[Editor’s Note: With the COVID-19 pandemic putting trail racing and ultramarathons on hold, we’re also pausing our Monday “This Week in Running” race-results column. TWIR author Justin Mock will ‘pen’ a temporary column in the interim called “Catching Up With”, wherein we link up–and catch up–with trail runners and ultrarunners who’ve moved past competitive trail-ultra running and onto other aspects of life and running.]
Nick Clark was hunting Kilian Jornet late in the 2010 Western States 100. Third place was on the line, and Clark passed Jornet shortly after No Hands Bridge, less than four miles from the finish. Clark couldn’t shake a suddenly ready-to-run Jornet though, and the two were even again at the bottom of the climb to Robie Point, only a mile and a half out. I’d been pacing Clark since mile 62 in Foresthill, but I was the first one to drop on that uphill sprint.
Jornet went on to finish third, and Clark fourth.
I ran my last race of significance a year later, the California International Marathon, and Clark’s UltraSignup results almost completely fizzled out after 2016. He finished one ultra in 2017, two in 2018, and none in 2019. I’d barely talked to Nick in the last, well, eight years, and couldn’t wait to catch up with the now 45-year-old race director and father of two.
We’re in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis right now, and all routines are off. I haven’t gone into the office in forever, and Clark has been managing the cancellation of the Fort Collins, Colorado Horsetooth Half Marathon, a 2,500-person event with a history dating back 47 years. Finally, we connected on our third try with a lot of family noise in the background on both sides.
“I haven’t disappeared,” Clark insisted with a bit of British attitude when I call this a ‘where are they now’ piece.
We really hadn’t talked for a long time, and he hems and haws a bit before opening up.
“The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica, was it 2012 or 2014,” Clark asks himself before we both consult his UltraSignup to confirm that it was 2014. “On the penultimate day, on a 25-mile stage, I stopped to pee and it was ruby-red blood. That was alarming, to say the least.” Clark was an incredibly tough runner and was able to run through a lot of pain, but even years later the seriousness of that first medical episode still fills his voice.
He finished that day’s stage though, consulted the on-race medic, and rehydrated until his urine returned to normal. Clark finished the next day’s stage too, but over the next few years, every so often and particularly after a long, hard effort, he peed blood.
Two years later–in 2016–Clark was missing badly in races. Even worse, “I’d been losing the passion for about a year at that point,” he recalled. Clark finished 45th at the June 2016 Lavaredo Ultra Trail and called the last 25 miles “an absolute death march.” A month later he lined up for the Hardrock 100 and dropped after 40 miles. He described internal pain to the race medic at Hardrock and the advice he received back finally led him to a doctor’s office.
On January 20, 2017, Clark had a low-grade cancerous tumor removed from his bladder. The finding months earlier was “traumatizing, extraordinarily shocking. It was life-changing,” Clark said, while pointing out loud to his two kids. That experience caused some reflection, and pushed running to the back seat.
Even before this, Clark had been feeling a loss both physically and mentally and had been fighting to maintain his prior form. He’d chased 100-mile weeks toward a peak that’d once seen him finish as high as third at both the 2011 Western States 100 and 2011 Hardrock 100, but after this and his surgery, “it was the final flick of the switch on being competitive.”
In 2012, Clark teamed with Pete Stevenson to launch Gnar Runners. Their first race was the Quad Rock 50 Mile in Fort Collins, Colorado, on a course close to Clark’s home. Stevenson has since left the company, and Brad Bishop now partners with Clark on what’s grown into a group of some dozen races, some in partnership with the local running club. He hates that he’s looking at contingencies for mid-August on his Quad Rock races, if they must be postponed from their normal May date, but his tone picks up at the prospect of the July 25 Never Summer 100k in a remote section of northern Colorado.
“I’m still super connected to the running community. It’s really about helping others to achieve their goals now. We have a 16-week training program for the Horsetooth Half Marathon, and have training events for the other races all summer. I do all of those. It’s part of why I still run,” he says with a fire ready-made for an awards ceremony.
He grows more casual then, and says with a laugh, “I wouldn’t call it training, but I run. I still show up at a Tuesday night track group and go through the motions. It’s socializing at workouts.” He admits that he’s about 20 pounds heavier than when at his “low 140s fighting weight” of years earlier, and now totals about 20 to 40 miles per week of running, mostly with his 13-year-old son, Alistair.
“He was second in the district at his eighth-grade cross-country meet,” Clark beamed proudly, while also lamenting the likely lack of a spring track season for his son. “He and I have raced a number of times and he’d never beaten me until November.” The two trained for and raced the Nike Cross Country Southwest Regional citizen’s race, a 5k on grass. Nick lost by a full minute, and he couldn’t have been happier about it.
“Alistair found running on his own, but I’m super excited that he found that passion. It’s fun to watch the kids and live vicariously through them.”
And it’s great to still have Nick Clark as part of ultrarunning, too.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Calling all Nick Clark stories! Have you run in one of his races or trained with him recently? What catch-up stories can you share?
- What athletes would you like to see us catching up with in future editions of this column?