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2016 Athens Big Fork Marathon: Moments From the Trail

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Hugs, High-5s, and Whiskey shots highlight the vibe of the Athens Big Fork Trail Marathon in west-central Arkansas and takes place the first Saturday of January since it’s inaugural adventure back in 1999 that had four runners and three volunteers.

This year 107 runners laced them up to play in the marathon or 17 mile Fun Run.

While the vibe is laid back, the course has some attitude. Eight mountains await your visit…and then you get to turn around. Rain and falling temps throughout the day added to the memories created from this one.

Chris Block and Josh Snyder, each having won the race over the past two years, cruised back into the Big Fork Community Center with a race time of 4:33 to lead the men’s marathon scamper.

Rachel Furman put together a 5:48 to defend in the women’s marathon.

Hot Springs runners, Erin Miller and Josh Drake, were our final Tough-As-Nails finishers and completed all eight mountains – twice – and crossed the finish line in 9:48.

The 17 mile Fun Run was led by Tommy Brennan of Oklahoma in a time of 3:16.

Jenny Chitwood was fourth to arrive at the finish and win the female 17 miler in 4:10.

Ages between 21 and 75 spent the day together in nature. Love it!

And now my favorite part…and I hope you enjoy it too.

Moments from the Trail

I asked a few runners:

Could you share the detailed story of ONE specific moment during your Athens Big Fork adventure that made a special imprint on you?

Enjoy their responses below.


Russell Bennett (OK) – 7:05 Marathon

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One of those moments was the return trip up Hurricane Knob! After 22 miles of some of the most grueling mountain trails in Arkansas, I only had two climbs left. This one though was the last big climb! By this time the cold rain had changed into a light snow.

Slowly but steadily I made my way up, dodging a couple of fallen trees using freshly made improvised trails. My legs and feet were so cold at this point the only feeling in them was the loss of power as I trudged upward! With every step up the steep mountainside my body slowly warmed, stopping only once to stretch out the muscles in my legs. The further up I got, the faster my heart was beating, the louder my breathing was getting! The thoughts running through my head was now being drowned out!

As I crested the summit of Hurricane knob, I was greeted with a blast of the cold north wind pelting my face with granules of snow! The stinging and biting of the wind driven snow was intense! In an instant all of the warmth generated by the climb had all vanished!

It was at this point that I heard the familiar ding of a message coming through on my phone! I stopped to pull out my phone hoping to find an encouraging message and I was not disappointed! As I was standing idle getting colder I somehow managed to take a pic and send a reply that simply stated “I’m cold, wet, tired and ready to be done”.


Josh Snyder (OK) – 4:33 Marathon

I was 12 minutes behind at the halfway mark. Running down two guys ahead of me, so much fun finishing faster than starting.


Deb Baker (AR) – 6:48 Marathon

My moment came when I was on the return climb over Hurricane Knob, the second to last climb and always the toughest part of the course for me.

I was wet and freezing cold, my garbage bag flapping in the wind. The temps were dropping, the wind was blowing, and I was struggling to get to the top of this bugger. I was really starting to get dizzy and I knew I needed fuel. I kept attempting to retrieve a GU from my vest pocket but my hands were frozen, useless. There was no way I was getting that thing out of my pocket let alone open it up.

Yep, should have eaten more at the last aid station. I was afraid of getting too cold if I stopped so I had just grabbed a couple of potatoes and ran on. Now I was paying for it. I was beginning to feel dizzy and staying upright was a challenge. I kept telling myself to just put one foot in front of the other, take a rest, a few more steps, take a rest. I heard someone behind me talking and asking a question. I didn’t reply. If I was thinking straight, I would have stopped and asked him to help me get my GU. Pulling myself up the mountain was all my brain could focus on. When I got to the top, I ran. I knew an aid station was waiting for me at the bottom and I was a mad freak to get there.

I really had no intentions of sitting in that chair, but as soon as I got to the aid station and stopped moving I got extremely lightheaded feeling like I might faint. I collapsed into that chair and was handed an opened GU. As soon as I got that down I was ravenous for food. Cookies!!! Coke!!!! Then the amazing man at the aid station handed me a peanut butter sandwich. I took my first glorious bite, washing it down with coke, and then it started to snow.

My brain woke up. Time to go or I’m going to freeze!! I saw the nice volunteer start to put a blanket over me. “NOOO” I yelled, trying to be polite, NO blanket!! I bolted out of that chair and said my thanks yous with a mouth full of peanut butter sandwich. I was recharged and I could smell the barn. One more mountain.


Lorena Moody (AR) – 6:42 17-Mile

Lorena (L) with good friend Yoni.

Lorena (L) with good friend Yoni.

As I crossed each mountain top into the valleys below and walked knee deep across flooded creeks I was in awe of the beauty my GOD had laid out for me to see.


Aubrey Power (TX) – 7:56 Marathon

Credit: movin-pictures.com

Credit: movin-pictures.com

I was on top of one of the what seemed like 732 mountains and I could see the forest for miles and all of the surrounding mountains. It was around freezing and I didn’t have enough clothes on for the weather so of course it was snowing.

All I could hear was the sound of the wind blowing through the trees and the snow turning the front of my shirt white and in that moment, I really had time to block out the challenges of the race and really reflect on why I love running and how lucky I was to be there in such a beautiful setting, doing something I enjoy so much.

It was a pretty overwhelming feeling which was a big deal since the cold had numbed almost all other feelings.


Brady Paddock Race Director (AR)

I had three runners unaccounted for as darkness began to fall.  I got a hold of one runner’s wife in Texas and learned that he had completed the run and was on the way home. It is hugely important for all runners to be sure and sign out so we know each runner is off the trail and out of the mountains. At this point, I had two more folks out.  Both were from Hot Springs, Arkansas so I knew they were familiar with the trail.  I got ready to start hiking the trail in to go find them but fortunately they appeared on Highway 8 just as George Peterka and I were heading to the trail to look for them.


Matthew Crownover (TX) – 6:24 Marathon

DamNation - A place to reflect, regroup, and get back down the trail. Photo: Courtesy of Lynn Ballard.

I was just beyond the turnaround ½ way mark of Athens Big Fork Marathon. A little background will help illuminate my moment. I’ve been running seriously since 1989. Despite that, I still manage to be a total amateur and seem to be learning things for the very first time. I suppose that is part of the allure of the sport. I mean really, there are not that many sports where you can continue to learn and improve for decades, right?

I’ve never managed to figure out what to do with cold hands in rain. I don’t care how awesome the claims of various fabrics are, I manage to get my gloves wet, and then I get cranky dealing with cold hands AND keeping up with two frigid sponges.

Going into this race I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about my choices regarding how I feel. Lots to say about this, but basically: thoughts precede feelings, and so I’ve been trying to clue in more to my underlying thinking, judgments, expectations, assumptions, and manage my thoughts, rather than reacting to the secondary feelings that come from them. In particular I’d been thinking about this quote from Margaret Thatcher:

“Watch your thoughts, for they will become actions. Watch your actions, for they’ll become…habits. Watch your habits for they will forge your character. Watch your character, for it will make your destiny.”

After years of soggy glove management, my genius strategy was about to be executed. Having studied the forecast, I knew that this violent rain would stop about ½ through the race. At that time I, cunning creature that I am, would produce a piping hot pair of dry gloves I’d already started baking. Sealed in a Ziploc, and tucked in my shorts, the promise of these babies would pull me through. Sure enough, the rain came down, mile after opening mile. When I went to take a gel, I was alarmed to find that the meaty paws on the end of my arms were worthless. Forfeiting the best part of evolution, I could not even take advantage of the hard-earned opposable thumbs. The hands were totally numb so as be ineffectual. Nevertheless, the ultra-runner logic allowed me to re-frame this as simply increasing the value and wisdom of the New Plan. Yes, the New Plan would be majestic. I would wait for the gloves—they would be so great. The Greek word eschaton came to mind.

Sure enough, the rain stopped right on schedule, almost halfway for me—that is to say I’d just completed eight mountains and now just needed to turn around and climb them back home. With the rain stopping, we could look up at the stunningly beautiful scenery. The air started to dry out, and the body started to warm for lack of constant rain. Like a shipwrecked man contemplating a chocolate bar, I began to fantasize about donning the gloves. This would be an ecstatic moment. I would likely need a cigarette after putting them on.

Then he fell. Hard. The guy way up in front of me. He got up slowly, too slowly for me to pretend I did not notice. “Dude, you okay?” His hands were bleeding; they’d been cut in the fall on sharp rocks. Water made it look worse, I had to offer. I knew these gloves were his.

And so it all came together. I’d still benefited from the positive expectancy of looking forward to them, but now it was even better. Recall the above, I’ve been tracking my thoughts and so I made a real choice to think: this guy needs these more than I do, this guy will appreciate them more, these gloves are a comfort to you, but maybe a lifeline to him if his race is falling apart. I mean, it is always the little things, right? And I’d already proven that I could deal with some seriously frozen hands, so why not just get the run over with? I suddenly was gripped in an ironclad belief that I’d carried these warm dry gloves for this moment, for this purpose. A Jesuit friend once made cleaning out my closet easy by saying: “if you have two coats, the second one belongs to somebody else.” It was not so much a charitable moment, as it was the sudden realization that I had HIS gloves.

We got across the next river crossing (cold, this is January after all) and once I made sure he was okay, I moved on down the trail. The next few peaks and valleys were fun as it continued to get drier—but colder.

Finally, as I crested one of the last mountains, it started to snow. Hard. As a Texas kid, I don’t suppose I will ever outgrow that initial thrill of seeing snow. The fact that I was cresting the final climbs of a hard race just made it even cooler. As for my freezing cold hands? Well, they were now simply living (barely!) reminders of how we are all connected. Instead of worrying about that guy—hoping he was all right, I felt nothing but gratitude that I’d been in the right place and time to make his journey a little better.

Experts say one cannot maintain gratitude and anger at the same moment. We just don’t have the bandwidth. And of course the ancients have been saying for centuries—across spiritual traditions—that the secret to finding your life lies in losing your concern of self. Could it be that easy? It might not be so much that I felt good because I loaned a guy some gloves. That could backfire into pride I suppose. It might just be that deciding not to worry about myself was all I needed. Maybe I needed to put my trust in something bigger than a damned Ziploc baggie. Unburdened, free, I was able to enjoy the snow and laugh like a kid in a snowfall.

So here is what I’m left with: if I’d kept my gloves I’d still have been cold. We’d crossed dozens of small rivers so my shoes, socks, and legs were soaked all day. I’d still have been tired—there is just no getting around a 6+ hour marathon. Odds are very good that had I ignored the chance to connect with Gloveless Guy, I’d have been just as cold and tired—only more cranky and bitchy. The gloves—whether I’d kept them or shared them—were not the point at all. The encounter with the gloveless man got me unstuck from myself. The point is that somebody had allowed me to help them, and that in turn allowed me to be who I’m called to be, the real me. My true self, oriented towards another, can only get so hung up in my own issues. Finding my true calling in community made me grateful, and my grateful heart meant that a minor annoyance like cold hands did not mean squat to me. I was okay.

Thanks, Gloveless Guy, for giving me what I really needed.


A special thanks for all our runners for sharing some of their experience with us.

Complete ABF Results

Congrats to all the tribe that took on the Athens Big Fork adventure.

Share Your Moment

If you also played at this year’s ABF scamper, feel free to share your moment in the comment link below. Sit around the campfire and warm-up, we would love to hear it.

Be active – Feel the buzz!

David – EnduranceBuzz.com

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.

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