Scott McCoubrey: A Seattle Trailblazer Profiled

[The following article and video highlight Scott McCoubrey and his role in the Seattle trail running and ultrarunning scenes. Thanks to Greg Crowther for putting together these complimentary pieces. -Bryon Powell]

Scott McCoubrey charts a new course after 15+ years of Seattle trailblazing
by Greg Crowther

On the eve of the 2011 White River 50-Mile Trail Run, Scott McCoubrey is addressing race entrants when he reaches an awkward point in his spiel: the rules of the course.  “I hate rules, because I never follow them,” he confesses.  “I’ll just touch on some things that we’d like to see happen out there.”


This nonconformity tempered with gentle leadership is central to McCoubrey’s personality. Perhaps it explains why his Seattle Running Company store became known as a trail running mecca long before the rest of the country caught the off-road running bug. Or why nearly 300 people of all ages and abilities have joined him in the foothills of Mount Rainier for the chance to travel 50 miles on foot over rugged terrain.

“I figured, if I’m going to do a 50-mile, I’m going to go with a McCoubrey race,” says Joe Creighton of Seattle. “This is now my third time here, and I can’t say enough good things about the course and the race itself.”

The White River 50 holds special significance for McCoubrey because it takes place in the Crystal Mountain area where he spent much of his childhood. At the time, though, he was a skier, not a runner. It wasn’t until he was working for Nordstrom in the Washington, DC area, “selling $2,500 men’s suits to [people like] Clarence Thomas at Tysons Corner,” that he began to run in his spare time. When a serious crash on the slopes curtailed his skiing, he turned his attention to marathons.

Even as a novice runner, McCoubrey was reluctant to follow in others’ footsteps.  Back in Seattle, he trained with a group that did its three-hour long runs on a three-mile loop around Green Lake; McCoubrey opted for routes in the Alpine Lakes region.  He was initially unaware of  trail running as a distinct sport per se, just seeking more interesting venues to exercise.  But when he read about a 50-mile run held in the very mountains where he had skied and fished and ridden horses as a kid, he knew that he had to give it a try. He convinced childhood friend Dave Terry, a fellow skier-turned-runner, to join him at the White River 50 in 1996 and then at the Western States 100 in 1997. He became a sales rep for a fledgling outdoor-oriented company called Montrail.  And then in 1999, he purchased the FootZone Capitol Hill store and rechristened it the Seattle Running Company.

“I was really interested in getting involved in all facets of running,” McCoubrey notes, “and also using the retail venue and the people that I had met nationally to bring other people into the world of trail running, particularly in the northwest, since it was such a good spot for it.”

Before long, the Seattle Running Company gained a national reputation as a “home for wayward ultrarunners,” as McCoubrey puts it.  At one time or another, customers could have gone on store runs led by William Emerson, bought shoes from Krissy Moehl, gotten stride analysis from Scott Jurek, and/or received coaching advice from Uli Steidl.

Former SRC general manager Eric Sach says of those early years, “It was a great time — chaotic [but] a wonderful experience.  I learned a whole lot about running stores and helping out people.” Sach has gone on to lead his own store, The Balanced Athlete in Renton, as have two other former SRC employees: Hal Koerner, the founder of Rogue Valley Runners in Ashland (Oregon), and Brian Morrison, the new operator of Fleet Feet Seattle.

The Seattle Running Company and its affiliated club, the Seattle Running Club, promoted trail running by offering trail-related products and group runs at a time when such offerings were highly unusual. (“We were the only ones willing to take 24 people we didn’t know out into the Enchantments,” McCoubrey laughs.)  Soon event management became part of the mix as well.  As a Montrail rep on a limited budget, McCoubrey had provided race directors with hands-on help rather than large cash payouts; now he applied this experience to his own events, taking over White River in 2001 and the Bridle Trails 50K in 2003, and creating the Cougar Mountain series in 2003.

White River immediately became a national championship race thanks to a classic bit of McCoubrey maneuvering. As manager of the Montrail/Patagonia event sponsorship for 2001, he set aside $5,000 in prize money for the national 50-mile trail championships.  As the new race director of White River, he then asked for and received USA Track & Field’s permission to host the championships, ensuring that the $5,000 would be distributed at his event.

The Cougar Mountain race series has its origins in a King County Parks budget shortfall circa 2001. The parks approached McCoubrey with the idea that he could put on an ultramarathon, as he was doing at White River. McCoubrey countered with the suggestion that a group of shorter races would bring in more local runners and increase their appreciation of the local trails.  A series of races between 5 and 13 miles was subsequently launched; now in its 9th year, it has donated close to $100,000 in entry fees and close to 1,000 hours of trail work to the parks. Furthermore, “They really cater to runners now out there at Cougar Mountain,” McCoubrey says. “Runner’s World will frequently put that as the best place to run in Seattle now, rather than Green Lake, and King County loves that.”

It is hard to imagine a McCoubrey-less Seattle trail running scene, but that scene is upon us.  Last year, Scott and his wife Leslie sold the store to Fleet Feet and handed the Bridle Trails and Cougar Mountain events to fellow Seattle Running Club member Eric Bone. This year they moved to Ketchum, Idaho, where Scott is working in sales management for Scott Sports.  At least for now, they will retain control of the White River 50.

“That’s something I still want to hold onto,” says Scott McCoubrey. “I feel it was a great addition to the local running community, and it’s something that’s different — something that not everyone can have in their backyard.”

Spoken like a true nonconformist.

[Homepage thumbnail photo by Glenn Tachiyama.]

There are 13 comments

  1. John Maytum

    Great profile. Sad to see another trail running icon leave the Seattle area but I wish Scott the best. Look forward to seeing him deliver another entertaining course briefing at the White River 50 in 2012!

  2. crowther

    Bryon, thanks for working with me on this. As I explain in a new post at gregcrowther.com, it's hard to capture Scott in words alone — hence my interest in doing a video (even a relatively crude one).

  3. CraigR

    Scott is a really great individual. I had the opportunity to run into him and Dusty Olson prior to running the 2005 White River 50 Mile. I was out on a short run in Discovery Park in Seattle and along the trail, 2 runners were coming toward me on the trail. It was Scott and Dusty, but I didn't know it at the time. Well, the prerace dinner took place at Crystal Mountain Resort that year and low and behold it is Scott McCoubrey. He said, haven't I seen you somewhere before? I said, a couple days ago we ran into one another on the trail at Discovery Park. Small world. And when I finished the race, he yelled out over the speaker phone, here comes our first finisher from the Midwest, Craig Redfearn. That was pretty cool.

    Hard to believe Scott ever giving up WR50, even having moved away from the area. Sure hope I get back there before it happens.

  4. Scott

    Great article! I happen to be running my first trail half marathon tomorrow as part of the Cougar Mountain Trail Series. There is also a 50k coming on October 30th!

    Happy Trail

    Scott

  5. Scott

    On another note :

    I ran the Cougar Mountain Trail Series 8.0 mile. Once results were posted I checked my time and was blown away that the first place finisher beat me by half an hour over THAT course. It took me about 10 seconds of Googling Uli Stiedl to be completely inspired and humbled all at once. "No wonder" were my first words I believe..

    Anyhow great article and Cougar Mountain is awesome and so far the Series has been a great experience. This has functioned as workup for my first shot at a 50k. Thanks for a great race Mr. McCoubrey!

  6. Jeremy

    I'm not from Seattle, never ran there or spent any time around the Cascades. So, I had never heard of Scott McCoubrey. Recently, I bumped into Scott while researching the local Idaho shoe company (Scott Sports in Ketchum) and their eRide Grip Shoes. Everyone knows that Scott makes great ski gear and goggles. So, I called them up to get the scoop on their shoes and I was blown away with the knowledge of the guy who I was speaking to. This guy was really plugged into the trail running world. He had solid technical data on the shoe as well as real world performance reviews. He also laid out the shoes shortcomings. I bought the shoe and have been really happy with it. I have piled the miles on mine and they are holding up great. I just ran and won a local 50 miler in them. They are fast and stable on rough downhill. They do have a burly toe guard that is a little stiff on downhills (which Scott M warned me about). But the new model coming out right now softens the toe guard to address this. Scott Sports will soon be a player in the trail running shoe world, once the word gets out. With a guy like Scott McCoubrey running the show, this company is gaining steam.

    SIncerely,

    Jeremy

Post Your Thoughts