In February, Chattanooga outdoor enthusiast and St. Nicholas School teacher Lucien Scott won the Elsie Enduro Trail Ultra, a grueling, last-man-standing race held in Ringgold, Georgia. During the event, runners compete on a steep, 2.5-mile loop trail, which they repeat every 40 minutes. The race ends only when one runner remains. Not only did Scott win this year, but he also set a new course record at 32 laps - a total of 80 miles with 15,000 feet of elevation gain - in 21 hours.
Here is his race report.
The "pain cave" is a physical and mental state that an athlete experiences after pushing their body beyond their natural abilities - to the brink of their physical limitations.
I woke up tangled in a mess of sweaty sheets after about an hour of very uncomfortable sleep - wallowing in the pits of self-despair, questioning every life decision that led me to this moment.
How did I get here? Why did I put myself here?
My Elsie experience started with a casual parent-teacher conference, business as usual - when the father of one of my students brought up my enthusiasm for running. He mentioned the Elsie, an event that he helped coordinate for the past few years. I had heard of it but found myself with a lack of words when he asked, "Why aren't you signed up?"
Crap, I thought. Another ultramarathon - in the winter. I immediately had flashbacks to the Chattanooga 100-miler and the demoralizing circumstances that broke my desire to run far for almost two years. That is the power of the "pain cave."
Somehow, this time around, I was convinced that the outcome would be different, so I put the Elsie on my schedule in January 2021, giving myself a full year to prepare.
Fast-forward to race day. It's 5 a.m., and I'm doing my usual daily weather forecast assessment. Damn - 35 degrees F, light rain with sleet and 10 mile-per-hour winds from the Northwest.
"It's OK," I say out loud as I try to convince myself. I boil my chicken broth at home and make about 10 times the amount of coffee I would normally drink, then divide my liquids into respective containers. I cram as many calories into my mouth as possible, pack my car and head out the door - being cautious not to wake the family.
Elise Holmes Nature Park sits on the bank of South Chickamauga Creek near Ringgold, Georgia, about 30 minutes south of my home. It features numerous hand-cut, single-track trails, consisting mostly of chert rock substrate except the Creekside Trail - where the race takes place - which is mostly packed silt from the floodplain.
The race started right on schedule at 8 a.m. The temperature had risen to almost 40 degrees F, and the precipitation had subsided for the moment. The first 10 laps - equaling about the distance of a marathon - passed by uneventfully. I had determined throughout my training that I would try to consistently hit 36-minute laps, giving me four minutes at my aid station to eat my standard nutrition plus all the junk food I could.
And in the beginning, that was perfectly going to plan.
Then, laps 10 through 20 saw the onset of steady rain, turning the lower Creekside Trail into a quagmire. Constantly shifting from side to side of the trail to avoid the large mud puddles was exhausting and began to slow my pace. Still, my second marathon went by without any major issues, and I was able to hold my 36-minute target pace as the rain let up and the sun began to set.
Anyone who has ever completed a race of this length knows that the real racing starts once the headlamps come on. At the start of the third marathon, I had some awesome friends join me at my aid station, Crisler Torrence and Luke Holcomb, who helped keep my spirits up and my belly full of warm grilled cheese sandwiches and chicken broth. For the first time all day, I was able to change my muddy socks, shoes, shirt and rain jacket.
By midnight, the field of 60-plus competitors had dwindled to eight. The rain started falling heavier. The muddy Creekside Trail turned into one huge, seemingly endless mud puddle with no way around it - only through it.
Around 1 a.m., only two of us remained. We had been sticking together since nightfall, but I knew that we would have to play our own strategies to win the race. Kyle Kalbus and I proceeded to go toe-to-toe for hours in the rain, each taking turns leading our shared 36-minute loop pace.
Then, around 4:30 a.m., as the clock restarted, I took off running as hard as I could, and when I looked back, I no longer saw Kyle's headlamp. At that moment, my body - which had been holding up well - began to shut down.
What followed was the longest 36 minutes of my life. I started to cramp up and my muscles began to spasm. I found myself walking sections of trail that I had been running for the entire race. If I did not finish this lap in under 40 minutes, I, too, would be disqualified.
I had to keep running.
I ended my final lap the same way that I had the previous ones: by walking into the start-finish shoot with four minutes to spare. It was over. I was pretty stoked to see my crew and all of the volunteers so fired up. I know they were just as ready for this race to be over as I was.
I was stoked to be heading home but also perplexed by the previous 24 hours - and I worried about the following 24.
But to push hard - even when you feel like you have nothing left; to conquer uncertainty, both physically and mentally; to have your family and friends rallying around you every step of the way (my wife, Jessica, and my two crew members, Crisler and Luke - they're the real stars of the show).
That is what makes the pain worth it.