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Cougars, Coozies, and Cookies

Volunteering may be something I *have* to do to fulfill my legal obligations as a famed member of the #SRCBrooks team for 2014, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve dreaded any of my duties this year on Cougar Mountain. Well, aside from that one awful wheelbarrowing task back in July which only reminded me that my oven mitts are probably better suited for getting manicures than manual labor. All in all it’s been rewarding and fun and dare I say pretty easy at times!

A couple days ago I found myself yet again pulling into the Sky Country trailhead parking lot with no intention of racing. I was there to work the “Finish Line” at the fall Cougar Mountain races, which includes 8mi, 20mi, and 50k distances. I had actually already fulfilled my volunteer hour requirement, so “Finish Line” sounded like a nice & effortless victory lap of sorts after a summer of wheelbarrowin’, aid-stationin’, and John Wallace-ignorin’. I would high-five finishers and hand them socks and beer coozies and they would thank me and hug me and maybe ask me out on a date (to which I’d decline because I have a girlfriend and she might read this post but probably won’t).

The following is a running diary I kept during the day on my phone.

*****

8:19am: I’m here! Parked, almost on time for my 8:15 shift start!

8:30am: Megan the volunteer coordinator just asked if I’d be willing to run to the mile 6.5 fork in the road and direct 8 milers to the right towards the finish line and the 20 milers and 50kers to the left and far away from the finish line. I really want to say no because I could see them setting up the food tent (with cookies!) like 20 ft away, but Erik Barkhaus, my 22 year old #SRCBrooks teammate and Finish Line co-worker today, hasn’t showed yet. So off I’m going.

8:33am: I’m slightly lost, not sure how I got off track so quickly.

8:47am: Ok I asked a nice old couple and they helped me find the right trail, and I’m here at the 6.5 mile fork.

9:35am: Lots of cool and happy people have run by! I am hearing a lot of British accents actually, which is kind of weird. Are they all related? I have been called “mate” three times too. Yeah, that’s the punchline to that anecdote, by the way.

10:10am: By and large the racers are much happier to see me than people usually are, especially QFC employees. If I’m being honest. I mean, I would literally eat garbage off their sticky floor if a QFC employee looked at me like this:

cougar8mi

10:35am: I went off trail twice but I’m back to the finish line to start doing what I originally signed up for. Eric Sach (owner of The Balanced Athlete and apparently now *not* the owner of razors at home) directed me on how to size runners for socks. It all sounded really complicated and I hope Erik can handle that specific task. I threw away my application to work at The Balanced Athlete while walking by the food tent for a cookie.

11:04am: Our first 20 mile finisher just arrived, #SRCBrooks teammate Martin Criminale! Addy Davis, the 2nd place finisher, was only 45 seconds behind! Erik and I were immediately thrown in “rush hour” and I’m sure one of them got the wrong size socks :( Erik’s fault though ;)

11:15am: Beth Steen finishes 3rd overall and first for women! I think on the spectrum of “amazingly happy to see me” to “pretty damn miserable to see me,” Beth was squarely right smack dab in the middle. I’ll take it!

11:25am: The conversation with my coworker is currently kind of weak so I showed Erik a SICK youtube video of this guy’s awesome energy drink can collection, trying to see if we have any similar interests besides running and wearing Brooks running clothes and shoes. He’s probably a smart guy but I gotta say I’m not impressed with Erik’s knowledge of the energy drink culture.

11:40-11:50am: Big rush of finishers, I think I’m developing a callous on my left hand from picking up beer coozies and recklessly throwing out high-fives, so I took a cookie break. I’ve run the 50k at this race before and I have to say so far I’m impressed with the composure of the finishers. While most don’t laugh much at my jokes, they seem coherent and happy to have raced and finished.

12:05pm: Fellow #SRCBrooks’er Evan Williams has come over from the food tent and he bears gifts! By which I mean a cup of soup, which looks really good as I’ve started to get pretty cold standing mostly still at the rainy finish line. Well, he brings a cup for soup for himself and says I’m free to go get my own. So I get one…and why not, a cookie for dippin’.

12:12pm: When I got back the three of us brainstormed the best unusual pizza toppings. Everyone laughed at mine though I’m not sure what’s so funny about tortilla chips.

12:16pm: One of the afore-mentioned British racers just finished and wasn’t receptive to my high-five. He left me hanging in front of what was probably tens of people. I think it was a culture thing, not malicious. Unfortunately Evan and Erik were among those tens and are having a good laugh about it.

12:30pm: Spent 5 whole minutes explaining to Erik about this drink from my day (Erik is only 22 I think, did I mention that?) called “Caffeine Free” Pepsi that was like regular Pepsi but only drank by your middle-aged relatives at family reunion picnics and I think was only sold in the summer. Erik confuses me by saying “cool” but with not much enthusiasm.

12:40pm: Olin Berger is the 50k champ, and wearing a beautiful SRC singlet to boot! Some may recognize Olin as the 2014 Fat Glass 50k champ (see below) but ironically he was dirtier after that race than today’s muddy mountain run. I just said to him something like “A performance like that deserves a cookie!” (but more witty in the moment, I swear) and I went to get him one but then I forgot to give it to him and accidentally ate it.

1:10pm: I can’t decide if I’m more impressed with the racers or with their friends and family patiently waiting at the finish line in this windy, rainy weather. I think they deserve at least a beer coozie too if not a pair of dry socks. They don’t even seem to be partaking in the cookies at the food tent. Heroes.

1:15pm: I found an app for my phone and Erik helped me figure out that my eyebrow hair is growing an average of 1/16″ per day! I’ll just say he didn’t not seem impressed. Phones these days!

1:25pm: Ugh, kind of embarrassing. I made a really funny joke (IMO) and Erik I think pretended not to hear me even though it was pretty obvious he did because I said it plenty loud so to get the upper hand I decided to retell the joke but then I mispronounced the word “Nantucket” and the whole thing was ruined so I did the first thing I could think of and that was to go to the food tent and get another cookie. Damnit!

2:20pm: Erik’s friend and ride and fellow SRCBrooks’er Matthew McClement has showed up after his volunteer gig at the Highway 900 aid station and now Erik is threatening to leave any minute. :\ Also I’m pretty sure they’re talking about me.

2:58pm: Erik is still here, still talking about leaving.

3:12pm: Uh oh, I just realized I gave two women *last year’s* Cougar tech shirt. I am already thinking of ways to blame John Wallace.

3:16pm: Erik finally left. It was fun getting to know him but I just don’t think we share enough life interests to really take our friendship to the next level. Unless he changes my mind. I’ll email him tonight.

4:37pm: It’s been 20 minutes and there are still three people out there. And their friends are waiting and it’s apparent that the friends are nervous. Two of them arrive though, separated by only a minute. You can almost see the breath of relief leave their friends’ mouths.

4:43pm: Nancy is the latter of the two recent finishers and after skillfully receiving my gift of socks and beer coozie, she more or less immediately turns around and heads back out. “Where is she going?! Doesn’t she want a cookie?!” I ask her friend who’d been waiting patiently the past hour. “She’s crazy!” she replies. Fifteen seconds later, Nancy re-emerges from the woods with Sherrard Ewing, the final finisher in 8:41.

This is what happens during muddy and wet and windy and arduous trail runs. You meet people you’d otherwise never meet and you suffer together and then you separate. Maybe you’ll see each other at another suffer-fest. Maybe never again. Who knows where these two met on the course and how long if at all they ran/hiked/ate/swore together. At some point and somehow they bonded enough that Nancy, rather than luxuriating with hot soup and cookies and warmth that she’d definitely earned over the course of 8.5+ hours today, headed back out into the muck to help bring in her new compadre.

*****

All in all, it was a great day for racing, especially those well-versed in late-October weather here in Seattle. Many other volunteers were working a lot harder than me Sunday to make this race happen, but it always feels good to at least lend a small, delicate hand. I know from experience that the course is pretty brutal and how happy it can be to finally cross that finish line and be done with it all. Seeing it from the other side, up close on so many people’s faces, was a joy that more than made up for the wet and the cold and the fact that the food tent eventually ran out of cookies.

You won my heart years ago, Cougar Mountain, and I’ll see you in 2015!

Written by

Joe writes long-winded blog entries about running and/or television shows from the 80s. When not writing bios in the 3rd person, he can be found running around Cap Hill & W. Seattle, or pretending to be an employee at Fleet Feet Seattle.

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