Since moving to Seattle over five years ago, I have struggled to understand why so many folks seem to head out to Cougar Mountain to run all of the time. As an example, the Seattle Running Club uses Cougar as their default venue for their Sunday AM long run. There is nothing inherently wrong with Cougar…in fact, it is a great place to run with lots of rolling hills, miles of singletrack, and even some nice waterfalls along the way (see picture of my dog Achilles checking out one of those water features). And, of course, Cougar Mountain is easy to get to, in close proximity to Seattle (just 15-20 minutes from downtown).
But, as the first (furthest west) of the Cascade foothills outside of Seattle, it lacks the major climbs of Squak and/or Tiger mountain, which are just a few more minutes up the road. And, with the exception of the West Tiger Mountain 3 trail (which often has so many people on it that it seems more like a rails to trails then a mountain trail), Cougar is the most regularly populated of the foothills known as the Issaquah Alps. So, with it being more populated and having much smaller hills, I’ve struggled to understand why so many runners (really good runners) go there to train.
Over the last few months, however, I’ve come to understand why…because it’s easy. No, not easy, in terms of flat and an easy run. Quite the opposite…every run at Cougar is deceptively tough. Before you know it, you’ve logged 2,000+ feet of elevation gain on an 8 or 10 mile run. I mean easy to get to…easily accessible on a weekend or a weekday. I mean easy to just head out and run…lots of different direction to go from either the Red Town Trailhead or the Sky Country Trailhead. I mean easy to go lose yourself for 10, 12, or 14 miles by yourself…without having to worry about being too far from people if you need help in the event that something would go wrong (I’ve broken my arm and busted open my head really badly on trail runs in the past, so I do consider this stuff).
Given how easy it is, I’ve found myself getting out there more frequently – at least once on the weekend and more recently at least once during the week as well. And, I can feel myself really getting fit from it. It’s tough running at Cougar…yet, it’s easy. And, that makes all difference.