‘Ultra’ thrill

Features / September 15, 2017

Rigsby, Park find exhilaration, challenge in running
Tabatha Park

Tabatha Park

For this month’s Fall Fitness issue, HER Magazine caught up with Hot Springs runners Debbie Rigsby, 60, and Tabatha Park, 49, to discuss how they got into the sport, what motivates them, and challenges they’ve faced.

Tabatha is an ultra runner, which is defined as a person devoted to covering the sport of long distance running, or more than 26.2 miles at a time.

She ran track all through junior high and high school and said she was very active with her two sons while they grew up. After moving to Hot Springs in October 2014, Tabatha was running 8 miles a day on her driveway and experienced the “runner’s high” that left her wanting more.

She sought out local running groups and found the Spa Pacers, a group that offers several weekly group runs.

“I jumped in running with Spa Pacers and about six weeks later I signed up for the Little Rock Half Marathon. No training, just signed up,” Tabatha said. “Ran the marathon and got through it with the help of Spa Pacers.”

After the marathon, she began running with the Pacers’ trail group, which invited her to something called an Idiot Night Run, which consists of running 21 miles — at night.

“It was my first time ever running in the evening, in the dark, on a trail. Needless to say I fell about three times, but I didn’t quit, I kept up, and so I pursued more of the trail running. Probably six months after being with the Spa Pacers I started running more trails and then got involved in the 50K. From 50K I moved up the 50-miler 100K, and I did my first 100-miler in February of this year,” Tabatha said.

She completed her first 100-mile run on the Ouachita trails in 30 hours and 29 minutes.

At the time of this writing, Tabatha said she was looking into entering the Arkansas Traveller 100 on Oct. 7, a 100-mile race near Roland, and she has another 100-mile race scheduled for December.

“Others might see it as a bit idiotic, and we do actually call ourselves the Hot Springs Idiots because you pretty much have to be out of your mind, or just not have a sound mind, to run those distances,” Tabatha said. “But there was something that happened to me after I did my first 100-miler and it was a journey, a type of life journey, that you can’t buy. It’s incredible. It’s something that makes you feel that you can just do anything. Set your mind to it and don’t give up.”

She said although her sons, ages 27 and 24, are active, they don’t run with her and, in fact, sometimes try to discourage her from running such long distances at her age.

“The eldest says, ‘Mom, don’t you think you should do something a little more intellectual? Mom, I think you’re getting too old for this.’ Excuse me while I run in circles around you, son,” Tabatha said, laughing. “Don’t worry, son, you’ll understand one day, trust me.”

When asked what the training is like for a long distance race, she said the average person should begin building upon their miles anywhere between 22 to 26 weeks before their event.

“You’re going to want to build them up to being probably, roughly, about 15 miles per week. You basically just want to build upon your miles, probably between 25-30 miles in the last month before the event and you do that about three times in a month. Quite excessive.”

Tabatha said she runs five to six days per week and, in addition, does cross training and recently took up yoga. The No. 1 thing on her bucket list right now is to complete three 100-milers by the end of this year.

Debbie Rigsby

Debbie Rigsby

Runner and hiker Debbie Rigsby had never run a race before in her life before completing the Pikes Peak Marathon in Colorado in 1991.

Why did she do it? Because someone told her she couldn’t.

“That was my very first race. I hadn’t done a 5K, 10K, anything, or even run with people, but someone told me I couldn’t do it, so I did it,” she said.

She has since completed the Pikes Peak Marathon 13 additional times.

Her other races in Arkansas include several 50Ks, White Rock Classic, which is 32 miles, and the Ouachita Trail 50 Marathon.

She has hiked the entire Ouachita Trail, 232.5 miles, over the course of 22 days. Currently, she and her group are hiking the Ozark Highland Trail three days at a time, on which they have 20 miles left to complete. Debbie has also hiked from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to the South Rim, a total of 24 miles, four times.

“It’s more of a personal challenge for me. Challenge yourself, always do better, and just see what you can do to push yourself. And it’s the friendships. You make so many good friends in the running and hiking community, and they’re a different breed; they would just do anything for you,” Debbie said.

When asked what her favorite marathon has been, she said, “Probably Pikes Peak, because it’s the most challenging because of the altitude. You never know how the altitude will affect you. They say to take your flat land marathon time and add two-and-a-half hours and that should be your finish time. Every time you are standing on the starting line waiting for the gun, you think, ‘What was I thinking?’ The camaraderie is like no other. When you cross the finish line, the feeling that washes over you is overwhelming and you feel so empowered.

“We used to have a huge group, the Arkansas group, that would go, and we took three or four buses up there. It was a whole event, and it wasn’t just the run — we’d call the Hogs and we all wore a short and had Arkansas flags. There was over 200 of us and you’d see that Arkansas flag going up the mountain.”

She said her favorite Arkansas race has been the SPA Running Festival half marathon because of it’s organization, scenery, encouragement from other runners, and the challenge.


Debbie has two children and three grandchildren, and when asked if she has ever considered hiking the Appalachian Mountains or the Pacific Crest Trail, she said she has thought about it, but her grandchildren are what keep her from doing it.

“I know I wouldn’t have a problem actually doing it, I just wouldn’t want to not see them,” she said.

Debbie will soon begin her training for the 3 Bridges Marathon in Little Rock.

Lindsey Wells

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September 15, 2017