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Athens Big Fork Trail Marathon 2013 Results – Tom Brennan Leads Adventure Across Eight Mountain Passes…and Back

“Athens-Big Fork can be summed up as a beautiful beast. The rocky terrain and relentless hills take their toll on the most seasoned runners. However there are countless views and creeks cutting through the course to deter the pain for a brief moment.” – Rick Bushmiaer, ABF Tough-as-Nails Finisher

Over 100 trail runners headed to Big Fork, Arkansas for a 17 mile or marathon distance scamper on a 100+ year old postal trail to help welcome in the new year, burn off a few holiday calories, or simply enjoy a great day in nature with a bunch of other great folks.

We are talking about the Athens Big Fork Trail Marathon.

(Photo: Courtesy Rick Bushmiaer)

This adventure isn’t recommended for the newbie. A challenging and remote trail that requires some self sufficiency and trail running wisdom on this out-and-back course as you climb over eight mountains, 4600 feet of up with an average grade of 12%. Then you need to turn around! The 17 milers turn back early and miss a few of the climbs.

With snow hitting the area during the holidays and knocking down a few trees, there was a bit of concern and unknown about trail conditions. They actually were in great shape with a number of additional smiles and fast tread ready to play.


Just before the start. (Photo: Courtesy Russell Bennett)


Men’s Race

Race veteran and current course record holder (4:22:55 – 2011), Tom Brennan, was back after missing last year’s event, and ready for another leg burning adventure on this course. What often has been a spread out race at the front early on, was instead a four-pack, bright-eyed, spunky group of runners ready for the push. This included course record holder, Tom Brennan, previous podium finisher Josh Snyder, recent winner of Turkey & Taturs 50km, Cole Starkey, and Christopher Peyton of Colorado who has a number of top 10 finishes in sub-marathon distance trail races.

We have ourselves a race!

All four arrived at the far-end turnaround near one another then Tom decided to make his move.

“At the turn around, I attempted to put the hammer down and really push the pace up the first mountain. The few other times that there have been people with me, I have managed to shake them by doing this but those guys stayed with me.”

And then Tom’s sciatica/piriformis started screaming at him. Gradually Tom’s pace slowed and Cole and Josh made the pass with five climbs yet to go.

“It was discouraging but I just couldn’t sustain that pace and was in quite a bit of pain. So I had a little pity party there for a little bit…”

And then recovery and a spark or two to motivate.

The heart of a fighter. He didn’t want to lose.

“I guess that kind of motivated me to get moving through the sciatic pain because I started running fast again. I knew also that it would be a lot longer finish if I gave in to the pain and walked/jogged the rest of the way.”

The chase was on.

With three climbs to the finish, Cole was caught and passed.

Where is Josh?

Heading up the second to last mountain climb, Tom catches and passes Josh while his piriformis began to bark all the louder.

This close to the finish, Tom laid it all out on the trail and was first to arrive at the finish in 4:31!

Josh held strong to the finish for second place honors only one minute back.

While not Tom’s fastest finish on this course, it may just be his most rewarding.

“I’m getting older (41) so I do not know how many more of these wins I can have especially with the sciatica/piriformis so this one felt pretty darn good because I really had to reach deeper than I have gone before to rally for this one.”

And Tom’s strongest memory?

“All I remember is that it hurt like hell and I remember thinking that I am done with ultras but I have said that before.”

How many of us have had that same thought?

Top 5 male

  1. Tom Brennan – 4:31
  2. Josh Snyder – 4:32
  3. Cole Starkey – 4:43
  4. Christopher Payton – 5:03
  5. Paul Turner – 5:17

Photo: Courtesy Russell Bennett

Women’s Race

Diane Diebold and Katie Helms finished within 22 minutes of each other with Diane earning the win in 6:03, just outside top 10 of the overall.

Top 5 female

  1. Diane Diebold – 6:03
  2. Katie Helms – 6:25
  3. Sharon James – 6:56
  4. Deb Johnson – 7:04
  5. Jenny Wilkes – 7:18

Photo: Courtesy Russell Bennett

17 mile

Women’s Race

Jeanie Zelinski dashed off an overall co-win with Clayton Bell in three hours flat!

Susan McCourt finished fourth overall and second female across the line.

Top 5 female

  1. Jeanie Zelinski – 3:00
  2. Susan McCourt – 3:20
  3. Kimmy Riley – 4:58
  4. Kim Johnson – 5:03
  5. Rhonda Ferguson – 5:03

Photo: Courtesy Rick Bushmiaer

Men’s Race

Clayton Bell and Susan McCourt didn’t earn the overall without a challenge from Christopher Block who finished….one minute back.

Top 5 male

  1. Clayton Bell – 3:00
  2. Christopher Block – 3:01
  3. Bryon – 3:15
  4. Erik Heller – 3:22
  5. Phil Davison – 3:22

Race benefiting the Big Fork Community Center (Photo: Courtesy Russell Bennett)

Complete results

The Tough-as-Nails Award

The final finishers of an ultra distance event are some of the toughest athletes that are willing to stick with it to the best of their current ability and cross that darn finish line.

The Tough-as-Nails award recipients:

  • Rick Bushmiaer, Suzy Philips, and Elizabeth Quinn finished together in 9:29!

Enjoy a few reflections from Rick and his marathon journey:

“ABF is difficult to put into words. I can’t count how many times I said to myself never again but after it was done and I was headed back home the plans for next year were already looping through my head.”

“The three of us reached the marathon turn-around. I think we were all starting to question what the return trip was going to bring. After a few climbs and making our way back to the Blaylock Creek aid station we realized daylight was escaping us. Being out on this trail at night wasn’t anything we wanted to try.”

“We reached the top of our second to last peak and you could hear the music coming from the TATUR aid station. After waddling down the hill and splashing through my last creek it was time to devour some M&M’s, gummy bears, and pretzels before heading up the last hill of the day.”

The Ultra Buffet Table. (Photo: Courtesy Rick Bushmiaer)

“One last climb, never thought this moment would get here. We got up and down the last mountain fairly quick and were met at the base by Suzy’s parents and Steve. The last section Suzy’s mom, Elaine, ran in with us. She was just as entertaining as Suzy, great running partners for such a race. We made our way back to the community center and were cheered on by the remaining few. It was a sweet victory, a DFL never felt so good. Not to mention the new friendships that were formed from a challenging day.”

Great finish!

Race Reports

  • “My perspective on this became clear to me yesterday as I was nearing the end of the Athens Big Fork course, considering that I had just run up and down steep mountains on poorly marked and maintained trails contending with deadfall, briars, jumbled rocks, and cold damp weather for somewhere between four and five hours. In comparison, Barkley is 60 hours of far, far worse versions of the same sorts of conditions. It was in that moment that my understanding and appreciation of the physical and mental extremes experienced in some of the toughest ultra endurance events expanded just a little bit, and I was once again humbled by the relative normalcy of the challenge that I was about to complete.” by Chris @ A Run Through the Woods
  • “I slowed down the push and Tom caught me ¾ of the way up the mountain.  I say, “your looking good.”  He said “I feel terrible” this is when he started running it was like he was mad at how bad he was feeling but he was going to just kill it.” by Josh @ Ouchita Trail Runner

Talk some Dirt

  • How was your ABF adventure?
  • Did you have a favorite mountain?
  • Had to be some perty views – share your favorites.

Special thanks to Tom Brennan, Rick Bushmiaer, and Russell Bennett for their gracious support with this article.

Check out the TALON Race Guide

There are 150+ regional trail/ultra races in the TALON Race Guide. Be sure to check it out if you are looking for the most complete list of events in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. New events are always being added.

Be active – Feel the buzz!

David –


About the author

David Hanenburg David Hanenburg is the passionate dirt-lovin' creator of Endurance Buzz and has been playing in the endurance sports world since 2000 after knockin' the dust off of his Trek 950 hardtail thanks to a friend asking to go ride some local dirt. In 2007 he ran his first ultra on the trails and fell in love with the sport and its people. For more information on David's endurance sports journey, check out the About page.

2 Responses to “Athens Big Fork Trail Marathon 2013 Results – Tom Brennan Leads Adventure Across Eight Mountain Passes…and Back”

  1. on 10 Jan 2013 at 8:41 am olga

    OMG, I am so doing it! Why you didn’t point me here???

  2. on 10 Jan 2013 at 9:14 am David Hanenburg

    Hmmm, I thought I did mention it but I can’t find our email exchange for some reason. Next year! 🙂