In this new series, the American Trail Running Association recognizes and celebrates trail race volunteers and trail runners who have dedicated themselves as everyday athletes to grow trail running in their community. “View from the Pack” is supported by ATRA corporate member RaidLight.
Nominator Carol Tatom writes, “Dale Cougot is a very active member of our trail community. He is constantly volunteering at trail races and helping other trail runners achieve their goals. He often heads up the volunteer shifts for trail races, sometimes 24 hours at a time, and encourages others to give back to the community. He has rescued many runners on various trail races who either got injured on the course or have bonked and became stranded. His dedication to volunteering and giving back to the community has made him one of the most sought out volunteers in North Texas. He is also active in the trail community as a coach and as an ultrarunner. He has coached over 250 runners and enjoys introducing runners to trail running and helping marathon runners make that jump to ultra distances. He has completed close to thirty 100 mile races himself and plans to have fifty 100 milers completed by the end of 2019. His passion and love for ultra and trail running radiates in everything that he does.”
An interview with Dale Cougot
Hometown: Garland, Texas
Years volunteering at trail races: 10+
Do you run? – All the time! I started running back around 2005, in an effort to lose weight. I lost 40 pounds and have been running ever since. My first several years of running were focused on roads, until I was introduced to trails, which shifted my focus quickly. I have since run over 110 races of marathon distances or greater, including 28 events 100 miles or longer. My career as an agricultural international economist requires me to travel, so my shoes go with me. This has led me running in over 25 states and 4 foreign countries, including the Great Wall. I am a run lead at my local Lifetime Fitness which was named #1 LTF Club across the US, so I can help others enjoy the sport of running. For four years, I volunteered as a mentor for the Team RWB trail camp where I led 25 veterans and civilians through three days of running, and this coming year will assist the Band of Runners to help multiple Veteran organizations. I run basically every day and sometimes twice.
Have you run any trail races? – I am basically on the trail every weekend, either training, cleaning up, volunteering or racing. I try to give back to the trail community on a 4 to 1 basis, run to volunteering. It’s interesting that most people think of a race in terms of distance, I personally think of it as time spent in the woods and discovering. There is nothing like experiencing a good run, then stopping to assist someone who is struggling, which then makes it a great run as you see in their eyes that feeling of accomplishment. My adventures have taken me from 100 mile Destin Beach runs to Rocky Mountains to hot deserts across Badwater to the Great Wall. My all-time favorite event is the Badwater Salton Sea 3-man team, where all three members must run together the entirety of the 81 miles. A lot of my passion for trail running grew from the various Tejas Trail races in which I participated, with insights from the Trail Zen himself, Joe Prusaitis, and the volunteers he had around him at all times.
When did you start volunteering at trail races? – Shortly after my running journey began back in 2005, I realized that the trail community truly helps one another and only survives on volunteers. At first, I just did what I was told, watched and picked up a lot of tricks to help runners. As a coach for the Texas YETI Runner LLC, I require that my team players volunteer at a 100 miler prior to running a long race. We also as a team have managed several aid stations for the Active Joe at Cross Timbers and Rough Creek.
What got you into volunteering? – When I first started running, I just assumed all the volunteers were injured runners, spouses of runners, or non-runners! Then at an aid station, a volunteer who was a well-established runner started assisting me with my pack, giving me encouraging words and sent me off on the trail with one thing to focus on! That is when I realized, I too needed to give back to the trail community.
What motivates you to get out on the trails to volunteer? – Sense of community! As a kid I was taught that if you want something, don’t just talk about it…take action. Over the last several years, I have made an accretive effort to volunteer at as many local trail races to ensure our community thrives, so more can experience the thrill and enjoyment that I have when I run through the woods. True excitement for me is to observe someone for the first time take that maiden voyage breaking through their mental barriers and seeing their eyes light up when you tell them they just ran their first 5k trail run.
What is your favorite volunteer role? – I want to be in the aid station that has the worst section of the trail, and where runners need support. Don’t put me at the Start/Finish, too crowded and the runners are done. Not sure what the title is called, but my role is usually the guy to motivate and take care of the runners that are dragging, dehydrated, sick, stressed, etc. With my experience I can usually help and return over 90% of the runners back on the course and into the finish. The one thing I show up with every time I volunteer is my imaginary friend the Texas YETI Runner. Through the many nights of running he has kept me safe and I have often sent him out with runners on the course. If you have been around a race with me you will hear me often talk to my friend through really loud yells, I often hear call backs and many runners note it keeps them motivated. I once received a citation for being too loud in a State Park, a warning.
What is the longest you have been at an event in your volunteer role and what was that role? – If I show up for a race, I am most likely going to work the whole event. This past year I have worked multiple 100 mile races for well over 30 hours. When you work that long you basically serve every role. I don’t need a title to make things happen, I just perform the duties of what has to happen. My role is helping runners come from the dead and to move on to the next aid station. I am often asked to go scout the course for runners in need and to assist them to safety. During the Dinosaur Valley 100, put on by the Active-Joe, the temps rose quicker than most runners expected, so my time was helping individuals re-calibrate their bodies of too much sodium, or too much water, or not enough calories, or just tired of running for 20+ hours. Through all of that, we only had one runner return to the start from our aid station with a twisted ankle.
Do you have a personal trail race volunteer story to share? – While running Lake Martin 100 this spring, a friend of a fellow runner from when I ran Destin 100 started the race with me. We were chatting how everyone’s bodies are different and that I encourage runners to race with whatever they train with daily, basically real food. By now we have a small train of about 6 people and questions and answers are flying. At which point, I advised that a great source of sodium is a tortilla which can have 200 mg and about 100 calories, not to mention it tastes better than most gels. That is when a runner yelled from behind, “Yeah last week at Cross Timbers in Texas, some guy was warming up tortillas on a camp stove and handing them out at an aid station, first thing in the morning. He took one look at me and said, ‘eat it.’ I did and within minutes I was feeling better!” I laughed, I let out a Texas YETI Runner yell, at which point, he notes, “That was you!” There is nothing like the feeling knowing you helped someone make it down the trail and turned their run into a success.
What would you suggest for others who have never considered volunteering? – If you are new, or if you have been around for a while, I dare you to volunteer and not learn something. Usually there are highly experienced runners volunteering, and you have the privilege to watch and observe what runners are doing…or not, and to connect with the Race Directors. You can just listen and watch as all of these will help you grow as runner, volunteer, and an active member of the trail running community.