Sheep Mountain 50 miler – When Failure Is Still Success

Two 2 weeks before Sheep Mountain 50 miler, I found myself with some left knee/quad issues, and it was not a place I had hoped to be. I wasn’t sure it I was going to be able to even start the race. After plenty of quality time with my foam roller, plus massage, stretching, and dry needling, it was better, but not gone. All the miles could loosen things up…or they could make them worse. There was only one way to find out.

Near the top of Sheep Mountain look back North
Near the top of Sheep Mountain looking back North

We headed out of the fairgrounds in Fairplay at a chilly 6am. Within a few minutes of the start my left knee/quad mess was talking to me, and I was pretty worried it wouldn’t hold up. The “good” news is that my right sciatic flared up around mile 5 and served as nice distraction. It does that few times a year, and most of the time loosens up and goes away. This time was no different, it did eventually go away…after 28 miles of stabbing pain in my back and shooting pain down my leg.

Rocky descent off Sheep Mountain
Hey look, more rocks. Nothing like running across miles of  loose rocks to test your balance. In case you can’t see it, the trail is right in the middle of the screen.

Another big issue was that by the time I got to the water station at mile 18, the water ran out. It was 6 more miles to the 4th aid station, and I didn’t have enough water to get there. Of course during this time I decided to get a migraine, and with no water to take a pill,  it got pretty bad.  (I heard later that another aid station ran out of water, but had luckily received more by the time I got there.) So there I was, trudging along the most runnable section of the course with a knife in my backside, a splitting headache, and no water. It was super.

(I’ve always had migraines with heat and exertion. My TBI migraines have improved significantly, and this was not related.)

As I reached the 4th aid station I could hardly run on my right leg at all, and I was ready to call it off. Thankfully someone had a foam roller, and I spent a few minutes working to loosen up the leg in an effort to get myself another 5 miles to the crew point where Josh could pick me up. They also had water, and I was able to take a migraine pill and fill my bottles. So I trudged on. When I reached the crew point my headache was gone, and the leg was slightly better. Josh asked if I wanted to continue to the next crew point, and I thought I could make it that 10 miles at least. Two miles later the pain finally stopped, and I was ready to run. Josh seemed surprised when I reached him again and told him I was feeling good and could finish.

The course itself is tough, and so much more technical than Run Rabbit Run 50 miler (2014).  It was too technical for me to go any faster. There were miles of rocky slopes, off camber ATV roads filled with loose rocks, super steep descents, and way too many cut log bridges to cross. I’m not saying it isn’t runnable, as there are people with a lot of skill on technical terrain. However, I could run very few of the downhills. It was a lot for my brain to handle.

First water crossing of Sheep Mountain - 5 logs in a row.
Water crossing at mile 8 and mile 45  – 7 logs in a row…as if one wasn’t enough of a challenge for me.

A lot of runners dropped out, most at the halfway point. It was a 30% DNF rate (Did Not Finish). While everyone was dropping, I was finally having fun. I continued through the next two aid stations, finished the last big climb and descent, got over the horrible river crossing for the 2nd time, and made it down to the dirt road. Cruising down the road at an easy pace, I was happy knowing the technical stuff was over, my legs felt great, and I could finish. But I got to the last aid station and missed the cutoff. They had already picked up my drop bag (which was annoying since I was still on course), so I wouldn’t have had a headlamp to use even if I had made the cutoff.  They wouldn’t let me continue, and I was pretty bummed. It was 8pm, and the finish cutoff was 10pm. I still had 2 hours, and I only had 7.5 miles of dirt road to cover. I would have made it. Granted, I don’t know if I could have made it through the dark by headlamp alone, but I’m ignoring that fact.

This is only the 2nd year of this race, and there are obviously kinks to work out. To the race director’s credit, he sent out an email after the race acknowledging the problems and identifying things he will do to make them better next year. My favorite line from this email was “The race website needs to be updated to more accurately reflect the difficulty of the course.” This is definitely not an easy 50 miler, and wasn’t the best choice for me at this point. He also said that he will extend the cutoff time at the final aid station and make sure there is more water at the aid stations.

Despite the issues with the race itself,  I was ready for the distance. If it hadn’t been for the horrible pain in my leg and back, I would have been a lot faster. My brain handled the technical terrain and a very long day.  Planning and getting organized for the race was waaaaaaay harder on my brain than actually running the race, but I’ll talk about that in my next post. This race was my first DNF, but I had plenty left in the tank, and I was happy to know I could have finished if they had let me go on. Even better was the fact that after 46 miles I still felt strong at my Tuesday speed workout and Thursday hill workout. This weekend I got in 25 miles on Saturday (despite the 99 degree temps, which were miserable), and 13 miles on Sunday. The body is capable of amazing things…and now this body is ready for a blissful recovery week.

52 days until Run Rabbit Run 100!

p.s. In case you were wondering, all those miles DID make my left knee/quad issues go away.

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