Seattle’s Ultrarunning Renaissance - Page 5
The Seattle Running Company Club ventures north of the city to the Chuckanut Mountains for a group run at Fragrance Lake. Photo by Win van Pelt.
The Great Washington Hope
On a cold Sunday morning last October, a dozen runners gathered at a trailhead within an hour’s drive of downtown Seattle for a 4.5-hour scenic loop through the Central Cascades, including ascents to the blue, alpine Pratt and Melakwa lakes. The group, which consisted of men and women of mixed ages and abilities, was part of the Seattle Running Club—founded in 2003 by McCoubrey and current president Win Van Pelt with a vision to introduce new runners to the trails and build community.
Some of the members present had run mountain 100-milers, some were training for upcoming first 50Ks and one young runner named Emilee McLernon had never run trails before. “[The run] brutalized me!” she jokes. “I showed up without food or water and they made fun of how small my tread was. Oh, I'll be back though!”
While Seattleites may mourn the passing of the community’s remarkable competitive era, there is a parallel, more hopeful, narrative about local trail running. During all this, Seattle has developed into a remarkably good area for the average trail runner.
James Varner, who’s played a central role in recent years in expanding trail events in Washington, says, “I was definitely influenced by what was going on in the Seattle scene—the group runs, the way everyone seemed to volunteer and or race at every local race year after year. I like to think I'm continuing the tradition of inclusion that this area has always been known for.”
Local trail-running groups and clubs have proliferated in recent years—ranging from the 800+ member Seattle Mountain-Running Group to the women’s High Heel Running Group. Race options have grown exponentially, with races of all distances, fatass-style events and group runs taking place every weekend year-round.
In some ways, even the closure of the Seattle Running Company may have done its part to boost the sheer volume of trail-running opportunities in the area; former SRC employees, accomplished trail runners themselves, now operate three of the most prominent running stores in the area and have continued key aspects of the SRC ethos, including a passion for community on the trails.
“The biggest thing I learned from Scott and Leslie [McCoubrey] was the importance of surrounding yourself with good employees,” says Brian Morrison, who took over ownership of the local Fleet Feet and regularly holds trail-focused events, film screenings and group runs with guest-star trail runners. “About half of the staff consider themselves trail ultrarunners, and I'm always extolling the benefits of trails to our [road] marathon and half-marathon training participants.”
Eric Sach, another former Running Company manager, now operates The Balanced Athlete in Renton, a suburb south of the city, and started his own series of group trail runs at the start of 2014 jointly with the Seattle Running Club. “My take away from the Seattle Running Company days is that relationships matter. Even seven years after I left SRC to open The Balanced Athlete, my relationship with Scott McCoubrey and others is still strong. I know I can count on them when needed."
And, former top-five Western States finisher Phil Kochik opened the trail-specific Seven Hills Running in one of the city’s western corners last year as an attempt to recreate a new center for the trail-running community in Seattle. He believes that it is the first store in the country to carry more trail-running products than road. His store regularly hosts lectures from trail runners and supports local races, and he employs visible members of the local ultra community, including noted race photographer Glenn Tachiyama. And, in 2014, Seven Hills announced that they would be supporting a new, local ultra-team featuring a variety of fast or influential local runners.
“This all ties back to Seattle Running Company,” says Kochik, “because that's what they brought to the table—a trail-running clubhouse where you can hang out and get inspired.”