Great story on “The Toughest Trail Marathon You’ve Never Heard Of.” Welcome to the ABF.
The Athens Big Fork Trail Marathon starts at the Big Fork Community Center, the barn-quilted hub of an unincorporated community in southern Arkansas boasting 179 residents, at last count. Nestled in the Polk County region of the Ouachita Mountains, the trail itself was constructed by the U. S. Postal Service 125 years ago along pre-established Choctaw and Caddo trade routes and game trails and was partially restored in 1986. Summits along the course, which boast (according to my GPS, though the thick foliage can fool even the highest of tech) almost 8,000 feet of climbing, are charmingly named Brushy, Big Tom, Brusheap, and Hurricane Knob. The average grade is 12%.
I was drawn to this race after reading about it in this very magazine, a story called The Toughest Trail Marathon You’ve Never Heard Of. After seeing how close this southern trail test-piece was to the Ozark hills, where I spent my childhood, I was drawn by the allure of something that felt comfortably familiar, and familiarly uncomfortable. There’s a warning on the race’s website meant to deter beginners. Below that, a secondary deterrent should the original warning have the opposite of its intended effect.
“Please do not be enticed into trying this run because of the difficulty warning–it is merely an honest attempt at preventing the run organizers from having to find and rescue someone ill-equipped for the event.”
For the uninitiated, the trails of the southeast are punishingly steep and Dantean in nature – where the trail exists at all. For much of ABF (what locals lovingly call the marathon) the “trail” is in fact, a…