Lake Ouachita Vista Trail (LOViT) 100 Mile in Hot Springs, Ark., had been on my radar since 2014, but it wasn’t until spring break in March 2016 that I had a chance to run about 30 miles of the course. I had no doubt afterward that I really, really needed to run this race. Fast forward to December 2016. I found myself on the Barkley Marathon “weight list,” uncertain of my demise, and I frantically started to search for a training race. Boom! LOViT 100 Mile was mine for the taking.
Now, before I ramble on any further there were couple of other factors that played into zeroing in on LOViT. First and foremost was the approximately 20,000 feet of ascent/20,000 feet of decent, the 5 p.m. start time and the fact that I could jump in my car drive for seven hours, run the 100 miles, and then drive back home. Cost effective!
As race date approached, I found myself slowly moving up that “weight list” for Barkley, and after a series of arguments with myself, I decided I was going to race LOViT, as my odds of making the cut for Barkley weren’t looking good. Just to clarify: Racing and running a 100 miler are two very different things, and for the record, I have only “raced” one of the seven 100 milers that I’ve run since 2014. Most of the time, I just go out and run on a whim and let the day break down how it will for me.
Race: LOViT 100 Mile
Race Director: Dustin and Rachel Speer
Location/Course: The LOViT Endurance Run covers sections of the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail from Denby Bay in the west to Avery Recreational Area in the east. The terrain is rocky, rolling hills and ridge lines that take you along the southern rim of one of America’s most pristine freshwater lakes and through the ruggedly beautiful Ouachita National Forest with approximately 20,000 feet of ascent/20,000 feet of decent. The race course follows out-and-back sections along the single track trail — one of only 40 worldwide trails to receive the IMBA Epic Trail designation.
Time Limit: 34 hours (100 mile)
Runner: Shalini Kovach
Crew & Pacer: Amanda Smith! Amanda and I have shared many glorious and miserable training miles, and she also paced me for Superior 100 in September 2016, so there was a solid understanding of running style, attitude and reliance on both ends.
Goals & Training
Goals: Well, I was hoping for a sub-26-hour finish, but finishing the course is always the top priority. As for training, I was logging 50 to 55 miles per week with an average elevation gain of 200 feet/mile. Leading into the race, my peak weekly mileage was 68 miles with 11,154 feet gain. I simply focused on climbing and running lots of technical terrain.
Before I get into the nitty gritty of how LOViT broke down for me, I must refer to the tagline for the race: Ankles of Steel…Iron Will. That’s what you’ll need to take on this challenge!
Start to Hickory Nut Mountain Overlook (34 miles)
The clock struck 5 p.m. on Friday, and we hit the trail running. The first 34 miles were pretty uneventful other than the steep and extremely rocky decent and ascent up Hickory Nut Mountain. This section of the course is deceptively runnable, and the course layout for the first 34 miles lulls you into thinking the east end will be similar. But, that is not the case. The latter half of the course is unrelenting, and you better believe in the above tagline.
I had run this section of the course last year, and that familiarity left no element of surprise or worry. I knew what pace I needed to run, and there was going to be no dillydallying about it. I was focused! Within the first hour and a half, the headlamps were turned on and I cruised along admiring the gorgeous sunset while the temperatures held steady in the 50s. There was some talk of a passing overnight storm in the area, with a drop in temperature and 20- to 25-mph winds, but for now the sky was clear.
I saw Amanda at the Joplin Road aid station about 9 miles into the race, and after a quick gear check and hug, I was off. This was the first out-and-back section, and as I made my way back to the Hickory Nut Mountain Overlook for the second time I was leading the women’s field and held my position as fifth overall.
Hickory Nut Mountain Overlook to Getting Lost (42 miles)
OK, this is the section where things get interesting! As we descended from the Hickory Nut Mountain Overlook aid station, I met Shannon Hampton, Arron Lebell (who was running his first 100 miler) and Kamm Prongay. The wind had picked up, and the temperatures had dropped to low 30s. It felt like we were running in a wind tunnel!
I put on my jacket, pulled my gloves and hat on, and the four of us ran steady until we hit a split in the trail at the Pipe Spring. We were at a complete halt. It was dark, and there were signs both to the left and right of us, so clearly we didn’t need to carry on straight. We first went right, but the sign made no sense. We then went left, and the sign said 100K and 100Mi, so clearly that must be the way we needed to go. Not!
The four of us stood there with the course map in our hand contemplating which way to go first. The problem with this intersection at Pipe Spring is the 100-mile runners get to run this out-and-back twice each direction, and although the course was marked, which direction to go first was not clear on the signs. After five minutes of back and forth, we unanimously decided that we needed to go left first. About 4.5 miles later, all four of us hit Crystal Springs Pavilion aid station. We had barely made it into the aid station when the news came crashing in: We should have gone right at the split to Charleston aid station, then back to the split and then to Crystal Springs Pavilion. WTF!?!
My brain just stopped working for a split second. Then, it sparked and I panicked when I realized I was 4.5 miles off course and needed to retrace 4.5 miles back to the split, and then onto Charleston aid station. Not only had I lost my lead, but in that moment, I realized I also would not be able to make up the lost time. I was frustrated with myself, but quickly my brain switched to “you have to move past it.” It’s moments like this that keep us grounded when running 100 miles. Goals have to be adjusted, and it’s because of this unpredictability that we get suckered into running one 100 miler race after another. We’re always chasing the perfect run.
Shannon and I stood there helplessly while Arron and Kamm had started their run back to the split. Just then, I caught the tail end of a conversation between Shannon and one of the race organizers; we were getting a ride back to the split at the Pipe Spring instead of having to run back to where we went off course. Arron, Kamm, Shannon and I hopped in the car and were driven to the Pipe Spring split to carry on in the right direction on foot — and none of us protested. Turns out this wasn’t the first time runners have gotten off course at the split, and there was also some question of the signs being vandalized. Since it was four of us that took the wrong turn at the split rather than just one, the race organizers decided to drive us back and check the signs so no other runners would make the same mistake.
Charleston to Brady Mountain Road (58 miles)
The trip to Charleston and then back to the Pipe Spring is about 2 miles each way. Going out, it’s a steep descent that’s narrow in places, and the footing was tricky going downhill in the dead of the night. Shannon and I stuck together and shared stories as we made our way to the aid station. On the way back, I stopped for a pee break and lost Shannon somewhere on the steep ascent.
The rest of the race I ran solo until 83 miles, which is when I picked up Amanda. I can’t remember much of this section, as it was dark and the entire time we were switchbacking up and down hills on really rocky terrain up to Big Bear. By the time I hit Big Bear, the sun was starting to come out and I could feel and smell the crispness of the early morning hours in the air. There was a bench that looked over Lake Ouchita, and I considered stopping, but I was in grind mode. So, I bypassed the Trail Dog Overlook and descended to the Brady Mountain Road aid station, fueled and kept plugging at it.
Brady Mountain Road to Avery Rec Area (65 miles) then back to Brady Mountain Rd (72 miles)
After leaving the aid station, I made the ascent onto the Emerald Ridge section of the LOViT Trail, so named for the tons of moss-covered rock outcroppings. This section of the course has some gorgeous views and lots of technical terrain. This was also the section I had run last spring break, overlooking the Blakey Dam and then descending to the Avery Rec Area aid station at the LOViT trailhead.
I cruised along with the certainty of knowing where I was going, or so I thought. Avery Rec Area aid station is also the turnaround point for both the 100-mile and 100k distances. It was well into the morning at this point, and I was starting to see the front end 100K runners as I made my way back to Brady Mountain Road. Head down, I could feel the fatigue setting in, and I had not yet let go of the fact that I had lost my lead and my finish goal time.
As I moved forward into my own head, the terrain under my feet did not feel right. I was climbing, and the ground cover felt soft, unlike the rocky terrain that I had just come in on a couple of hours back. I stopped to look around for a marker but saw nothing. About a quarter mile down from where I stood, I could see the trail switchback. This isn’t right! I can’t be lost again!?! I wanted to scream but decided to be more ladylike — so a few F-bombs later I made it back to the trail. I stopped to scan the trail, and far out in the distance I could see the flagging tape. It was hard to make out, as the tape was red and silver stripe and with the glare the sunlight made it impossible to track.
Brady Mountain Road to Crystal Springs Pavilion (83 miles)
After going off course for the second time in 24 hours, I decided to get my shit together and hammer out the run until I got to Crystal Springs Pavilion. There, I would get to see Amanda and hopefully have her along for the last stretch to the finish. Since it was just Amanda and I, we had not figured out what and where to leave the car and how to get back to it once I had finished. So, there was the question of whether or not Amanda would be pacing me or just providing support at the aid stations.
At this point, though, I had concluded in my head that I would ask Amanda to run with me and that we’d worry about the car later. I had run so much of the course solo, without seeing another runner for hours, and I was starting to question my ability to soundly navigate the course. Alas! If only things were that easy.
By the time I made my way back to the ridgeline at the Trail Dog Overlook, it was closing in on noon and I was tired. The conversation with myself went something like this:
Me: Why am I still running? I should have been done by now. It’s well after noon for crying out loud!
Myself: Duh! The race didn’t start until 5 p.m. You’re only about 75 miles in, fool.
I: I am so freakin’ tired, and I need to sit. Why, hello bench overlooking Lake Ouachita!
Yep, I sat down on it! Wow! The cool breeze, sunshine, blue sky and blue water in the lake was simply perfect. Far out in the distance I saw a boat zip over the water across Lake Ouachita.
Me: I should lay down on this bench. It will feel so good to stretch and close my eyes.
Myself: What!?! Are you stupid?
I: Don’t do it.
Just like that I snapped out of whatever it was that I was going through and started running. I ran straight until I hit Crystal Springs Pavilion. AMANDA!!!!!
Crystal Springs Pavilion to Mountain Harbor Resort AKA finish (105 miles for me)
By the time I hit Crystal Spring, it was a little before 4 p.m., not quite 24 hours into the 100 miles, as I had earlier concluded. I have never been as elated to see anyone in my life as I was to see Amanda in her running gear ready to pace me at 83 miles. I was in and out of the aid station with my headlamp while Amanda and I chatted.
I talked my arse off…all about getting lost, losing the lead in the race and now just needing to finish. In that moment I realized how lonely running a 100 miles can be. Not seeing another runner for miles on end can be unsettling, so I was thankful to have Amanda by my side for the trip back to the finish.
We ran steady. Amanda stayed ahead of me, picking up on my highs and lows, and we talked and talked and talked! But remember when I said if only things were that easy…?
The overnight storm had knocked out some of the course flagging, and as the sun set once again, it was getting hard to trace those markers. Having gotten off course twice already, I kept questioning every split and turn. Headlamps switched on and Amanda in the lead, we made it to the turnoff at Hickory Nut Mountain about 94 miles. And in there we stood trying to figure out whether to turn at the split or carry on straight.
Me: Do you see any markers?
Amanda: None, and no signs either. Not sure if we turn here or keep straight.
As I hiked up to the split, Amanda was ahead of me scanning course markers.
Amanda: I see a marker to the left.
OK, let’s go. We started running again. This was the section we ran at the start of the race, and there were markers there, but something in the back of my head didn’t feel right. We were about a three quarters of a mile in when we saw a car fast approaching and the driver was saying something, so both Amanda and I stopped. As the driver came into view, we were informed that we had once again gone the wrong way and should have stayed straight at the split. GAH!
But there were no signs or markers directing us to go straight, I protested, and there are markers here, thus the obvious choice. The driver apologized and said he was taking the markers off so others didn’t make the same error as we did. He told us we weren’t that far from the Hickory Mountain Overlook aid station and 5 miles to the finish.
Sigh! We made our way to the aid station, double-checked the direction we needed to go and once again started running. We descended fast down an ATV trail that was chewed up. It was impossible to find decent footing. I didn’t recall this section from the start of the race, but that could also be because my brain was fried. We got to the bottom of the descent and saw a runner just standing there. WTH!?! As we got closer, I realized it was Arron Lebell. We had both gotten off course together the first time, so I was surprised to run into him.
Me: Hey! What’s going on? You doing alright?
Arron: Yeah, just hurting and want to be done, and I don’t see any markers. Not sure if I’m going the right way. I’m done getting lost, so I stopped when I saw you guys approach.
Me: Are you kidding me?
F-bombs were flying, and both Amanda and I were cussing now. It wasn’t funny at the time, but in hindsight it was kind of funny — two female runners with truckers’ mouths and Arron hurting and helpless, trying to navigate to the finish with only 4 or so miles left to go. In that moment, Amanda decided she was going to run ahead and see if she could find any markers. While Arron and I just stood there completely trashed, we saw two runners fast approaching from the direction we had come. As the two runners came near, they confirmed that we had to stay straight and at the bottom. There was a sinkhole or pothole — I couldn’t remember — and that’s where we needed to turn left to get to the finish. Both of the runners were running the 100K and seemed with it and had run the race before, so knew the course well.
OK, so all was not lost! Amanda and I started to run again and realized we had dropped, Arron who was hobbling slowly.
Me: Ugh! We should wait for him.
Amanda: He’s definitely hurting.
Me: Arron, you doing OK?
Arron: Yeah, I’m fine. Just go. Don’t wait on me.
We pushed hard to the finish. 27:54 was my official finish time. This was not my best performance, nor my worst. All in all, I lost 90 minutes of time and ran an extra 5ish miles, but I still managed to place 9th overall, third female, and first in my age group (40-49). The best part, however, was to see Arron finish his first 100 miler race and cheer him on at the finish!
Ain’t nothing to it but to do it! Run LOViT is a great race with challenging terrain and gorgeous views. The race has all the making of an A-list 100mi event and someday I would like to return and race it.
To my pacer: Amanda, I love when we get mad and cuss the shit out of things. I can’t wait to return the favor as you toe the line for your first 100mi race in June!
Side note: Don’t buy moonshine in Arkansas and do visit Burl’s Country Smokehouse if decide to go Run LOViT.
What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?
Garmin Fenix 3, Altra Women’s Lone Peak 3.0, Injinji Trail 2.0 Midweight Micro Toe Socks, Petzl NAO Headlamp, North Face Women’s Capri, Hammer Nutrition Women’s Running Tee Shirt, Hammer Buff, Camelbak ULTRA Pro Vest.
Here’s a breakdown of the fuel and supplements I used before, during and after the race:
Hammer Nutrition Race Day Boost and Hammer Nutrition Fully Charged
Hammer Heed and Perpetuem mixed equal parts in one 17-ounce bottle; Hammer Gels (Peanut butter and Espresso flavors); banana and orange slices at aid stations
Every three hours, I took Hammer Endurance Amino, Anti-Fatigue Caps, Endurolytes and a Ginger Root Pill.
After the first 50 miles, I was fueling on a cup of soup with two slices of white bread at every aid station, supplementing with a gel or two as needed. I also dropped the intake of the above-listed supplements.
Hammer Recoverite and Tissue Rejuvenator
Author: Shalini Kovach is the founder and lead organizer of Terrain Trail Runners.