill agrees that keeping the legs moving is better than standing still all day.
Bill started his profession as a software developer in the 90s and by the end of the decade he helped start Kitware, a scientific computing company that provides open source software to a variety of academic and government institutions and private corporations worldwide. So how did a software developer become an ultra-runner? It all started with a book. An avid armchair adventurer; climbing Everest with Jon Krakauer, diving deep into stories of the sea with Robert Kurson, and profoundly inspired by Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run and the Tarahumara Indians.
Let us take a step back in time a few years to summer school physical education class in Florida, trying to get credit for boogie boarding. Bill signed up with waves in his eyes, but the school liability insurance finally caught up with Daytona’s program, and the beach program turned into a running program. Around three weeks into the class Bill developed acute Achilles tendonitis due to his flat feet. His doctor told him flat footed people should not run. Years later on a trip to Alaska, Bill learned about orthotics and modern shoe design. The thought of running again became a possibility, but his knees hurt just walking around.
Fast forward to “Born to Run” and Barefoot Ted! On Barefoot Ted’s website, (barefootted.com) he outlines three goals: 1) Master gentle, quiet, forefoot-centric landings, silent and smooth. 2) Quicken your cadence: Running in bare feet encourages this naturally. And, 3) Stable upright posture: balanced head, core engaged, unbent torso, the feeling of balance, relaxed, yet strong.
And so Bill’s adventures in running began in 2010: from padded shoes, to Vibram FiveFingers to LUNA Sandals or no shoes at all; 5Ks to Boston Marathon to Wakely Ultra to JFK 50 and in August this year, dubbed “The most difficult marathon in the world” Bill set out to Peru to complete the Inca Trail Marathon.
Starting at an elevation of 8,650 feet, taller than Mount Washington the highest peak in the Northeast, and peaking at 13,800 feet at Dead Woman’s Pass, training became a challenge. Most runners tend to train by distance, time and speed, but in order to train for this race Bill trained by elevation. At first he aimed for 10,000 feet of elevation each week and as training became more intense, 10,000 feet was a weekend goal. Having a second home in Wilmington helped, with Whiteface – the fifth tallest peak in New York rising to 4,865 feet – as a training run.
Back in the Capital Region, Bill would tackle Moreau Lake State Park’s 15K course or the Lake George region’s Tongue, Buck and/or Sleeping Beauty – before heading into the office! As a warm up race, Bill completed the Wakely Dam Ultra – 32.6 miles on the Northville Placid Trail – just one week before leaving for Peru. He ran comfortably with an impressive time of 7:03:55.
Bill, Naomi, Max and Liam set out to Lima a day before the rest of the adventurers arrived. They were met by a guide and departed to Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca Empire. They drank plenty of water and had little troubles acclimating to the 11,150’ altitude. Over the next course of days, other participants arrived and the group went on tours of the ancient cities, and had daily runs. The day before the race, runners were transported by bus to the trailhead and hiked about 6.5 miles along the Urubamba River, to the camp site in Machu Picchu Sanctuary National Park.
At 2am the runners rose from their slumbers and ate breakfast. It had rained the night before and again during breakfast, but stopped shortly before the half-mile hike to the start, leaving an overcast sky. The racers hung out until exactly 4am when the race promptly began. Almost immediately, the top three racers were alone, Bill, Eduardo Sanchez Garcia of Spain, and Hiroshi Ando of Japan – with little to say to each other due to language differences. On the ascent to the first peak, the Milky Way was visible, as well as the mountain peaks they would climb later. The natural beauty and ancient marvels did not sway Bill from his race; the ruins would be there if he returned to walk the trail.
The terrain was a challenge. The first 11 miles were dirt but the rest was the rock path built by the Incas. “It was like running on an uneven cobblestone road,” Bill claimed. As the mountains grew steep, and people were few and far between, Bill was humbled a few times during the race. The porters with their giant packs would pass him on the trail, only later would he notice that they were interval training; sprint for a while and then rest. Later after descending Dead Woman’s Pass, Bill hit his low point. He was tired from the elevation and nodding off a little. Like other ultras Bill has run, he knew he needed to figure out how to get out of it. He got his head together, realized that altitude might be an issue, ate, dropped down to a lower elevation, and then was running again.
According to the race director of the Inca Trail Marathon, Devy Reinstein, everyone who participated in the adventure completed the challenge in one day. Bill not only completed the grueling 26.2 miles, but he came in third place overall with a time of 8:39:40. Naomi and his sons hiked approximately seven miles with 3K of elevation to the finish line. They enjoyed a later start to the day and hiked as quickly as the slowest person in the group – missing Bill’s finish, but happy to join him at Machu Picchu a few hours later.
Bill’s life as a runner has influenced his family to embrace a lifestyle change. Max runs for the Shenendehowa cross country team and Liam is starting the modified team this school year. The boys have run many 5Ks with Bill. Naomi ran the Marine Corps Marathon last year, and is training for the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon on October 9th. Bill has been by her side for some of the long runs and plans to pace her during the race. While Bill embraces a 99% plant-based diet, the rest of the family eats very little processed food, and consumes a healthy whole food organic diet. Ezekiel bread and chia seeds are a staple in the Hoffman’s kitchen now.
What’s next for Bill? He is hoping to run the Boston Marathon in the spring of 2017, achieving a qualifying time at the 2016 marathon. His first year running Boston was in 2013 and although it ended with the bombing tragedy, he likes to remember it as a day full of amazing spectators lining the streets for miles cheering him on. He ran that race in sandals and has since run two other marathons barefoot. Beyond Boston, the Leadville 100 could be his next big race. Clad in sandals or barefoot, Bill will train hard running the trails, eating a plant-based whole food diet and finding balance with yoga, work and family.
Jennifer Ferriss (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Saratoga Springs leads an active outdoor lifestyle. Most days she commutes to her librarian gig on her 1980s Japanese Bianchi, with a backpack that carries more than meets the eye. Always on the search for a new adventure, she will meet her match with endurance hikes in the region and her second trail marathon this November.