If the trail is called Wilderness Cliffs and the conditions are sloppy it may be ill advised to run down it with reckless abandon…
In my running calendar trail season really kicks off at the first tace of the Cougar Mountain Trail Running Series. Due to Boston and the Cinco Half in Snoqualmie I typically focus on the road during the Spring and I’m not hard core enough to consistently run on the trails during the short, dark days of Winter.
But then Spring comes in Seattle and the trails come calling and I remember why I love them so much.
I ran the Cougar Mountain 10 miler (there was also a 5 mile option) on Saturday and it was a blast! I want to put together a whole blog post of why I love both trail and road running – and how each has distinctive character that makes me love them for different reasons. One of the key differences that I was reminded about on Saturday was how much more actively you interact with the world around you when on the trail vs the road. Trail running is a conversation with nature whereas a road race is a focused monologue.
This was one of my favorite races I’ve ever run on Cougar because it wasn’t raining but it was just wet enough to make the conversation with the trail super interesting. After the PR on the road half marathon the previous week I wasn’t sure how strong I’d be able to run the course. I had some good training runs during the week but tried to recover from all the road work.
I felt good during the morning and was grateful to my wife as always for her willingness to indulge my addiction and let me race two weekends in a row. I arrived in the nick of time – as I typically do to these races since it’s only a 10 minute drive from my house. I’ve also learned that if you show up late you sometimes get to park close.
Upon arrival I had very little time to get my number and get settled. I downed a pack of fruit snacks and got some swag from some of the sponsors. After taking off my warmup pants I determined that it was chilly but warm enough for my SRC singlet rather than a long sleeve shirt. I also was running without my phone during a race for the first time in a long time. Instead I was using my brand spankin new early birthday present from my wonderful wife – a Garmin Fenix 2 GPS watch (review forthcoming). I was excited to try it out on the trails and glad to be able to ditch the phone but still feed my need for data. The trails are better without the headphones – especially during a race. It really helps the conversation along to not tune anything out.
The race started with a sloppy loop around the field where everyone got there feet soaked. I felt sluggish at the start and didn’t want to push the pace too much – but I also didn’t want to end up stuck behind a huge pack on the single track. I hit the first mile at 6:49 so I was probably faster than I wanted to be – but this was also one of the fastest parts of the course. Pace is always interesting in these races since you’re never sure if you are running with the 5 mile crowd of the 10 mile crowd until the turn when the two distances split. I wanted to be with the pretty fast 5 mile folks but not the fast 5 mile folks.
At the turn most of my crowd did turn to the 5 mile course so I figured I was about where I wanted to be. For the 10 Mile course this is also where things get interesting since you are getting close to the best part of any run on Cougar Mountain – the Wilderness Cliffs and Creek trails. It’s a pretty significant ascent and decline but it’s a ton of fun – especially the descent. I always have to let loose a few whoops and hollers and I pound down the switchbacks – it’s just awesome – like downhill skiing but better.
After the 5m folks got out of the way I picked it up a bit and passed a couple folks up wilderness peak. Then I really pressed it down wilderness cliffs. Some of the folks with less trail experience were definitely slowed by the sloppy conditions and less grippy shoes on the descent – as well as a more sensible approach to descending switchbacks over cliffs on slick terrain. I passed three people on the way down and got close to a fourth right as we began the ascent back up on the wilderness creek trail. He would be my goal for the rest of the race.
In the second half of trail races I always feel there are basically two kinds of folks left – predators and prey. Sometimes I call the prey roadkill if they are folks that have just completely exhausted themselves and are begging to be passed. As we started up the climb this guy was definitely not prey – he was still ready to play. Once he saw me he quickened his pace and rose to the challenge.
Having expended a lot of energy on my thrill ride down I was having a hard time maintaining my pursuit on the way up – perhaps this was my day to be the road kill. I dug deep though and caught occasional glipses of the guy in front of me but couldn’t make up much ground on him.
Around mile 8 I made another push and as I rounded a curve spotted and my target about 15 yards ahead of me. This was when things got interesting – in my scramble to catch up I decided to cut a tangent on a curve on this little wooden bridge over a small pond at high speed. When my foot hit the bridge I got no traction due to the wet conditions and I slid right off the bridge – banged my leg on it and splashed into the shallow pond. Invigorated by the incident my adrenaline pumped in and I ran right through it – although my soggy shoes now felt like they weighed 5 lbs each and I have to admit slowed me down a bit.
I never did catch up to that guy – despite running quite hard the last two miles. I did see him after the race and he thanked me for pushing him but he also looked relaxed enough that I wasn’t a serious threat.
I ended up in sixth place with a 1:25:20. On the same course last year I ran a 1:34:34 for ninth place. That’s a huge 9 minute improvement – especially considering the sloppy conditions. This year’s field was a lot faster – my time this year would have earned me third place last year. It was great to have the super fast guys in the runners club there for the event though. Even though my family / work / church schedule doesn’t let me get out to many of the weekly runs I really value my membership in the Seattle Running Club just for the sense of community and mutual experiences. It’s also fun because I’m starting to recognize the familiar faces race to race now. Plus they let me hang out in their group picture with all of the race winners featured at the top of the post. I also scored a pretty sweet wound from my fall:
One fun fact is that I got bib #1 for the race. The social media guy for the club posted it on facebook and said he would give it to a random person who commented on it and I got picked. I like to believe that hey gave it to me because they like me the best.
Overall this was a tremendously fun race for me and I continue to hit some strong PRs. I feel like I’m a stronger runner now than I’ve ever been before. I would say that I’m probably in the best shape I’ll be in my entire life but I think I said that last year and I still dug up some more speed / fitness over the last six months. I’m excited for the next big challenge – the Scout Mountain Ultra Trail 100k on my birthday – June 7. What better way to celebrate your birthday than running 63 miles.
Gear Used: Garmin Fenix 2, SRC Brooks Singlet, Nike Running Shorts, Solomon Crossmax 2 trail shoes.
I liked the Solomons. I currently have two pairs of trail shoes I’m considering for the Scout Mountain Ultra Trail. My Solomon Crossmax 2’s and my waterproof Montrail Mountain Masochists. I’ve been thinking I’ll start in the Solomon’s and swap into the Montrails for the last 20 miles since that is supposed to typically have some snowfield to deal with.