James and Sydney Mason get giddy in that post-run high. / Photo by James Mason

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Ready to try?

The Elsie Enduro Trail Ultra is Feb. 29, 2020, at Elsie A. Holmes Nature Park in Ringgold, Georgia. Registration is $85 with all proceeds benefiting The Evitt Foundation, a local nonprofit which promotes child welfare and education.

The race begins at 8 a.m. Registration opens at 6:30 a.m. Learn more or sign up here.



I am obsessed with Gary Cantrell, aka Lazarus Lake, creator of Barkley Marathons. (If you haven't seen the documentary on Netflix, take a break and go watch it now.) He's a race director/genius, and, in addition to the infamous Barkley, he created the Big's Backyard Ultra up in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. In a nutshell, this race has you start at a line, do a 4.166667-mile loop back to the line, and go again every 60 minutes.

You do this over and over and over and over again — for days — until there is one man, or, like this past year, one woman standing. (Yay, Maggie Guteral, who completed a whopping 60 loops to win!)

Why am I telling you all of this? Well, there is this park in the woods in Ringgold, Georgia, and this year, race director Marcy Cirlot Kernea decided to coordinate a Big's Backyard Ultra-style race there. How cool is that? An insanely amazing race called the Elsie Enduro Trail Ultra, smack dab in the middle of my hometown!

We heard about the race in December from several friends, and almost immediately signed up. So, on a Saturday in January, we drove to the park to do a little recon run and test our stamina.

The Elsie Enduro course features a steep 2.5-mile loop, and you're given 40 minutes to complete it, before having to return to the start line and do it again. You reverse the direction you take after each loop.

We ran it pretty cool, calm and collectedly — despite a wrong turn — and finished in 35 minutes. When I say we ran cool, calm and collectedly, I mean my husband James ran cool, calm and collectedly. I struggled to keep up with that daggum speed demon. He had the other AirPod, and I couldn't get too far away from him because then "Spirit in the Sky" would disappear from my left ear.

The first part of the loop was my favorite. It's a quick downhill to South Chickamauga Creek. The creek section is beautiful. You run along it for a good chunk before you do a mini loop.

The mini loop is where my favorite part ends and the incline begins. I am not an uphill person. James is. He can see the joy in the challenge; I just see pain. After the mini loop, it's just more steep uphill back to the starting line.

It is REALLY steep, unlike Laz's OG Backyard race up in Bell Buckle. So the Elsie Enduro will not be lasting several days, I'm assuming. It would be seriously difficult to crank out 50 miles on this course, let alone the 200-mile beautiful nonsense runners are known to do up in Bell Buckle.

Aside from being steep, the Elsie course is really comfortable to me: the trees, the creek, the air, it's all "me." Even though I had never run on this trail before, it's the exact same type of woods I've been running in my entire life. So while the uphill part tore my lungs apart like no other, it made me happy. The oaks, the maples, the creek, it all just made me feel good.

After our one painful (for me) loop on Saturday morning, we shot off to Chattanooga for the rest of the day, which included an Orangetheory Fitness class, some errands, seeing "Just Mercy" in theaters (Oh my word, was it good), and dinner. That sounds like a lot, but it was really fun! There's no better feeling than melting into a reclining seat at the movie theater while it's raining outside and you're just exhausted in the best possible way.

And throughout the day, we did my favorite part of any race: We talked about it. While we were eating and mosey-ing around town, we talked about our strategy: how fast we would run each loop; what type of nutrition we'd have at our car; how far we wanted to get. For me, these conversations are just as exciting as the actual race.

Well, that was this weekend's adventure. We stayed around town, but it was a blast! Let me know if you're doing the race too!

Read more of Sydney's adventures here.