Liberty track coach wins Cougar run

July 3, 2008

By Jim Feehan

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Michael Smith, Liberty High School cross country and track coach, leaves the pack in his wake during the final quarter-mile of the Cougar Mountain Trail Run. by Greg Farrar

Newcastle’s Molly Hurd will spend her birthday this month running┬áin the 10-mile Cougar Mountain Trail Run. She’ll use the race, and last month’s 7.6-mile run on Cougar Mountain, as a tuneup for the Leading Ladies Marathon in South Dakota in August.

“I figure it will be good training for me,” said Hurd, who turns 46 this month.

She finished 92nd in June’s race with a time of 1:15:29. Kat Thompson, 50, of Newcastle, placed 95th in the field of 230 runners with a time of 1:16.

In trail racing, age is just a number.

Michael Smith is a few weeks shy of his 50th birthday, but don’t say that too loudly around the teenagers and 20-somethings he defeated June 14 in winning the 7.6-mile Cougar Mountain Trail Run.

Smith, the track and cross-country coach at Liberty High School, won the event with a time of 55:46.

Clayton Barnes Jr., 18, of Seattle, came in second among the 230 finishers with a time of 56:07.

Smith trains his cross-country runners on Cougar Mountain’s 36 miles of hiking trails, so he’s familiar with the terrain. The inclement weather this month made for an interesting race, he said.

“I almost went down a couple of times, just sliding in the mud,” he said. “It’s soft and squishy and there’s a big pile of goosh and you just go around it and try not to get your foot inside it. The fun part is just trying to go fast enough so you’re racing still, but not too fast where you’re going to hit a tree.”

He said he tries to run at least one of the Cougar Mountain trail runs each year.

The 7.6-mile race was the second in the series of four trail runs on Cougar Mountain. The series starts with a 5-mile run in May and works up to a final 13-mile run in August. The next race, a 10-mile run, is July 12.

The Seattle Running Co. started the trail-running series in 2003. Participation in the runs cost $25, or $80 for the series. Of that, $15 goes to support King County parks. Those who run also can volunteer for work parties.

“What’s better than a bunch of ultra marathoners on battery recovery on Squak Mountain?” Scott McCoubrey, race director, said of the volunteer effort to remove car batteries from the mountain’s trails.

In August, Smith plans to compete in the 2008 USA Masters Outdoor Track and Field Championships at Spokane. The meet features athletes ranging in age from 30 to 95.

Running along narrow park trails on hilly terrain offers a world of difference to runners familiar with road races, Smith said.

“For me, it was trying to go fast on the flatter downhill sections and survive on the up hills,” he said. “Some of these guys are just like goats.”

The start and finish line was in an open meadow near the Sky Country trailhead entrance, about one mile east of Newcastle. The meadow was formerly a Nike antiaircraft missile site. All that remains of the cold war relic is a series of concrete sidewalks. The only Nikes to be found were on the feet of the athletes.

Liz Wilson, 40, of Bothell, a former University of Oregon track and cross country standout, won in the women’s division with a time of 1:01:44.

“I enjoy running on trails,” she said. “It’s quiet and beautiful. You’re probably looking at your surroundings more than you’re worried about your time. It’s kind of fun getting muddy and nasty.”

Drake de Ponte, 18, who graduated from Mt. Si High School three days earlier, finished eighth overall with a time of 58:43.

“This race is a lot of fun,” said de Ponte, who will compete this fall in track and cross-country at Washington State University. “The mud was 4 inches deep in places, but that’s part of the fun, too.”

Eric Bice, 16, a sophomore at Liberty High School, was the youngest finisher.

“My dad drug me out of bed to run in this race,” he said.

He came in 34th overall with a time of 1:04:13.

Eric wasn’t the only Bice in the race. His father, Steve, 51, and brother Jeff, 22, also participated. Steve and Jeff both finished in 1:12:04.

Last month, Jeff graduated from Washington University in St. Louis.

“There are no trail runs in St. Louis,” Jeff said. “When you’re in the Northwest, you’ve got to do the Northwest thing and go out running.”

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