Catching Up With Nick Clark

[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.

Nick Clark (right) on the 2011 Hardrock 100 men’s podium with champion Julien Chorier (center) and second-place Dakota Jones. Only two weeks before, Clark also took third at the Western States 100. Photo: iRunFar/Meghan Hicks

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.

Clark (right) on his way to winning the 2013 Wasatch Front 100 Mile. Photo: iRunFar/Meghan Hicks

“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.

Clark (front left in red) on a group training run. Photo: Adele Cross

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.

In race-director mode. Photo:  Cam Cross

“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.

Running with his son Alistair. Photo: Ed Delosh

“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?

With Alistair. Photo: Cam Cross

Nick Clark. Photo: Erin Bibeau

Justin Mock

is a family man, finance man, and former competitive runner. He gave his 20s to running, and ran as fast as 2:29 for the marathon and finished as high as fourth at the Pikes Peak Marathon. His running is now most happy with his two dogs on the trails and peaks near his home west of Denver.

There are 40 comments

  1. olga

    Now that’s a great piece. Nick is an amazing human, from his high race profile days through race directing and definitely as a friend. The fact that he stays at it, directing ultras, is so great, because he knows stuff, and he “runs” them old school. Thanks, Nick. Really wish I lived an hour North just for that – GNAR training runs and the camaraderie you created. See you at Quadrock, May or August.

  2. Sarah

    He is such a stand up guy. In 2017 I ran the Jemez 50k and saw Nick sitting at the finish line having just finished the 50 miler a bit before my finish. I went up to say hi and tell him that I had been following his running for years, and of course congratulations. He said thanks and immediately asked how my race went with genuine interest.

    Thanks for the great article highlighting him

  3. Gary Gellin

    Nick Clark! One of my favorite people! I think we met at the Lake Sonoma 50 in 2012. I remember in his blog post about the race he said “Gary was running an annoyingly choppy tempo according to his heart rate monitor”. We had a good laugh and he even asked me 4 years later for feedback on pacing strategy at the Lavaredo Ultra in Cortina, Italy. The trip to Italy is where we really bonded. He and I both fell apart at that 2016 Lavaredo Ultra around the 80km mark. Actually, I was much worse for wear and Nick had to discourage my self-pity party before saying goodbye a final time. But my best memory from that time was touring Venice with Nick, my wife Holly, and fellow ultrarunner/RD Sebastian Cote. We ended up in a tiny locals-only bar on the island of Murano to watch Italy beat Spain in a championship football game. Everyone in the bar went berserk and Nick was dancing with joy. I’ve got video!

    1. Nick Clark

      Such fond memories of that trip, Gary. Who knew it could be so hard to find a TV to get in front of to watch a game of football while in Italy, but we ended up in a gem of a location.

  4. Elijah Flenner

    I have many great memories of running with Nick, and I attribute him for getting me started into ultra running. Before I raced ultras, I loved long days in the mountains. One of my most memorable days in the mountains was my first big day with Nick. I really wanted to do the Radical Slam in Rocky Mountain National Park, and I convinced Nick and another friend Jamie to give it a go. The route includes Longs Peak and six satellite peaks (Meeker, Pagoda, Storm, Mt. Lady Washington, Battle, and Estes Cone). What really impressed me about that day was more than Nick’s fitness, which I knew was impressive, but that he also has great mountain and was just a great person to spend a day in the mountains with. That day lead to several great forays to the high country with Nick.

  5. Brett Harkey

    A true gentleman and one of the best ambassadors of the sport that I’ve ever seen. I’m honored to call him a friend and glad to get to roam around our local trails with him regularly. In 2013, not long after he had finished racing Ian Sharman all summer in the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, I caught up to him on the way up to the summit our local signature mountain, Horsetooth Rock. I told him I was thinking of jumping into ultras and running the Quad Rock 50. He said something like “you can do it, it’s not THAT hard”. Classic Nick Clark understatement. I finished Quad Rock on my birthday the next spring and haven’t looked back. Thanks for the nudge, Nick.

  6. Mike H

    Enough private stories and chances to observe his character — Nick’s a great guy.
    He truly and enthusiastically encourages anybody, regardless of age or gender or experience or ability, to get out and race and train.
    Thanks for getting a bunch of us up early, Nick — whether it’s for Quad Rock or Never Summer, a summer mountain outing, or a random winter training run in the dark.

    Now, it’s exciting to see Alistair outrun his old man — Nick held on as long as he could and didn’t make it easy!
    Not sure if his daughter is outclimbing him yet, but it’s just a matter of time.

  7. Ryan Quinnelly

    I’m so happy to see a profile of Nick here! My girlfriend and I admired his running from afar until moving to Fort Collins in 2013 and we began going to his Towers Time Trial Group runs. We went on to run he and Pete’s races several times, join him for workouts, group runs, and a fatass from his home, as well as socialize as an extension of those things. I right away appreciated how at the time we first moved there in spite of being one of the most talked about ultra runners in the country (he was competing for the Grand Slam record at the time) he was super approachable and down to earth. He rarely mentioned his own accomplishments but often noted if you ran particularly well at a workout, remembered your upcoming races, and to have that amount of interest from someone so revered meant a lot to me. Unfortunately we moved back to Virginia in 2016, and what we miss most is that community Nick really helped grow. Nick if you’re reading this Emily and I have tried to copy everything we learned from you guys over here in the Shenandoah Valley!

    1. Nick Clark

      Great to hear from you, Ryan! The Vertical Beer Mile has never been the same since you guys headed back east. Perhaps a guest appearance one of these years?

  8. Ryan Burch

    I’m grateful for the miles and vert I’ve shared with this man. Before the 2008 Run Rabbit Run 50 Bryan Goding tipped me off to watch out for Nick Clark, a recent CO transplant who was running his first 50 miler. We chatted after the race and shortly thereafter started training together to figure out this Ultrarunning thing. It was inspiring to watch his growth in the sport as well as his fashion sense steadily improve throughout the years. Before he was “The Nick Clark 100 Mile Dragon Slayer” he was “Nick Clark rockin’ cargo shorts, mismatched gloves and his wife’s sunglasses”. Before the days of Strava and segments he could tell you the local history of the fastest times up Towers Rd, Round Mtn, and the other local proving grounds. I loved watching his build up to Western States each summer. You know it was getting serious when he would do every training run with two bottles (to strengthen his arms just enough) and finish with a Grim Reaper (300 foot climb for mental callousing).

    Beyond the running I’m thankful he’s my friend. Through the peaks and valleys of my life I’ve appreciated his encouragement, calming spirit, and enthusiasm to schwack up some random hilliside in Larimer County. Though his competitive days have wound down he continues to share the love of running with thousands through his races and involvement with the Fort Collins Running Club. Thanks for who you are Senor.

  9. Rob Erskine

    The greatest compliment I can add is that if you didn’t know about all his running accolades already, then you wouldn’t know them. It’s been amazing to see this Fort Collins trail running community thrive under Nick’s humble leadership. I do miss those days of the cargo shorts though:)

  10. Ian Sharman

    Great to read this and I’ve shared a lot of mid-race miles with Clarky and always love his gruffness. You don’t know how many times people at aid stations told me that he was just a couple of minutes ahead and looked like he was spent, yet he was never any closer by the next aid station.

  11. KristinZ

    Nick–truly class act–he remembers you even when you’re not particularly memorable… unless it’s my two absolute debacle finishes at 2 of his races… and then he doesn’t judge… at least outwardly… but he saves you the last burger :) ha! Thanks for welcoming everyone from the back of the back through to the front, Nick. Best wishes for health and taking adventures exactly how you wish to take them.

  12. Kiran Khadka

    I met Nick few years back during one of the local group runs. He and his group is one of the reasons I fell in love with trail running. He does tremendous job conducting some of the local races which are top notch in front range. Any one who wants to get into trail racing, he has races with all varieties. Highly recommended !!

  13. Jacob Rydman

    Some fond memories with Nick:

    2011 – Pacing him at the WS100 from Green Gate to the Finish (3rd overall) and watching him, again, battle with Kilian

    2012 – Partaking (and helping with some setup) with the Inaugural Quad Rock 50 – fantastic event.

    2013 – Finishing 4min behind Nick at the 2013 Lake Sonoma 50 …. the Hay-Barrel finish line hangout at Lake Sonoma (along with a plethora of Racer 5’s!) was the best post-race environment (of “fast people”) I still have ever seen.

    2014 – Pacing Nick from Foresthill to the (thankful) Finish at the WS100 – That was a rollercoaster of a day – some highs, sandwiched between many lows :)

    Nick, AJW, Craig Thornley, Dave Mackey & Geoff Roes were such pillars in our sport during that time in terms of their mentorship & how much they invested in the “young guys” like myself. Forever grateful.

    1. Nick Clark

      Jacob, you and the Curlys are such a central part of my Western States memories. The knowledge and passion you guys had for the local trails and the race was infectious and huge part of why I loved to come back year after year. You saw me at my best and worst out there, and I’m just glad we were able to turn it around in 2014 and finish with a proud sprint for the finish. Thanks for keeping me going that day.

  14. Kevin

    Great article. I wondered what happened to him.

    Although I don’t root for people in the sport, Nick is one of those people (maybe Courtney D is the other) that I always wanted to see do well. I have never met him, but he seems humble and down to earth.

  15. Wesley Hunt

    Nick Clark is the best, and I had a similar experience to KristinZ last summer when Nick recalled my Arkansas roots despite having only met me once years ago at Jemez Mountain. I loved following Ian and him when I broke into the sport in 2013, and I’ll never forget his kindness the first time we met.

    And as to Never Summer, it may be the single best experience of my two years in Colorado. Nick has surrounded himself with a great group of folks, and they’re doing great things for the ultra and general running community.

    Thanks, Justin, for making the conversation happen in less than optimal circumstances.

  16. Greg Smith

    Great article! Enough about Nick, though:) A few years ago after one of the free Totoise and Hare’s he directs, his son Alistair (10 years old) came up and told me what a great race I had. That after my slow, plodding pace, and Alistair’s six-minute miles. I was so impressed–that kid really takes after his Dad!

  17. Alex May

    Though I was never nearly the caliber of runner as The Nick Clark (TNC), I have been fortunate enough to share many hours and miles on the trail with him over the past 11 years. One of my favorite memories was sitting with him and his family in a hotel in Sheridan, WY a few hours he finished his first 100 mile race, the Big Horn 100 in 2009. He reflected on his experience in the race and very seriously said that he doubted he would race any more 100 milers. We all know how that turned out… He is an inspirational runner and a great person. I am so glad to call him my friend.

  18. Nick Davis

    Big Nick’s ability to balance family, running, and work has always been an inspiration to me. He is the embodiment of “just do it” – there is no wasted time or energy if you go all in, and when you do, you have a blast. Guy has made a positive impact on more people than he can ever imagine.

  19. Brendan Trimboli

    I met Clarky at the Chubby Cheeks fat-ass run in 2010 back when I was cutting my first ultramarathon teeth.

    He was kind enough to drag me around Horsetooth for many miles, and even let me–a complete greenhorn–pace him through some of the roughest stretches of Hardrock in 2011. Here we are at Kroger’s:

    Thanks for being a mentor in my early days, Nick — I have enormous respect and admiration for what you’ve done for the ultrarunning community.

  20. Pete

    I wish the amazing duel of the Sharman vs. Clark Grand Slam summer of 2014 had been filmed. Two fierce elite competitors yet two of the nicest people.

  21. Amy O'Connell

    I discovered Nick back in 2011 through his blog. His way with words made you feel like you were running right next to him at his races. It was inspiring. When my friend Abby decided to take a stab at the Grand Slam in 2013, I told her that Nick was the guy she should talk to since he was doing the Slam that year too. I had never met him, but his mental grit and toughness was legendary – exactly what she needed in a mentor. Thanks to Nick, Abby went on to win the Grand Slam for women and well, we all look back so fondly at the Sharman vs. Clark duel. I finally met Nick in person that year and was immediately won over by how nice and down to earth he was. After his 6th place finish at Western States, he drove back to Robie to see Abby in her final stretch. As exhausted as he must have been, I was beyond impressed that he would do that for his athlete.

    In 2015, Nick agreed to coach me when I let him know I had gotten in to UTMB. If anyone has been coached by Nick, you know, he does not mess around. The mileage was big, the expectations were high, and the expertise was priceless. Every week I would get long emails with not only my training schedule for the week, but explanations for each workout, tips, encouragement and more. He was was so invested – something I’ve yet to find in anyone since. Nick got me into the best shape of my life and believed in me like no one else ever has. I will always look back at 2015 as my best year of running and I have Nick to thank for that. He is a wonderful human and his continued passion for the sport and its people is incredible. Hope to see you in July Nick!

  22. Jim Skaggs

    I had the privilege of staying in the same house as Nick and the rest of the Pearl Izumi crew during the 2011 WSER. As a certified middle of the pack runner, this was unreal for me to be hanging out with some of the stars of our little sport as well as running arguably the most famous ultra out there. I remember them discussing race strategy amongst themselves, then Nick asking what my strategy was. And he really wanted to know. I only wanted to finish. Definitely a running highlight for me.

  23. DJ

    Glad to hear Nick is doing ok up there in Colorado. I remember chasing him for most of a 100k on the island of Ometepe about a decade ago. Great guy to travel with.

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