Location: Belle Vista, Arkansas
Trail Type: Single Track
Host: The Back 40
Atmosphere: This race takes place the first weekend of December in northwest Arkansas. Even though some may consider that ‘south’, understand that is can be very cold, snow, windy, and especially icy. 2016 resulted in wind, overcast, and a start temperature of 20 degrees. Keep in mind that this is a true winter race, and they will run the race in miserable conditions. Pack accordingly.
Terrain: The City of Belle Vista, Arkansas, Walmart, and others put millions of dollars into this trail system. It definitely shows throughout the entire course. A beautiful single track that winds through the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas, crossing into Missouri, and back into Arkansas. While the trail is in amazing condition, it is also a very challenging course. Expect a lot of switchback running, a lot of power hiking, road crossings and even an opportunity to use your hands to get up a hill. The moguls will tear up your hips if you are not prepared. The 10K course is completely separate from the 20M/40M course. The 10K tends to run on large rocks, overhangs, and single track. The 20 mile loop is primarily packed gravel and dirt. Roots are limited, but the unexpected uphill motion can wear you out. The 40 mile course is the same as the 20, but twice.
Logistics/Aid: 2016 was the first time The Back 40 had taken place. Packet pickup is extremely easy prior to, or day of the race. There are aid stations dotted throughout the course. These aid stations have your standard options, but each one also offered something hot in 2016. The hot items ranged from pizza, to stew cooked over a campfire, and other fun items. There is a substantial distance between aid stations, but most of the trail winds through residential neighborhoods in Belle Vista, Arkansas. If something went horribly wrong, there would be quick access out. Additionally, the 20 mile offered over ten road crossings. These crossings were manned with people to protect runners. It was very, very hard to believe this was the first year of this race.
Post Race: Several area food trucks come into the park for the event. There is not a designated place to put bags for after the race, including potential concession money, and parking can be a challenge with nearly a half mile between where you park and the race. Outside of that, there is beer available, breakfast burritos, and other items that are available in a heated tent once you finish. The Back 40 also gets bonus points for their finishers award; a ring of a pine tree with “The Back 40” branded on it, and their t-shirts are designed by a local artist. The post race is very chill, especially if you are a late finisher on the 20 mile, so don’t expect a ton of items like A.R.T, massages, etc…
Beginners Luck: The 10K is a great option for newer trail runners. However, the 20 mile, and especially the 40 mile is very challenging if you do not have ample training leading up to the race. Each single loop is 20 miles long, so dropping is not an easy task. Factor in the potentially for absolutely miserable weather conditions, and this course could be extremely challenging for a new trail runner.
This is a really neat race. It is smoothly ran, the race director is absolutely hilarious, and overall everyone is there for a good time. The things that brought the score down are things out of control of those commanding the race. Historically the winters of northern Arkansas can be crippling. This mixed with the recognition that each loop is 20 miles long, makes it hard to argue this as a good first trail race. Is it possible? Absolutely! However, it would be extremely challenging to complete while still smiling. The 10K is the saving grace in that sense, but in the trail community; the 10K could also be perceived as too short in distance.