I first ran the Portland Trail Series in the summer of 2016 as a fun way to get a mid-week tempo workout. The five-race series is both casual and competitive. Before each weekly or bi-weekly race of 3-7 miles, runners would nervously gather around the intersection of Leif Erikson Road and Wild Cherry Trail near the Thurman Gate of Forest Park. After the race, competitors would gather around the water station, get to know each other, and watch the rest of the runners cross the finish line. At the end of each Portland Trail Series is a celebration and awards ceremony at the Lucky Lab, where some of my best weekend adventure runs were planned with other trail runners I met from the series.
The Portland Trail Series began with a Fall series in 2011, conveys Go Beyond co-race director Renee Janssen. “It was modeled after some races (husband and co-race director) Todd had run in New York,” clarifies Renee. “The idea was to give runners a mid-week/after-work race and to make it fun and low-key. The next year we added a second series in the spring/summer. Then in 2014, we added the third and had a Spring, Summer, and Fall set. We had wanted to do something similar in Bend for a while and finally started the Bend Trail Series
Runners getting a selfie before the Oakridge Triple Summit Challenge (James Holk)
Starting in 2003, the Cougar Mountain Trail Series in Issaquah, WA, has existed even longer than the Portland Trail Series. The Cougar Mountain Trail Series has been run in some form and distance every year since then, according to race director Jack Rosenfeld of the Seattle Running Club. “This year will be the 20th running of the summer trail run series,” explains Jack. “The race series pre-dates founding the Seattle Running Club as a non-profit organization. We offer runners a small, home-town feel to trail running. We have food and Flying Lion Beer at the finish line. We also offer prize money for the 14.5-mile race in August.”
The Cougar Mountain Trail Series is a short commute from Seattle and the surrounding communities. It serves as the only races allowed to occur at Cougar Mountain Regional Park. The races support the local parks as a fundraiser for King County Parks.
Runners in the Cougar Mountain Trail Series (Somer Kreisman)
Growing up in Eugene, I wanted to bring the same trail-running camaraderie I experienced with the Portland Trail Series to Lane County. So I started the Emerald City Trail Series at Buford Park with Northwest Dirt Churners in 2022. This year the trail series takes place every Thursday in June from the park’s North end.
Emerald Trail Series race #3 through the forest section of Howard Buford Recreational Area
A multi-day stage race, where the rest is usually just a day as compared to weeks or months like a trail series, is also a great way to compete on the trails and make new friends. Elevated Trail Racing’s Devin VansCoy started running on the famous mountain bike trails in Oakridge, OR
as an alternative to his triathlete training while teaching in the area. “The first time I ran on them, I fell in love with the simplicity and movement on the trails,” describes Devin. After living in Oakridge for two years and experiencing the amazing trails there, Devin created The Oakridge Triple Summit Challenge
, a three-day stage race. Since then, the race has steadily grown each year. This year will be the 7th year of the OTSC. “Since its inaugural race in 2017, we had only six stage race finishers,” ascribes Devin. “Last year, we had 47 finishers. We also now rent out the Greenwaters Park for three days to allow camping during the race. We also rent out the showers at the high school so runners can shower after each race. During a stage race, you have more time to develop running friendships that you normally wouldn’t receive in a single-day race instead of finishing, having a bite to eat, and leaving. You stay longer, talk more, and develop friendships that may last a lifetime.”
There are many benefits to multi-day races. Besides getting to know fellow trail runners, it is also a great way to show improvement from the first race to the last. If a runner has a bad race, no big deal. Series results are scored as a whole. Most series races allow a mulligan so runners can still place in their perspective age group or overall scoring even by missing a race or having a subpar performance. “The competitive nature can be a little different with the point system we use – it’s not just what place you come in but how far back you are from the winner,” ascribes Renee.
Runners competing at the Portland Trail Series in Forest Park (Go Beyond Racing)
“There are several things that make our series unique,” says Jack about the Cougar Mountain Trail Series. “For those that choose to do the 4-race short or long series, we have standings and awards for the top cumulative times across each of the two series. The race series also builds on itself in distance, which helps newer runners gain confidence in running longer distances and serves as a great training/racing sequence for more experienced runners. At the same time, we also encourage people to come out for any of the races to run whatever distance they feel most comfortable with.”
Laura Westmeyer’s first trail race back in 2015 was the Portland Trail Series. She continues to put the Portland Trail Series on her race calendar. Laura has also won the last two Oakridge Triple Summit Challenges, and now she is hooked on stage and series races. She’ll be competing in these two races, the Broken Arrow Skyrace in June and the Transrockies Run in August. “One very interesting aspect of a trail series race is that everyone’s standing can change so dramatically race-to-race,” expresses Laura. “For my first time running OTSC, there was a different female leader every day! I thought that was really cool.”
Laura Westmeyer in the Oakridge Triple Summit Challenge. (James Holk)
Another benefit of trail series and stage races is that it’s a great way to get introduced to trail running. The low-key vibe is fun, as all experiences are welcome. “It’s a great introduction to trail racing for those who have never tried it,” expresses Renee. “It gives runners route ideas that they can run again and again.”
Most races do not have cut-offs. The longer races of the Cougar Mountain Trail Series in August and October might have tight cut-offs due to the permits. “But we have options for an early start,” clarifies Jack.
It’s a great way to get motivation from fast runners to improve. Laura has steadily risen her way up the standings since her first race, finishing second female in the Fall 2022 Portland Trail Series and even first in the last two Oakridge Triple Summits. “I love learning how other people run, discovering my own strengths and weaknesses, and the opportunity to improve on something at each race,” declares Laura. “I’m signed up for the Spring Portland Trail Series, where my primary goal is to try to be a worthy competitor for the other gals in the series.
Laura Westmeyer at the top of the podium for the Oakridge Triple Summit (James Holk)
Laura says the key to competing in a trail series is to not put too much emphasis on any one race. “If you aim to have fun and do your best, you will be happy with the results. The keys to stage races are very different. In a multi-day event, you need to be thoughtful about the effort you put out for each race and prioritize recovery just as much as the run. There’s no time between races for trial and error. It’s important to fuel adequately and be deliberate about your recovery routine, so you stay fresh day after day.”
“After each race, we share food, play in the river, soak in hot springs, camp on a field, and do it all again the next day!” states Laura about the Oakridge Triple Summit Challenge. (James Holk)
As mentioned earlier, a trail series is a great way for those new to trail running. Most trail series also allow runners to try out a single race to taste the experience. “We get a lot of people running their first trail race or those who don’t feel like they are fast enough to race (and we love that because we know they are going to have fun and be glad they did it), illustrates Renee. “It’s great watching people blossom – going from discreetly and almost apologetically telling us that they are going to be slow and maybe finishing last, to improving and gaining confidence in themselves and not finishing last and even going on to run other races that they were intimidated about.”
Sharen Mosely and Sabryna McDowell at the finish of race #5 in the Emerald City Trail Series
What makes trail running series and stage races so great? “The number one answer I receive from people is the community,” expresses Devin. “You start as strangers and leave as friends. I believe the runners love all of the time they get to spend together after the race is over.”
“These series races are more fun than you might guess,” says Renee. “There is a lot of laughter and big smiles. They are great for young runners and old runners. Fast and slow. Everyone will feel challenged and love it.”
“I love the opportunity to build community over the days, week, (and year!) of a trail series,” clamors Laura. “Shared experiences bring people together, especially when the experience involves doing hard things! After a series, I feel like I’ve gotten to know some volunteers, race organizers, and other runners. Single-day races just don’t have the opportunity for the kind of in-depth quality time that comes with a series.”
“We hope to see you out at our (Cougar Mountain) races this summer, whether just for one run or for the entire summer series (and the fall race as well), says Jack. “Come join in the fun!”
Pacific Northwest Trail Series and Stage Races
Note: We are defining a series/stage race as races run in the same area trails
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