To understand just what the inaugural Run LOViT ultramarathon race entailed when it took place on Feb. 22 near Hot Springs, you need to do a mental exercise. First, imagine a traditional marathon—all 26.2 paved miles. Now double that, add another 528 yards, and take it off-road, winding it through tight single-track trails, up and over rock-strewn mountains, and you’ll get something close to Arkansas’ first 100-kilometer race.
The extreme trail race was organized by Hot Springs locals Dustin and Rachel Speer, two veteran ultramarathoners who never planned on becoming long-distance runners, much less race directors. Rachel only joined the Women Can Run clinic near her home in Conway as a way to stay fit, but soon after decided to run a half marathon. Not wanting to be left out of that experience, Dustin joined her, and together they ran their first half marathons in 2006. It was a fortuitous decision for them both—they fell in love with the sport and never looked back. Two years later, the couple founded Conway’s Soaring Wings half marathon as a way to give back to the running community. After moving to Hot Springs in 2012, they became enchanted with running on the nearby Lake Ouachita Vista Trail (LOViT), and decided it needed a race of its own.
At 8 a.m. sharp, 34 runners started the race near the trail’s center at the Crystal Springs pavilion and ran out and back 42 miles along the lake’s southern shore to Denby Bay on the trail’s western end, and then another 20 miles out and back to the eastern trailhead at Brady Mountain Road.
Because the race lasted from dawn through dusk and deep into the night, there were a lot of things that the runners needed but often couldn’t carry with them. Many racers packed “drop bags” with everything from headlamps to energy gels and extra socks that race officials ferried to aid stations along the race route.
In addition to drop bags, the eight aid stations were stocked with drinks and high-calorie foods such as gummy bears and chocolates that are popular with long-distance runners. “Calories are really important [because] this is not like a traditional run,” Dustin says. “When you are out there for hours at a time, you have to take in calories and replenish.” Pickles and pickle juice are a favorite source of dissolved sodium, which helps runners absorb water and prevents muscle cramps.
After managing the Soaring Wings half marathon for five years, Dustin and Rachel wanted the next race that they organized to be low-key. To that end, they decided to cap the event at 50 runners. “The marathon would have around 2,000 participants, and there was a lot of stress associated with that,” Dustin says. “I guess I thought it would be a lot easier to plan [a small ultramarathon], but it was still very time consuming. We ultimately want to do a 100-mile race but decided planning a 100K would be a good way to get our feet wet.”
“You see all shapes and sizes out there,” Dustin says. “The best ultrarunners are not always the fittest or the fastest. [Instead] it is about a formula, ‘How can I keep a good pace, take in enough calories and not expend too much energy too early?’ People that dropped from the race usually had something in the formula go wrong.” Of the 34 who started the race, only 23 finished—11 runners pulled out of the race.
Runners racked up nearly 20,000 feet of cumulative elevation change over the course of the day, even though no single climb was greater than 800 feet. “Hickory Nut Mountain on the first section was the most difficult climb of the course,” Dustin says. “It has these rocks called ‘baby heads’ because they are about the size of a baby’s head, and they make it a difficult climb because there isn’t much good footing.”
“It is very, very common for folks to walk the uphills,” says Dustin. “They’ll try to run the downhills and the flats but walk the uphills, and you can keep a pretty solid pace doing that, though the elite guys will run everything.”
After 12 hours, 4 minutes of steep climbs and rocky descents, Max Frumes (shown above) crossed the finish line just after 8 p.m. to secure the overall win. But the Brooklyn native had competition hot on his heels. Kelly Hutchins of Mayfield, Ky., the men’s second-place finisher, was only three minutes behind (though perhaps he was saving energy for his 50-mile race in Fort Worth the next day). Fayetteville’s Alison Jumper, the women’s winner, was only 20 minutes farther behind.
With such a beautiful race venue, Dustin and Rachel were sure the first RunLOViT was going to be a success, but they were blown away by the overwhelmingly positive response. Next year, thanks in part to plans to lengthen the trail, the couple hopes to expand the event to include a 100-mile race and a shorter fun run. “It was a great experience for us,” Dustin says. “It’s our way to give back.”