After volunteering for Tiger Mountain Trail Runs race, I took a look at Northwest Trail Runs event schedule and noticed midweek races that I could plan around a work trip in the Seattle area called the Tuesday Night Trail to Grill. “Summer is a busy time on the weekends so we liked the idea of a weekday event where people could come after work or a busy day, and do an evening race followed by hot dog grilling, a raffle for prizes, and awards,” says Northwest Trail Runs Gretchen Walla. “People seem to love getting their evening run in with a little competition and motivation, and then have dinner waiting for them at the finish line!”
The Tuesday Night Trail to Grill is one of three Event Series that Northwest Trail Runs puts on for its runners. The other two are the Half Marathon Trail Series and the Winter Trail Series. “People enjoy the competition that a series provides,” states Walla. “We give awards to top finishers in different age categories at the end of a series. We also award people for consistency – if someone participates in a certain amount of series races, they will earn some free swag. We also have runners training for ultra races use it as speed work. They are sometimes surprised how hard a hilly 5k can be!
People think our summer events are the most popular but our Winter Trail Series races tend to have the highest participation. Having a series during the cold and wet PNW winter months provides some motivation and fun to get out on those muddy trails!”
Scoring is based on the best four performances of the series. The first place woman and first place man in each event score 100 points, 2nd place scores 95, 3rd scores 92, 4th scores 90, 5th 89 and so on. Places 64th and lower score 30 points. The series rewards those with the most points, regardless of what distances they ran. There are also categories for different age groups.
The trail series races are also a good entry into trail running and running in general. “We provide a fun and welcoming atmosphere to runners and walkers who try their first 5k ever,” explains Walla. “A lot of those runners do end up trying longer distances but we also have a good mix of folks who are content doing the short distances, trying to improve their times and ranking in the series.”
The trail series also strengthens the running community. “We have had runners do our series races year after year. One of the neatest things to see is parents bringing their kids and running as a family. Those kids meet other kids and we have seen them grow up together in different series. A lot of those kids are now running cross country for their schools.”
I decided to run the last race of the Tuesday Night Trail to Grill called Interlaken Ice Cream Dash. The race features a 2.5k course that is both asphalt and trail that winds its way around Interlaken Park between the Montlake and Capitol Hill neighbourhoods of Seattle. Each loop features a challenging 300-foot climb that includes several stairs. The race options were 5k (2 laps) and 10k (4 laps.) I picked the 10k option.
The day of the race, I received an email from Northwest Trail Runs warning the dangers of smoke from the British Columbia wildfires, with an opt-out for a credit for another race. Since this was the last race of the series, I decided to run it anyway, despite my minor asthma. A Vox article mentioned that the Seattle AQI was 220, worse than Beijing, and the equivalent of smoking 7 cigarettes. Ok, maybe I should take it easy.
I started the race amidst chain link fences and rebar from construction around the park and followed the confidence ribbons down the road. Kids wearing smiles sprinted past me like it was a 50 meter dash. Since the 5k and 10k competitors run together, it was hard to tell who was racing what.
After about a 3/8ths of a mile, the course did a turn onto a trail. The trail was not much more than a U-turn and headed back down the road I was just on and greeted the runners behind us. About halfway back to the starting line, I took a turn up a trail and the first of many stair steps. The top of the set of stairs provided a reprieve, but not for long. The toughest 30 steps of the course felt like running straight up a sand dune. Was this even a trail? I was breathing pretty hard and decided to reduce the effort a bit. There was a little downhill after but that was just the set up for the quarter mile of trail and stairs contributing to the biggest hill of the loop.
There was a little out and back at the top of the hill and then I headed down the stairs I just climbed. I was only on those stairs for a short time and took a right for more downhill stairs for a nice technical challenge. The stairs eventually turned into a runnable trail but the roots still tested the quads on the descent. I eventually found the road that I started on and headed back for a short stint to the start/finish line. The first loop in 11:45. Only three to go.
The second loop felt fine. I decided to hike the sandy part of the hill to not tax the lungs. Starting loop three, however, I really felt the smoke. I slowed down and took stock on who was running the 10k. Most runners ahead of me had stopped after two laps. I had no idea what place I was in, but that didn’t really matter. I was having fun and getting a good run in. Surprisingly, I caught a runner at the top of the hill. I followed him down to the finish, where he stopped for some water and I went out for the fourth loop alone. I saw a couple runners behind me on the out and backs, but I didn’t think they would catch me. I took it easy again up the hill and just let gravity take me to the finish, where I later found out I finished second, even though each loop was slower than the last one. The first place runner was nearly eight minutes ahead of me and there were only 19 runners in the race, but I’ll take a podium finish anytime I can get it.
I savored a hot dog, watermelon, and a cup of ice cream with some new trail runner buddies. At dinner that night, I enjoyed an IPA in my new glass from the race. There really is a sense of fellowship in these races. I hope to come back for more.
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