Not so long ago the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail (LOViT) was a brand new, modest span of 13 miles between Denby Bay and Joplin Road on the southwest side of Lake Ouachita. That was less than 10 years ago. Today, the LOViT is over 31 miles long and growing, currently stretching from Denby Bay all the way to Brady Mountain Road, an out and back of about 62 miles or 100 kilometers to our Canadian friends. I’ve visited the LOViT for mountain bike rides and adventure races and in the past several years, the trail has been host to the LOViT Marathon so the area is no stranger to extreme races. This past weekend a new adventure started on the south side of the lake, the LOViT 100K, a race that included nearly the entire trail and runners had to complete it twice.
Race organizers Rachel and Dustin Speer set a grueling course, but one filled with scenic views, beautiful woods and a tell-tale sign of a trail set in the Ouachita Mountains: shiny white crystals decorating the path, nature’s embellishment. The Speers started their race management careers by creating the popular Soaring Wings Half Marathon in Conway, AR. A recent move to the Hot Springs area persuaded them to hand over organizing duties at Soaring Wings and start down a new path. And thus, the LOViT 100K was born.
The race started near the middle of the trail system at Crystal Springs. Since the run would have to be an out and back, posotioning the start and finish line in the middle allowed it to be an aid station at the 42 mile point as well. Racers started at 8 am on Saturday and headed west toward the older part of the trail. This meant starting with the climb up Hickory Nut Mountain, the second highest point on the trail with the steepest elevation change. At the top of Hickory Nut, the runners would enjoy the first of many vistas (hence the trail name) of the day. The weather was perfect and the view went on forever.
The race was capped at 50 racers and 40 signed up, on race day 34 showed up to toe the line. The Speers hope to grow the race slowly and expect to add a shorter distance and eventually a 100 mile race in the coming years. Right now Rachel and Dustin expect to focus on this race and their care and knowledge contributed to putting on a first class event. Aid Stations were manned by volunteers from Shangri La Resort, the Spa Pacers, and the Central Arkansas running community. The legendary Trail Dogs, the folks who built and maintain most of the trail, spent many hours cleaning up the trail from recent ice and snow storms leaving the trail in excellent shape.
After the descent from Hickory Nut Mountain which is a notoriously rocky, technical run, racers were greeted with the comfortable rolling hills and winding trails that take them past Joplin, Tompkins Bend and on to the first turnaround at Denby Bay. After the turnaround runners retrace their steps back to Joplin and up that rocky trail to Hickory Nut. One runner described it as swimming up a rock slide, but once at the top it was smooth sailing back into Crystal Springs, mile 42 of the journey. Some of us joked about how easy it would be to drop out of the race at this point, with 20 miles left, in the dark for most runners, comfort in the form of food and chairs with the car parked right there….I’m sure the idea passed through many runners minds as more than a fleeting thought. Out of the 34 runners who started the race only 23 would finish. It’s a tough run.
Leaving Crystal Springs, runners were faced with another climb up Big Bear Mountain, which is actually a long ridge with lots of views of the lake. The remaining 20 miles would be ten miles out to Brady Mountain Road and ten miles back. Even for the frontrunners, most of the return trip was done in the dark. At the finish line racers ran through strings of Christmas lights to be greeted with cheers, food, and warm, dry clothes. First runner in was Max Frumes from New York who set the first course record at 12:04 and pushing Max to run hard all the way to the finish, Kelly Hutchins of Kentucky came in at 12:07. The two could be seen running together throughout most of the race. First woman and third overall was Alison Jumper of Arkansas who came in at a strong 12:27. Racers continued coming in throughout the night, every finisher a winner.
I asked Rachel and Dustin what they thought was special about the race for them, something they didn’t expect. Rachel said, “We were amazed by the response from out of state! Nearly half of our participants were from outside Arkansas, including Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, Kentucky, and even our men’s winner who is from New York! There were rave reviews on the beauty, and difficulty, of the race course. There are numerous great views of the lake and scenic spots on the trail that make the very difficult climbs and trail worth it. Our winner, Max Frumes of Brooklyn, New York, picked our race on a whim while searching for an ultra to run this weekend. Cymber Gieringer ran the race to celebrate her birthday and showed incredible persistence to finish early in the morning. Johnathan Young ran the race as his 100th marathon or ultra event. And Jeremy Rhea, just 18 years old from Uniontown, Arkansas, ran this as his first ultra… an amazing accomplishment.”
Congratulations to all the runners for stepping up to the challenge and to Rachel and Dustin Speer for putting on a great inaugural event. Our advice for next year? Get signed up early this is going to turn in to one of those must do runs for ultra runners.
To learn more about the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail please go to their website. Another section is currently under construction from Brady Mountain Road to Blakely Dam.