Race Report Combo: Cougar Mountain Trail Run Series

I’ve had the great pleasure of running the entire series of “short” races in the Cougar Mountain Trail Run Series this Spring and Summer.  I previously wrote about the first event in the series, the 5-miler.  I have since run the remaining courses, one each month of increasing length.  Here’s the run-down (so to speak) of each race and my experience with the series as a whole.

June 14th: 8-Miler

This race was so much fun for me.  8 miles seems to be my ideal distance for a trail run.  I bounded up those hills with zeal, didn’t walk once, and handled those downhills like a deer.  I ran a great time and felt great.  The weather was cool and gorgeous. “That was fun,” I thought, “The next race is only 2 miles longer. That should be no problem.”

July 12th: 10-Miler

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Approaching the start of the 10-miler. Little did I know what lay in store.

Ah, those heady days in June! Little was I aware of the challenge that lay ahead for the 10 mile race.  The 10-miler sat in the middle of a heat wave and, even though the race started early, the temperature was already creeping toward the early eighties.

From the start everyone agreed that no one one running for a PR that day. But still, we didn’t realize how much the heat would affect us.  I felt good for the first 4 miles or so, but it soon became clear the heat was taking a toll.  I didn’t bring enough water and lots of others didn’t either.  Thankfully, extra aid stations were added at the last minute which helped a lot.

Even with the extra aid stations, the heat caught a lot of us off guard.  We were exhausted and people were tripping and falling a lot.  With the exhaustion, it wasn’t so easy to focus on the technical parts of the trail.  I personally fell twice, gashing my left palm and somehow managing to roll into the last remaining mud puddle in the Pacific Northwest.  At least that helped me cool off a bit.  I watched others totally eat dirt and others curse up a storm after tripping or nearly rolling an ankle for the 974th time that race.

In addition, I got off the course, along with a few other runners, adding another half mile to our already insufferable distances.  I won’t say it was because the course wasn’t clearly marked.  The other runners and I suspected that we were so exhausted from the heat we misread the trail markers.

All of this made crossing the finish line that much more gratifying.  While the experience kind of sucked, I took time to remember that bad races happen and that it will probably easier next time.

August 9th: 14 Miler

Thankfully, I was right.  The 14-miler went remarkably better.  The distance on the trail was challenging.  Even though, I had to walk up a lot of uphill portions and I did feel a little exhaustion toward the last half mile (I’d even call it hitting a mini-wall), I was so grateful to not reenact the previous month’s race.  I felt strong for much of the race and the mini-wall subsided as soon as I got over the last hill and was bounding toward the finish line.

The weather was much cooler and, dare I say it, almost autumnal feeling.  That gives me a lot of hope since it’s my favorite time of year and the lower temperatures should take the edge off running.

The Race Series and Lessons Learned

As a whole, the Cougar Mountain Trail Run series is a super-fun and incredibly well organized event.  The entry fee was cheap and goes towards King County Parks.  While that would be enough, I also received a ton of swag which was actually useful: canvas bags, several water bottles (both plastic and aluminum) and a camping chair.  Lastly, the volunteers were awesome.  They made sure the runners were well taken care of (both medically and with the incredible amount of food at the aid stations and the finish line).  I’m now so spoiled I’m going to expect free pizza at the end of every race!

While this marks the end of the main part of the trail run series, my Cougar Mountain trail adventure is not over yet.  In October, there will be a 20 mile & 50K race.  I’m currently training for the 50K distance, with the St. George Marathon as a training race a couple weeks beforehand.

What I’ve learned from my experience this Summer is that I need to be more careful running trail races.  Prior to this summer, the longest distance I’d run on the trails was 9 miles.  Given that I’ve run marathon distances on road races, I thought a distance of 9 or 10 miles on the trails should be easy, right?  Not at all.  The terrain makes such an enormous difference that it compresses difficulty in much shorter distances.  It’s as if trail running is as different to road running as bowling is to rugby.  I exaggerate to the point to myself that it’s a different endurance sport that requires a different sort of training, fueling and endurance than what I’m used to.

With that in mind, the idea of doing a trail run 50K, the longest distance I’ve ever attempted on the trail or otherwise, is daunting.  However, I still have two months of training left with my awesome coach.  I can learn from these experiences to fuel better and train better in the meantime.  Also, on a lighter note, I’m running the St. George Marathon before the 50K.  Not only a manageable distance that will be a gorgeous (and mostly flat) course.  Until then!

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