Cougar Mountain Trail Series Race Report – Matt Pawelski

Race: Cougar Mountain Trail Series (19.6 mi)

Runner: Matt Pawelski

Race Date: 10/25/2020

Location: Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park, Newcastle, WA

Results: 3:56:33.4 (28/52)

Strava Activity Link:

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

  1. Soooooo many trails. A classic and frequented course on Cougar Mountain gives you a very thorough tour of the most runnable sections.
  2. The course feels fast but in fact is really quite hilly
  3. So great to see the local running community gathering a bit once again.

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

  1. The number one thing about racing during COVID is the difficulty breathing in a soaked mask — Cougar is especially heavily populated already so when you’re not masking up for other runners, a long string of hikers can make it a bit before I can really breathe.
  2. The number two thing about racing during COVID is a bunch of people you know are around but no one can really tell who is who haha.
  3. The COLD …. 29 degrees at start this year.

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

Dustin Hinkle wearing a indomitable snow bunny costume and banging a drum? I guess he just does that for fun?

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

My prep was really good this time around. I think knowing there was a drop bag at 10 mi turn around in addition to the 3 aid stations allowed me to be very realistic about my energy and gear needs. In this one, I carried 3 gels and a pack of Clif Bloks with my hand held Salomon floppy. And that was it. I didn’t stop to fill or anything. I would have, but the need just didn’t arise partly due to the cold. I did of course grab a few packages of M&Ms for my partner at home. It was like my little version of trick or treating 🙂

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

Big thing that threw me off was the race seems to show up a little short of 19.6 on most clean GPX recordings I found, and the elevation more than the advertised 3700. This time I showed 18.76 and 4200ish. Not that big of a deal but climbing up literally the last climb did not expect to emerge to the finish line, and regreted not going a bit harder on that climb. I was kind of saving for a “last mile hard” type thing. Instead the big bunny was waiting across the field banging the drum…

Lessons you learned that will help you next time around

Focus on the race and don’t get lost in own head — especially important on this race because some of the extended downhill sections can really be taken quickly early on. I was really falling into a race groove darting down a hill thinking, “wow this split may be under 8:00” (which is always nice for me in a trail race) but then I took a bad step which put a lot of impact onto my ankle and rolled it, which I then had to manage for the next 16ish miles. Not fun – stay in the game.

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

People are known to take a wrong turn here and there and ruin their race. Seeing as I missed a turn on a simple 5k exactly one week prior I was a bit concerned. In the end no wrong turns today and the course was very well marked.

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

There aren’t any views per se but the forest is very pleasant. It was very cold but clear and sunny, and the sun rays against fall foliage was a great environment for an early Sunday morning.

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

It’s very hilly but it creeps up on you, too. Some of the terrain is technical due to roots and rocks, hidden and exacerbated by slick conditions in early-mid fall. On the other hand, previous races probably happen in 70 degree weather. October is October in western WA.

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

Pretty well-run minus one caveat (next paragraph). I mean, when Budu Racing, NWTR and SRC come together to host something, I expect pretty smooth sailing. Chipped bibs, quick race results, good course markings all expected with these organizers. Especially giving kudos to the organizers with how quickly they had to pull together the race with WA Safe Start guidelines. It was only approved a couple of weeks ago, if I recall correctly.

The caveat here was, the drop bags didn’t get returned to the start line until after the HWY900 Squak Connector aid station cut-off at 2 PM (50k’ers) . That was silly because I was done at 12:30 and didn’t even use my drop bag. Luckily my neighbor grabbed it for me but I told one of the organizers to please hold it until I came into the city for work because frankly I was cold and ready to go nurse my ankle. Wasn’t really happy to walk back to the race start from my car for 1/2 an hour. It was also a 35 min drive to the aid station with my bag. Dustin apologized profusely but to be completely honest, I didn’t so much mind an excuse to hang out for a while. Would have probably just helped clean up if my ankle wasn’t being fussy.

Also another +1: They had event parking and everything all managed seamlessly. Runners got priority parking by the TH too. Well executed, indeed.

Competition – Is there a strong field?

Keith Laverty was there. He won. Some local elites come out for this one and no exceptions here. Good job, Keith!

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.

No not at all. This is usually a series of races throughout the summer and fall and it’s common enough that even the ONLY race happening this year didn’t fill up and day of registration was available.

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

Standard fare — Gatorade, Water and snacks ranging from fruit (nanners and oranges) to candy (M&Ms and Snickers, etc). I didn’t really stop to look too much this time around though.

Weather and typical race conditions

October in PNW: Check the weather and bring what looks necessary. Less is probably more for most in this distance. I didn’t take many pictures but in those I did take I was highlighting the presence of frost in the Start/Finish field. It’s cold and slick, and the slickness probably attributed to rolling my ankle.

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

Just have layers for temp and conditions and, if COVID / pandemics are still an issue, I’d recommend a replacement face covering (buff, mask or whatever) in the drop bag because they get disgusting and can be either too hot or too cold, depending.

Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?

Yeah it’s wide open. Felt like a substantial portion of Seattle was visiting Cougar Mountain on this day.

How’s the Swag?

EXCELLENT. I got 2 cool stickers, a steel, race-branded bottle opener, an SRC drop bag and a branded beer cup. All things I have regular needs for 🙂

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

Overall, I’ll give it a 3.5 and I’m taking a full star for the lack of views, and taking half a star away because of the drop bag snafu haha. That said, I do recommend it for everyone. If you have any specific trail training goals, with distances ranging from 5k to 50k EVERYONE can come here and get a superb workout, the endurance long run they need or even just come enjoy a very energetic, hyper-local race.

This race is pretty classic. I don’t even know how many years it has been going on but it has a special place with many and for many different reasons.

Photo: Heather Gonzalez at bsd photagraphy
Photo: Heather Gonzalez at bsd photagraphy
Photo: Heather Gonzalez at bsd photagraphy