The 2021 Athens Big Fork Trail Marathon opened the new year with one very challenging marathon, bringing in participants from across Arkansas and several states.
Stacey Shaver-Matson, event participant and volunteer, said this year’s annual race presented more than just trail obstacles to overcome.
“This year there were more hoops to jump through, it was more expensive, and required more from our volunteers but it was all worth it in the end,” she said.
The event was a success, with 155 runners toeing the line, 9 of those finishing in less than 5 hours, and both the male and female records broken.
TJ David, from Carbondale, CO was the first male, finishing in 4:07, breaking a 10 year old record held by Tom Brennan.
Shane Poland, from Vilonia, AR was only 7 minutes off the winning time.
“If we hadn’t had to enforce a staggered start this year there is no telling how that finish might have played out,” Stacey said. “It would have been something to see for sure.”
The winning female was Zoe Rom from Aspen, Co, finishing in 4:58:11. She is the first female to break 5 hours at ABF.
Aside from the fast times, there were two big stories that came out of this year’s event. 17 year old twins from Mena, Angelina and Christianna Moe, completed their first marathon.
“Not many people would choose to run their first marathon on the toughest course in the south,” Stacey said. “They have completed the fun run a couple of times, with their dad Malcolm, so I have had the privilege of witnessing these young ladies and their running abilities grow over the years.”
Angelina and Christianna said they have been participating in ABF for three years, but this was the year they finished the marathon.
The ladies credit their participation and accomplishment to their father sharing his love of running with them.
“Our dad is very much obsessed with running,” Angelina said. “He wanted to do it as a family.”
The twins said they have participated in other runs and races, but that the ABF is one of the toughest trail marthons in the south.
“You go over eight mountains and the hardest part is going back over the second one,” Angelina said. “I was not expecting it to be this hard. Going back over the mountain the second time was insane. My legs kept cramping up. I stopped counting how many times, but dad kept encouraging me. I didn’t think I was going to finish.”
The pair said their moments of doubt were overcome with encouragement from their father and another runner.
“My hopes for finishing the run were slim, so when I got to the halfway point, I said I wanted to stop,” Christianna said. “But Angel wanted me to finish and another runner told me how happy I would be and encouraged me to finish.”
“The other runner said if I stopped now I would regret it for weeks, but if I finished I will feel so much satisfaction,” Christianna said. “The other runner said I could definitely do more than I thought I could.”
Athens Big Fork Trail Marathon and 17 mile Fun Run were first held in 1999 with 4 runners, and it has since grown to 200 runners.
“We cap the event at 200 now for safety and ecological reasons,” Stacey said. “Despite the growth, we were not only able to maintain the feel of a small event but we were able to keep the event safe.”
“Safety is a big priority for me because this event is so remote and the course so difficult. Keeping the race safe this year was especially difficult with Covid.”
She said she felt extra pressure to get this year’s event done right.
“I had to have knee surgery, due to a fall while trail running, just 11 days before the race, as well as a stress fracture in my foot on the opposite side,” she explained. “It was a challenging year to say the least, but the end results were oh so sweet! The Athens Big Fork Trail Marathon and Fun Run brought joy to a lot of people in a time where joy is hard to come by. I was happy to be a small part of that.”