If you haven’t heard of the Athens Big Fork Marathon, then keep reading. After completing the 26+ miles, I am convinced it is the hardest, toughest race in the entire state.
Initially, I did not plan to run this race because of the many warnings on the race website about difficulty, danger, and potential of getting lost/stranded in the woods. But as with most trail-runners, I can be convinced with a little liquid courage, otherwise known as beer (Thank you, Jenny Wilkes!).
The race is held about an hour West of Hot Springs in the Ouachita National Forest and begins on a paved road which shortly turns onto a gravel forest road before hitting single-track trail. Once on the trail, runners proceed to run/hike/walk/crawl/cry/bitch/moan up eight consecutive mountains before turning around and repeating the same path back through the eight mountains. There are very few flat areas between the mountains. The valleys consisted mostly of shin-deep creek crossings (i.e., the most amazing ice bath after every mountain climb/descent!). There were also many trees down across the trail from the recent storm just to spice up the run a bit.
The views were amazing once I got used to the fact that I was probably going to have to climb up, over, and down everything I saw off in the distance. There was even leftover snow on the mountainside from the recent storms. The climbs were steep and felt never-ending. Just when you thought your calves, ass, hamstrings, and lower back couldn’t burn anymore, you got to run/climb/shuffle down the other side quickly replacing the old sensations with your new burning quads. You get the idea…
If I remember correctly, there were four aid stations about 3.5-4 miles apart. The first/last station was my favorite! It had the normal food/aid, but most importantly it had loud music playing that you could hear from a mountain away, chicken noodle soup, Pringles, and, for the craziest of runners, beer.
On top of the difficult terrain, getting lost was an equal concern for many. The trail was marked with sporadic white blazes that blended in with the tree bark making it very easy to get off track. The course often ran along creek beds instead of trail or veered off in unexpected directions. Having a zero-developed sense of direction, I was sure I would get lost. Fortunately, the difficult terrain had our group moving at a snail’s pace allowing for plenty of time and welcomed pauses to process direction. My on-track group and I were an anomaly, most people I talked to after the race had gotten lost, some even twice, and ended up running several extra miles.
We certainly felt welcomed at the community center at the start/finish as it had real bathrooms, heat, and comfortable places to collapse!
So, if you’re ready to take the challenge, all of this could be yours for a simple $5 donation and a liability waiver…
PS…There is also a 17 mile option if you don’t want to tackle the whole shebang.
For more information, please visit the race website.