cougar mountain 20 mile
Photo: Linda Kercher

Race: Cougar Mountain Trail Run Series 20 mile

Runner: Jeff K

Race Date: 10/28/2018

Location: Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park

Results: 2:54, 1st overall*

3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?

  1. Local race that is close to home
  2. Challenging course with a lot of vert
  3. The race is flexible on the start date If you are feeling strong, you can do the 50K, likewise if you signed up for the 50K and not feeling it, you can drop down to the 20 miler, or the 8.

Not so much – Aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you

  1. It was raining all the night before and when I got there at 7AM in the dark and started raining hard again. When conditions are like that, there is part of me that wants to just bail out and go back to bed.
  2. It had course marking issues that affected the outcome of the race. This also happened in 2016 on the same 20-mile course.
  3. The smaller field gets spaced out which leads to running solo for most of the way in both the 50K and 20 miler. I personally like to have some friendly competition nearby to keep focus on pace in the later miles.

Weird factor – What’s the weirdest thing about this race?

It’s a smaller sized local race. Nothing really weird about it

Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?

  • It was a comeback race for me. I was out of running completely from May to August due to injury. I had a simple goal for this race which was to run strong and stay even on pacing. Completing it validated that the rehab process is working, and I’m progressing towards being able to run longer distances.
  • I didn’t go off course. On the last climb on Quarry Trail, the streamers were beyond the turn, and the arrow sign wasn’t oriented right. It threw me off for a minute. Luckily, I had been training out there and knew the right way to go.

*The elites who were in the lead weren’t so lucky. They took a different wrong turn where the markers weren’t clear and ended up back at the finish line early. Some doubled back a couple miles and completed the race anyway. Some just took a DNF. My finish place should have been 4th or 5th instead of 1st.

  • My wife Linda brought our boys out to the finish. They like jump around a lot and scream when I get to the finish which gets me pumped up.

Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner

  • Course specific training… It works. There is a reason behind why your running coach may be pushing this.
  • Print a course map and take it with you on training runs. The more you know the course, the less likely you are to go off track.
  • Strong quads, hamstrings, and glutes will help you with the climbing and the running downhill that is in this race.

Lessons you learned that will help you next time around

If I do it again, I would practice downhill and uphill specific interval training on actual course segments in addition to the long runs.

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

  • There are long sections where you can go fast to make up for the lost time on the climbs. Training on the course will help you find them. Remember the landmarks where they are and key off them to know when to amp it up.
  • In both the 20 mile and 50K, there are two big hills towards the end, De Leo Wall, and Quarry. If you are still feeling fresh, you can make it through. If not, the biggest slowdowns can happen in this area. Keep this challenge in the back of your mind as you are in the early sections
  • Bring warm clothes for post race. It doesn’t feel that cold during the race. In fact, a lot of runners end up shedding jackets and gloves. As soon as you finish the chill sets in. I bring a dry jacket, hoodie and warm up pants to keep from freezing.

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

Basic northwest woods on the outskirts of Seattle; nothing special. No views.

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

Significant hillclimbs spaced evenly apart for both versions of the race. The ones on the Squak side for the 50K are particularly brutal. There is 3800 feet of climbing in the 20 miler, and over 7000 in the 50K.

Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?

  • Well oiled. This race has changed race directors, but it has been going on for many years now as part of a larger series of races put on by Seattle Running Club. They have a nice setup with Pizza and beer post race.
  • That said, the course markings issues that have happened out there are concerning but I trust the RDs will do their best to ensure it won’t happen again. I think they need to put some volunteers in the problem areas to ensure runners stay in the right direction.

Competition – Is there a strong field?

Kind of. There will always be some local elites from SRC that show up because the race is part of a competition series. This year, Olin Berger ran the 50K and smashed the course record and brought some faster runners with him.

Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.

You can sign up day of if you want to wait until the last minute.

Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?

Evenly spaced and they have the basics

Weather and typical race conditions

Usually rainy and on the chilly side.

Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next guy?

One bottle should suffice. I carried my own food so only needed to stop for water refills. Even if it is raining, the trail conditions are good. It is hard packed and no mud. You could run this race in road or trail shoes, but probably not racing flats.

Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?

A couple spots… Red Town Trailhead for one. But the weather will make it unlikely they want to hang around

How’s the Swag?

I won a growler filled with a great beer and an SRC coffee mug. The race shirts are basic long sleeve running shirts and have a cool logo on them.

The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?

I’d give it a 3 and 1/2.