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.
As I’ve mentioned numerous times on this blog, I’ve struggled with a hamstring injury for much of the last two years. It really prevented me from enjoying trail running. I could do short trail runs (~5 miles), but any long runs on the trail would leave me on the sidelines for days or weeks. Needless to say, this was incredibly frustrating. I finally said “screw it” and paced fellow IUP runner Adam Lint for the final 6+ hours of Cascade Crest 100. That run through the night up in the Cascades was the only truly enjoyable run that I’ve had in several years.
Finally, my hamstring is healed. I owe this largely to my wife, who really helped guide me through some physical therapy to get it healed and strong again. I’m still cautious, but this morning, I ventured out to the Seattle Running Club sunday morning run at Cougar Mountain for the first time in years. I had a blast.
It was a small group – just 6 of us today following White River yesterday. The weather was rainy & foggy (great for running…crappy for every other summer activity). We did the normal loop, only did it in reverse hitting De Leo’s wall near the beginning instead of the end.
Still being cautious with my hamstring, I cut it short in an effort to keep my total time around 2 hours. All said and done, I logged 12 miles in 2 hours with a total elevation gain of 2,151 feet. One of the things I really appreciate about Cougar is that the elevation gain doesn’t come in one big climb, as it does at Squak or Tiger mountains. Rather, Cougar is a bunch of ups and downs with nary a flat section of trail to be found:
It was great to get back out and run with a group of people…and great to go hit the trails at Cougar. Looking forward to the August & September runs, when we often get up into the high country of the Cascades (e.g., Denny Lake, Kendall Katwalk, and the Enchantments).
I went to the Seattle Running Club event at Fleet Feet last evening.
It was good to run with folks again (did the 6-miler with some guy named Dominic, Phil K, and others). That’s the first hill that I’ve run in over 2 months given my hamstring. Coming up the steep part of Interlaken was very tough on my hamstring, and had to slow to a near walk. But, it doesn’t feel too bad today, so we’ll see.
But, the highlight was not necessarily the run. Nor was it running the new 860 New Balance shoes that Brian Morrison sold me (very responsive…nice). The highlight was just seeing the Seattle Running Club back up and kicking again. They’ve gone through some leadership transition/growth, but are undoubtedly alive and going well.
- If you want to learn more about what’s going on, I’d encourage you to check out their website here.
- If you really want the inside scoop, then check out the minutes from their last board meeting which can be found on new SRC president Greg Crowther’s blog.
- If you want to find a great SRC event to do soon, then you should participate in the Bridle Trails Winter Trail Running Festival. Eric Bone, who manages the Northwest Trail Runs is heading up this event…so, you can bet it will be well marked and well run. If you’ve not run this race before, it is a great event because there is something for everybody. There are 5.2, 10.4, and 50K options. It’s on trails, but they are not technical which makes it great for trail running newbies. There’s enough mud and darkness (much of the the 50K runs through the dark) to challenge the advanced trail runner.
Anyway, Seattle Running Club is a great, great gig…so, come check out Bridle Trails or meetup at the Fleet Feet running store at 6 PM for the Tuesday and Thursday runs.
Just as my racing season started late this year, this post is late. It’s been well over a week since I kicked off my 2010 trail racing season. On May 15th, I joined nearly 250 runners at Cougar Mountain to run the first of 4 races in the Vasque Cougar Mountain Trail Series.
The Cougar Mountain Seris is sponsored by Vasque as part of their Vasque Project initiative. A brief overview of this initiative from the Vasque webiste is as follows:
The Vasque PROJECT is our effort, through sponsorship of trail races across the US, to foster trail running competition, community and stewardship. Vasque employs a rigorous selection process in order to partner with the best race series in vibrant running communities. These partners are selected because of their dedication to providing runners with the ultimate race experience and also because of their dedication to giving back to the community and environment.
I love the Vasque Project. I think it is great that Vasque is giving back to the trail community…and I think they’ve done a great job selecting the Cougar Mountain series as part of their project. The McCoubrey’s, who organize this race for the Seattle Running Club, are the kind of folks who epitomize the notion of fostering trail running competition, community, and stewardship. And, the Seattle Running Club (SRC) has always been great about giving back to the community. $15.00 from every race entry goes ot the King County Parks and the club regularly sponsors “trail work parties” at Cougar as part of their ongoing commitment to making seattle a great trail running city.
Oh yeah, and I finished the race in 40th place. Not great…not bad. My time was 41:10…which is certainly not stellar, but also not bad for a start to the year. Running just over 8 minute miles at Cougar isn’t bad for a starting point. Obviously, I’ve got a long way to go to run fast by Fall…but, I’m on my way. Martin Rosvall ran a stellar 32:00 flat for this course. That’s simply flying. Full results from the race can be found here.
Let the racing begin….
I know…this post seems a bit misplaced. Here it is — May — and I’m just posting for the first time this year, and I’m just kicking off my season. If you are like me, then you are probably saying WTF?
My running has been incredibly sporadic. Like many of my colleagues at work, I’ve been heads down getting ready to launch Microsoft Office 2010 this June. If you are interested, you can download the free beta version of the product here (it’s very good…I’ve been running it for months). And, while there is still much to be done before launch, I’m starting to get that itch to hit the trails more reguarly and start logging some miles.
The last few years, I’ve been only running 30 miles-ish per week. Not enough to get into any kind of meaningful shape. Not doing enough miles to build strength. Not doing enough workouts to survive on footspeed. Last year was, perhaps, my worst year of running ever (or at least since high school). I bombed running Hood to Coast Relay. It sucked. I ran leg #8, which meant I had to contend with a major hill on Leg #20. Normally, a big hill on a dirt road would be ideal for me. Not last year. I ran as hard as I could run, and managed to beat my wife’s time from a few years’ prior but just a few seconds. Not good. Not good at all.
That was last year. Now, I’m getting ready to kick off my 2010 season with a 5 mile trail race at Cougar Mountain this coming Saturday. It’s part of the Vasque Cougar Mountain Trail Series, sponsored by Seattle Running Club. 5 miles is incredibly short compared to what I am used to, so it it will be tough. I’m hoping for a really rainy, mud-filled course to slow down some of those tracksters who tend to show up for the shorter Courgar races. Regardless, I’m really looking forward to getting out there and runing hard. And, I’m looking forward to starting my 2010 season.