The MDT Challenge is a 7 mile trail race, hosted in November, which offers an out-and-back course along the Mason-Dixon Trail.
The challenge is free for participants, and despite the zero entry fee offers a lot in return. The course is beautiful, well maintained, and offers plenty of challenges for runners. Finishers are greeted with a bounty of foods and beverages on completion, which is more than most paid-entry races. And for being a free race, this is organized and ran better then you’d expect- in fact, it’s downright professional.
Some words of the wise
Running a 7 mile (or any distance) trail race requires the right amount of preparation and the proper tools to help you succeed. Hydration is a major key to successfully completing a long distance trail run, as you will be exposed to the elements, most importantly temperature. Staying hydrated throughout your run is essential for maintaining your energy levels, so make sure to fuel up with plenty of water before and during your run. Additionally, it is recommended that you purchase trail running shoes with sufficient tread and cushioning to protect your feet during the rough terrain. Lastly, make sure that you are wearing moisture-wicking clothing to avoid overheating or having a wet shirt against your skin which can lead to chafing over long distances. Taking these measures into consideration will help ensure an enjoyable and successful trail running experience.
I like to learn the hard way
I’ve run 6 to 7 miles on the trails with no issues in the past. Most of the time I’m able to run that distance with little to no hydration or fuel. So when I “prepared” for this challenge, hydration wasn’t on my mind. This was a big mistake on my part.
The weather was slightly warmer than usual for a November day. Thankfully I was smart enough to dress in layers, so I adjusted my outfit accordingly before the start of the race (decided to run in a shirt and shorts- no jacket).
As we set off on the trail there was a lot of single-track that slowed progress, but I was feeling energetic and ready to conquer the course. I felt good climbing the hills and keeping pace with other runners, hydration and fueling was the last thing on my mind.
As I closed in on the second mile, climbing a rather steep hill, I noticed my breathing was a little heavier than I would have liked. My heart rate was also in my “threshold” zone, so I eased up a little to give myself a moment to get things together.
This was the first sign that not bringing a hydration vest was a mistake. Right about now I was feeling early side effects from not hydrating properly (cramping, fatigue, and slight dizziness).
Mile 3, the struggle was very real. I was holding out on hopes of reaching the aid station at the turnaround, where I could get some water and hopefully some type of fuel in my system. As we approached the aid station I noticed small cups of water… emphasis on small.
Hastily, I grabbed and chugged 2 cups of water, they had to have been no more than 4 oz each. I then grabbed a brownie and inhaled it, followed by another 2 cups of water. I remember feeling panicked and staring lustfully at the 3 gallon jugs of water on the ground near the station.
I got the sinking feeling the lady at the aid station wasn’t equipped for an ill-equipped runner like me, so I pressed onward. I could have, and should have stayed in an effort to calm myself down, but I was in a state of panic. I needed to return.
The rest of the “race” back to the start was a blur. Literally, my vision got cloudy after mile 4 and progressively got worse with every passing trial blaze. I started to develop a nasty headache and noticed that I wasn’t sweating anymore. It was unseasonably warm and those 4 small cups of water I chugged had pretty much been cycled through my system. My eyes hurt, my head was throbbing, and my legs started to buckle. Out of panic and desperation I sucked on the brim of my hat, the salty sweat offered no relief.
Thankfully one of my friends that I went with, was kind enough to stick by my side and acted as a guide. I remember keeping him in my field of vision, as it slowly narrowed more and more.
I finished the race. Delirious, I crossed the finish line with tunnel vision for hydration and food. I also HAD tunnel vision and could only see directly in front of me (2 ft at best). I found a cooler, chugged 2 water bottles and starting grabbing cookies and treats from the nearby picnic table- thinking an immediate surge of fluids and food was what I needed. My vision was cloudy and the ringing in my ears prevented me from hearing anyones voice but my own, I was on a mission.
Back at my friend’s truck, he handed me a beer. I was so crazed about getting my vision back that I figured the calories and fluid couldn’t hurt. So I chugged that too. Here’s where I wished that I would have forced myself to slow down.
The wrong thing to do in this situation is to give into panic and consume fluids and fuel in mass quantities. It’s the hardest thing to do because your body is screaming at you to take in all nutrition you can get. Otherwise, you’ll learn the hard way what happens when you try to take your body from one extreme to the next.
As my panic and frantic state of mind began to cool down, my vision slowly started to return. The ringing in my head started to quiet down. I had a brief period where everything felt normal. Brief being the key word. As what followed was my body’s instant reaction to being flooded with food and fluids, i.e. this is when I started to puke everything up.
To end this long story, I had to have my friends pull over 3 times on the ride home so I could jump out and puke on the side of the road. I then had to drive myself home from my friend’s house, which also proved to be very difficult. My tunnel vision returned (due to expelling all fluids from my body) resulting in re-dehydrating myself all over again.
Needless to say, I came home, curled up on the floor and sipped Gatorade for 3.5 hours from a straw until I felt normal again. It was such an experience I can’t wait to do it again next year- this time maybe a little more prepared.