A long day - Sheep Mountain Endurance Run

And that was just for the runners, who were out for anywhere between 11 and 16 hours! The volunteers and race crew on the other hand? They faced an equally long day, and in some cases days to prepare for the race and get everything organized so that we as runners were able to focus on one foot in front of the other. While this was my first 50 mile running race, it wasn't my first long distance event  - I've done enough marathons and mountain bike races that I know what I want and what I'm looking for in a race. I don't need the frills - the swag bag of trinkets and advertisements, the pre-race dinner I'm not going to eat anyway; the herds of people and the trash they bring; or the cheap medal for finishing or placing. And I have to say - Sheep Mountain delivered in almost every way. It was hard - with some of the descents as hard to run as the climbs. It was scenic - the views from Sheep Mountain showed off the front range and the Mosquito pass. The wildflowers were popping, splashes of color everyway. It was remote - the distances between aid stations weren't that long, but the terrain made it feel like you were in the middle of the wilderness. It was low key -there weren't any marching bands at the start, just Sherpa John telling us knuckle-heads to get outta there. The finish was equally low key but welcoming as friends and family gathered and waited for their runners.

A few volunteer and organization highlights for me:
The course was marked perfectly. On the road out of Fairplay at the start and then back in, there were both ribbons, reflective tape and markings on the road. Sure, some of the paint on the road got dusted out after 12+ hours, but it was still very visible. Every turn was marked with a small arrow in addition to flagging. On places where the trail was less well used, there was plenty of confidence flagging. I had studied the map, but that's very different then being out on the trail after 5, 7, 9 hours of running. I never had the feeling that I was lost or off course or just wondering where I was. That was 40 miles of course that had to be marked and double checked to ensure that there was no tampering. And that's 40 miles of trail that needs to be cleaned up and unmarked the following day.

Aid Stations were well manned, the volunteers enthusiastic and there was a lot of food items to choose from. I never felt like the aid station were too far apart - in most cases the distance perfect. Far enough apart that you could get in to a rhythm on the trail, but not so far that you had to carry an insane amount of food or fluids. The only one that was really long was between Pasture and Horseshoe for the second time - but we were warned many times that it was longer then it looked on paper. And it was. The volunteers at the aid station were helpful but not overwhelming. They did what I asked, no more and didn't push. They also moved quickly, but without rushing. I appreciated that - I know some people are in a hurry and want to rush rush rush, but that's when things get forgotten or not done right. I would rather take an extra minute at the aid stations and have everything I need then  rush through and miss something vital. The only issue I had was the overwhelming selection of sweet and sugary foods at the aid stations. I know that some of them were challenging to get into (Brown's Pass must have been a long haul for some of the volunteers and I know they ran out of a few things) so there was going to be less available. I also didn't really look at the food selections because I was eating mostly my own stuff. But the only place I remember seeing anything other then potato chips for something not-sweet was at Horseshoe the second time through. Those little cups of pickles and the tatertots really hit the spot though!

The finish line vibe was just right for me. John was there trying to personally greet everyone finishing, friends and family were hanging out in lawn chairs cheering for everyone, hamburgers were being grilled almost to order. No loudspeakers blaring music and noise, just an iphone serving as the band until the real one showed up. Okay, the real band was actually part of the Park County Fair, but they sounded good and kept us entertained. It wasn't loud and obnoxious like at so many events I've done - we could all still talk and swap stories about the race without having to yell. Many of the runners who had dropped were back at the finish line and it was a small party until about 10:30. The final finishers got as much applause as the winners. It was my first time really hanging out until the finish of a race and it was a lot of fun.

No race or event is ever perfect. But it is the mark of a great race when the runners are able to focus on what they are there for - finishing the challenge - and not get distracted by other issues. And that was my experience at Sheep Mountain. I just had to run - hike - shuffle - plod my way through the course. Everything else was taken care of and I didn't have to worry about anything but me.

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