A month ago, Bel Air resident Robert “Bob” Brosh completed the entire 201-mile Mason-Dixon Trail that started in Whiskey Springs, PA and concluded in Chadds Ford, PA.
He did it in a record time of eight days, 12 hours and 27 minutes.
The record time in the self-supported category is now officially recognized by Fastest Known Time at fastestknowntime.com.
“There was tremendous, really a lot of support and excitement and that really helped me when I was actually doing it,” Brosh said.
Brosh said the idea to taking on this running challenge came on about two years ago.
“I’ve been running marathons for a long time, I ran Boston, but then I started, probably in the last five to 10 years to running ultra marathons, so any thing longer than 6.2 miles,” Brosh said. “And those are typically on trails, which is kind of neat, begin out in the forest and stuff, so I kind of drifted to those a lot and I ran the JFK 50-miler and that was really good and then I ran a 100K race in February of this year, right before COVID, and that’s like about a 62-mile race.”
Brosh said he kind of had that as his benchmark. “If I could do that in one outing and I ran that in about 19 hours,” he said.
Knowing he could do 63 miles in one day, the wheels really started to churn in the idea taking on the 201-mile Mason-Dixon Trail.
Brosh said he also got interested in the Fastest Known Time, which he calls “fascinating.”
“They focus on pretty historic and notable trails and so Mason-Dixon Trail fell into that category,” Brosh said.
In fact, there are more than 2,700 routes across the world that ultra marathon athletes and through-hiking athletes can challenge. All are not nearly as long as the Mason-Dixon Trail.
So, Brosh opted to be self-supported for his journey. Self-supported means one may have as much support as he/she can manage or find along the way, but not from any pre-arranged people helping you. This can range from caching supplies in advance, purchasing supplies along the way, to finding or begging for food or water. Most long through-hiking routes are done self-supported. To get a self-supported fastest known time, you also have to beat the fastest unsupported time.
That said, Brosh camped primitively all eight nights, sleeping in a bivy and filtering water from streams along the way.
“I took a very simple, but really good, water purifiers, a filtration thing,” Brosh said. “Because most of the trail is going along the Susquehanna River or the streams that are tributaries to the river, I was able to minimize my water weight and just stop and fill up at the streams.”
Brosh believes that over the eight and half days, he probably filtered over 15 gallons of water to drink. “You gotta stay hydrated and during that week, it did get kind of warm a couple of days and I ran into some rain as well,” Brosh recalls. “It’s all part of it.”
“I’m not a cold weather guy, some people have asked me why did you go in August? I tried to pick the tail end of August,” Brosh said. “From a practical standpoint, because the temperatures were very mild, I didn’t even take a sleeping bag.”
Sleeping was done in a bivy, which Brosh describes as a caterpillar tent and it weighs just a little over one pound.
All the gear Brosh carried was done so in an ultra-light pack (designed for running) that weighed a total of just over 13 pounds.
As for food, aside from some limited food including dehydrated items that he carried, Brosh was able to either pick up food from maildrop boxes he had shipped prior to his departure or purchase food from stores that he came across during his travels.
Brosh, who was 56 at the time, said he ran 13 or more hours per day by the time he got into camp. “I would run until I was either tired or it was, too difficult to run in the dark,” Brosh said. He did run in the dark some with a head lamp and a hand-held lamp. “Following that blue blaze on the trail in the dark is difficult, so sometimes that’s what call’s your day,” he said.
The historic Mason-Dixon Trail traverses portions of three states (Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania) and is sprinkled with beautiful state forests, nature preserves and state parks, as well as historic sites, particularly ones from the American Revolution. Although the trails are largely located in forest, 30% are on roads, typically ones infrequently travelled. Brosh followed the blue blaze of the Mason-Dixon Trail as well as navigate using maps provided by the Mason-Dixon Trail Association.
The record-setting journey was also shared with a more personal goal, honoring individuals with the genetic disease osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bones disease.
“Our daughter Natalie, who is now 24 and living independently in Minnesota, was born with osteogenesis imperfecta,” Brosh said.
Record or not, Brosh set out to complete the journey to draw awareness to OI and the unbreakable spirit of those who are born with brittle bones.
The fastest known time attempt raised money through donations to the Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for people affected by the disease. The foundation promotes research to find treatments and cures as well as sponsors programs for education, awareness and mutual support.
Brosh’s run helped to raise funds for OI Foundation programs directly benefiting individuals with brittle bones. Over $7,000 have been raised for the OI Foundation from this fundraising effort. To learn more about the OI Foundation fundraiser and to donate, go to oif.org/give/bob-brosh2020.
The journey was a solo one, but Brosh certainly doesn’t feel that way.
“I am very pleased with the outcome of this and I don’t think I could have achieved it without so much encouragement and prayers from so many folks in my life,” Brosh said. “From family and friends, near and far, they really kept me moving.”
Brosh is thankful for the support from many, including the Fairway Community where he and his wife Kathleen Baker-Brosh live in Bel Air. They also have three sons, Robert III, 22; and twins, Tom and Sam, 20.
The record for Brosh was a first, but there may be more in the future.
“I follow the [fastest known time] website, they’ve got interesting stories and videos and they have an ongoing tracking of athletes that are right now, setting [fastest known times], or have set one in these categories," Brosh said.
Brosh said he saw a trail in West Virginia that grabbed his interest. It’s a much shorter at 24 miles.
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“Your talking about a few hours, I think the [fastest known time is] three hours and 10 minutes, so this would be very different from the 201-mile Mason-Dixon Trail, but it’s caught my attention a little bit,” Brosh said. “I don’t think I’m done.”