MDLD, as it’s known, is a 100k(ish) fat ass-styled event held the Saturday closest to the longest day of the year. It follows the Mason-Dixon Trail (MDT) from the Rock Run Mill in Susquehanna state park north to the steps of Shank’s Mare Outfitters in Wrightsville, PA. The Trail Dawgs host this “dis-organized” run and you enter by emailing Pete, Hunt, and Rob your interest along with a list of races that you’ve done before. I’m not sure there are any official qualification standards, but they want to make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. The field is limited to about 25 runners and you have the option of running shorter distances to one of the 3 picnic sites.

The preceding paragraph aside, this was one of the best organized events I’ve ever done. The picnic sites at Cold Cabin (mile 24), Lock 12 Park (mile 37), and Otter Creek Campground (mile 48) were fully stocked aid stations. There were also several roving mobile aid stations and water drops in between so you only had 5ish miles between aid of one kind or another. You can participate as either a crewed runner (“Mason”) or self-supported (“Dixon”). When you enter you get added to a Google Group email list, which makes coordinating rides from the finish to the start easy as there are always a couple runners looking to carpool.

If you do any research on the race, you’ll quickly become worried about getting lost. Back in the day, the MDT was somewhat casually marked and probably even more casually used so staying on the trail required advanced orienteering skills. This is no longer the case as the organization maintaining the trail has done a superb job re-blazing the trail. Quite a bit of the trail was also weed-whacked and mowed, which made it very easy to see which way to go. I carried along the 3 MDT maps for the course, however never needed to pull them out of my pack.

Abridged Race Report (in words)

It’s difficult to overstate how hard this section of the MDT is. I’ve done all the sections before and still dramatically underestimated this race. I actually thought I could meet the “Challenge” of running the course during daylight (5:36am – 8:37pm or 15 hours), however still came up over an hour short. There was a course reroute coming out of Susquehanna park which added 1.1 miles and about 500 feet of elevation gain, however that’s not enough to account for things. If anything, the incredibly mild weather (low 70s, gentle breezes all day) probably more than made up for that compared to a normal year. My watch measured the total elevation gain at 10,075 feet and the best way to describe this is unrelenting. There are a lot of road miles, but few of them are ones where you can bank much time. Or at least, not for those of us behind the front runners. Overall, it looked like 7 of 15 starters finished the race with only 3 meeting the Challenge.

I swear elevation charts lie. All those ups and downs look pretty small, don’t they?

I started out at the back of the pack and tried to conserve my energy as much as possible. I managed to bank about 20-25 minutes through 15 miles on the approximate 15min pace needed to meet the Challenge. I was moving well and felt good. And then slowly I started losing a minute here and a minute there. In hindsight, I was not eating and drinking enough. Some days you feel like fueling and some days your don’t. I rolled through Cold Cabin and just seemed to decelerate on the relatively easy section along Muddy Creek. I wasn’t shuffling by any stretch of the imagination, but was definitely not making the time that I should have. I know because I started checking my watch more frequently and doing the mental math on what paces I needed to be running. I literally just wrote about this a short time ago, but like any addict I couldn’t help myself from another fix of average pace.

I hit the Lock 12 Park picnic a little after 2pm and finally gave up any thoughts on meeting the Challenge. I chatted with Pete and the other volunteers for a couple minutes and then left a changed man. I was able to completely flip the switch from negative thoughts/poor feelings to happy thoughts/smooth running within a matter of minutes. I’m always amazed at how much of an impact momentum can have in sports in general and ultras specifically. When things are going wrong, you can do no right. But when you’re on a roll? Well, bring it on!

The last 25 miles was pretty anticlimactic. Even though I gave myself no chance of meeting the 5pm cutoff at Otter Creek, I rolled in with about 10 minutes to spare. I topped up my fluids and was stoked to attack the hardest 14 miles on the entire 200 mile MDT. Scott was sweeping the last section and caught me before I hit the 4 sisters, which are the last 4 hills on the chart above. I had an amazing time chatting with him for the 3 hours or so it took him to pace me into the finish. Overall, it took me about 5 hours to cover the last section so 3:30-4pm is a good target to reach Otter Creek for those hoping to meet the Challenge.

Unabridged Race Report (in pictures)

The prior couple paragraphs probably aren’t going to make you want to sign up for MDLD (and you should want to run this course). Hopefully these pictures will do the trick.

Runners beginning to congregate at the start.
The trail through Susquehanna state park is mostly marked with the blue discs on the left. (Note: the picture is most assuredly not blurry due to the speed that I was moving.)
A bridge on the re-route this year.
Just after crossing Rt. 1. There are a couple signs along the trail with mileage to various landmarks. This one says only 17.2 more miles to the first picnic site.
Ferns are a favorite of mine to run through.
MDT lets you cross fences in stile.
More of a driveway than road just past Glen Cove Marina.
Not too much farther up the trail.
Here’s a section of trail in the boy scout camp.
Right turn here onto Tabernacle Rd.
Where’s the Welcome to Pennsylvania sign as you exit Maryland?
Some people call this a road. I think it’s just a very wide gravel trail.
The trail is very well blazed through Peach Bottom.
Nice view as you’re about to exit PECO’s Peach Bottom.
Cold Cabin Road does not foster happy memories for me.
Stream crossing lets you cool off after a decent climb.
More ferns as you head down this run towards Muddy Creek.
Some very nice running along Muddy Creek.
Which takes you to an exposed road section.
And then you’re back onto trails at Lock 15 Interpretive Park.
Some big rocks heading to Lock 12 picnic site.
Peavine Island is. . . annoying.
Holtwood Dam is just past the Lock 12 picnic site. The view is worth the climb.
Some more big rocks.
You’ve probably noticed a theme of trails next to streams by now.
MDT narrows to a quarter-track trail at some points.
Here’s a decent climb up through State Game Lands.
Then a couple short road sections.
This trail is carved out right next to some fields.
Look for blazes on rocks along the powerline section.
Why, yes, big rocks are a theme of the MDLD, too.
The sections leading into Otter Creek were so well weed whacked, there was no risk of getting lost.
The newly reconstructed bridge right before Otter Creek Campground.
Some sweet views along Otter Creek.
Urey Overlook offers the best view along the MDLD. As in all ultras, Beware the Bench.
Hmmmmm. . . it’s possible I could have met the Challenge if I took fewer photos. Next time.
The smooth trails are about done. Enjoy them while you can.
More ferns!
And one last view before the real work begins.
Shoulder width trail and a steep drop down once you’re through.
All that for an incredibly cool finisher’s award!

I really cannot recommend this “race” enough. It’s the definition of old school ultra and the epitome of what this community is all about. Huge word of thanks to Pete, Rob, and all the amazing Trail Dawg volunteers who put this on. And if this event sounds too difficult, MDLD has expanded to include Shortest Day and Equinox 50Ks. Or they’re more than happy to let you run even shorter segments.

2 thoughts on “Mason Dixon Longest Day 100K Race Report”

  1. Thank you for capturing in exquisite detail what it meant to run this race. I enjoyed reading your synopsis and appreciate you taking the time to record your thoughts in words and photos.

    1. Thanks for the comment! I just wish I was a better photographer to really capture this race.

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