The Athens-Big Fork Marathon – heretofore to be referred to as “ABF” – has been on my radar for a number of years. Last year I was all set to go, but it got flooded out. The two years before that it was in conflict with a local race that I love. This year, I decided, come hell or high water, my fat ass was gonna be tromping over the significant (at least to a flatlander) mountains of the Ouachita National Forest. First off – don’t let the name fool you – this race may measure like a marathon – but it runs like a pissed off 50K. This year it got written up in Trail Runner Magazine as, “The Hardest Trail Marathon You Have Never Heard Of” or something similar. After running it – I would definitely agree to that statement.
Residing about 5 hours north of the ABF starting line and having a homecoming queen crowning to attend that Friday night meant that
our arrival to Mena, Arkansas would be somewhere between 1:30am and 2:30am on race morning. PLENTY of time to make it not-so-well rested to an 8am starting line. My ultra-compadres Candi (my super hot and totally badass wife) and old buddy Ryan
(Rhino – cause once this dude charges, he won’t stop) enjoyed a long and massively shitty, rain infested interstate trip down to our one-star motel. I woke the poor clerk up from his curry fueled slumber behind a thin wall behind the front counter with a ding of the bell, and with a creaking fart and some grumbled curses he got us checked in. I am definitely not complaining – it was a double queen room 20 minutes from the start line for 57 bucks. Our room was just clean enough for a 3 hour sleep, and before you know it we were hanging out at the Big Fork Community Center waiting to get started.
The beginning of the race is a short bit down the highway with full-on police escort in the front and rear followed by a nice jog down a
red dirt road to get to the trailhead. That is when ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE. By this time, the nice soaking rain has us totally drenched and showed no signs of letting up any time soon. After a short jaunt at the foothills of the first mountain, it was time to climb. And climb we did! Over and over and over. Eight
mountains on this out and back course – and yes they were mountains. These climbs were GNAR for the midwest! I have run in the mountains of Colorado, and these were every bit as steep, although not as long. Basically the entire course you were either going up or down. It was freakin’ awesome! There was an aid station shortly after getting on the trail, after the first mountain I think, but Candi and I didn’t utilize it being only a few miles into the race. We had decided to stay together and enjoy the day couplie style like we often do, while Rhino set out a bit slower but VOWED to see us at the finish. We kept on at a nice steady pace, and I was pretty much cold the entire time – as my decision to only wear a couple of tech tees under my rain shell proved me a dumbass. Candi – being smarter than me as
usual – had enough layers that she didn’t bother covering her ears. It was a steady rain with temps in the mid to low 30s and pretty good winds if the mountains weren’t providing cover. The terrain once you get on the trail is pretty varied; from scree-like gravel, muddy ruts, rocky outcroppings, to soft pine needles track – this course really had it all. The valleys had flowing streams at every low point, and even a couple deer feeding plots. It was wonderful – totally what I look for in a trail. And did I mention you get to climb
hills. Mountains. I had so much fun climbing that I made this graphic comparing the iconic Boston Marathon to the ABF. –>
We eventually made it to the top and bottoms of all the 8 mountains on the way out to the Jackass Aid Station. This was run by a bunch of cowboys… REAL cowboys… from Texarkana. These guys were serving up hot soup and real foods, had a warm fire, and an overall badass forest oasis set up for us. Candi and I made it to the turn in about 3:15 at right about 14 miles and felt good since we were shooting for a 7:30ish finish after looking at the finishers times from previous races. Coming over the last
mountain we ran into Rhino, who was about 30 minutes behind us and totally kicking ass. It was basically more of the same on the way back – powerhike up the mountains, try not to roll down the other side like a snowball, and freeze your ass off crossing the stream at the bottom. Rinse. Repeat. It was nice coming to the aid stations and getting hot food and a slap on the back before heading back out. We finally dragged our shredded quads off the last mountain and headed back down the roads to get back to the Community Center – and I tell you what… that Marathon ran WAY more like an ass-whippin 50k. It was tough. For technicality of trail I give it a 4 gel packs out of 5, and for difficulty compared to similar races I give it a full 5 snotrockets out of five.
Once we got finished, just over 7:22, I pretty much stripped my soaking clothes off and nakedly hugged the glowing woodstove while chugging hot coffee and eating from the various foods we had packed with us. I basically stayed cold as a witch’s tits the entire day – my fault – and just wanted to be warm. For a fat-ass race, this thing had all the bells and whistles, minus a medal I didn’t need and a shirt I didn’t want – so I call it a win. Thanks to everyone who worked hard to put this on. It was outstanding!