Remembering a running pioneer

Bill Nielsen was the type of guy who would do something then ask for forgiveness later.

Bill Nielsen was the type of guy who would do something then ask for forgiveness later.

His friends say one reason he moved to Lacombe in the late-1990s was because he saw the potential for running trails around the lakes.

So the avid runner went to work.

In all Bill left his mark on some 20 kms of trail in the city.

Friends still chuckle over the thought of Bill carving new trails with his hand saw through undeveloped areas of the town without the landowner or the city’s permission.

Last Saturday at Bill’s Trail Run those who knew Bill reminisced about his antics and the man who inspired so many to lace up their sneakers.

Marathoner Rory Whitbread, a well-known name in the Central Alberta running community, said he sought out Bill when be first delved into running several years ago. It was Bill’s captivating stories and jokes that drew him into running and racing.

At age 73, Bill died in April 2014 succumbing to pancreatic cancer.

“He was an amazing volunteer that brought so many people together with running,” said Rory. “The countless hours that he spent out on the trails working on them to make them nice for everybody to be able to run. His legacy lives on. We are sure happy to honour it today.”

Similar stories and anecdotes emerged from the estimated 230 runners and 100 volunteers throughout my race last week.

I was hard-pressed to find someone who did not know Bill personally or heard about his community spirit or running arsenal. Bill ran 100 marathons — many under three hours — despite the onset of Parkinson’s disease in 2000.

Bill’s Trail Society member Diane Foster said Bill was a man of vision. She said he was a champion for inclusive running — it didn’t matter if you are fast or slow, man or woman.

He was an inspiration to us all.

“When he passed away we really thought we have to take care of the trails,” she said. “We didn’t want them paved. We wanted them kept natural.”

The society wants to extend the trail system to connect Cranna Lake and Elizabeth Lake. The group is in the thick of fundraising and working with the city and the developers to ensure there is a connection between the two lakes with a planned subdivision being developed.

As I tackled the 10-miler, I could not help but think about the man who made the race possible. While I did not know Bill, I felt like I did through the stories. I was inspired by his community spirit and love of running.

Truth be told, however, I should have skipped the race or at least dropped down in distance.

You see I have been battling a hip injury all season. I cancelled my races so my body could heal. I thought I was ready but clearly I was wrong.

Somewhere after I hit the 10K mark on my Garmin, I was in a whole lot of hurt. Up until that point I was feeling good. I decided to dial it down with a simple goal to cross the finish line in an upright position.


The trails in Lacombe meandered around a portion of Barnett Lake, Henner’s Pond, Cranna Lake and Elizabeth Lake. It is a runner’s paradise but don’t take my word for it. Seek out the Lacombe Running Group on Facebook. I am positive more than one runner would be happy to take you for a run.

It’s what Bill would do.


I would love to hear from you. Got a race coming up? Do you want to show me your favourite Central Alberta running trail? Please send your column ideas and stories. Find Running with Rhyno on Facebook and @CrystalRhyno using #RWR on Twitter. Next column appears in the Oct. 23 edition of the Advocate.