Calm, Cool, Collected: 5 Questions With Nick Clark

Nick Clark balances family and work life with his ultrarunning pursuits. Photo: Pearl Izumi

In the 100-mile distance, it’s about the guy who slows the least over the course of the race, not the one who finishes the strongest.

Elite mountain ultrarunner Nick Clark, 39, has a family, a full-time job as a copy editor and writer for an international education company, co-runs Gnar Runners, a race directing business, volunteers to put on a local race series in his hometown of Fort Collins, Colo., and consistently finishes in the top five, often setting new course records, at race distances from 10K to 100 miles.

He started off 2013 with a commanding first place finish in the Fuego y Agua 100K in Nicaragua in February and scored another first at the Pilot Hill 25K in Wyoming this past June. Clark has finished two races out of four in his attempt at completing and setting a new record for the Grand Slam Series of Ultrarunning. That means he must officially finish the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run in California, Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run, Leadville Trail 100 Mile Run (he finished third in 2012) in Colorado and Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run in Utah, all in the year, and doing so faster than 74:54, Neal Gorman’s record setting time from 2010.

For those of us who have a hard time staying healthy and primed for two marathons in a season, how do you stay healthy for four 100-milers?

The most important thing is to put in the training. Western States was the first race, so I trained to race it hard. For the rest of the races, I’ll play it by ear. I definitely take a week of complete rest after a 100-miler, and then start a reverse taper. It gets me back into a running rhythm and helps me build up for the next race. But, I focus on keeping runs flat to save my quads for race day.

How do you fit in your training?

I get up early to get in a run before the kids go to school. Two days a week I meet a group at 6 a.m. for a 90-minute run. I work from home and my schedule is flexible, so I log another 60-90 minutes at lunch. One or two days a week, I’ll have late afternoon workouts. For ultra training, the most important thing is back-to-back long runs. Saturday and Sunday, I start running by 5 or 5:30, and aim to get home between 10 and 11, so I don’t impact my family’s day too much.

Nutrition and hydration have to be important to your success. Any special trade secrets?

I eat extra protein in the week after a race as a way to help my muscles recover. This summer it’s been lean beef, chicken, some fish and lots of eggs. Otherwise, I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to nutrition. I eat a balanced diet and cook fresh, but don’t get obsessed about how many grams of protein I’m consuming. My favorite quick lunch is to cook up some eggs with leftover meat.

When I train, I won’t take in any calories unless I’m out for more than four hours. It’s a way to train my body to burn fat more efficiently and prepares me for race day.

During races, my stomach tends to go south by mile 50 or 60. I’ll eat a couple gels an hour for as long as I can, as well as some fruit. But once my stomach feels rough, it’s a question of taking in what I can. I rely on Coke and water. For race hydration, I drink according to thirst.

How do you balance the many aspects of your life?

Having a patient wife and flexible job certainly helps, but I still want to minimize the impact on my family. Getting up early to run and running during the day both help. It’s also what my kids know. They think that running a whole bunch is just what people do. The local race series I direct is a family affair for us and my whole family comes out to help. My 6-year old is also into running. He has his own fastest time on the trail behind our house and really gets into it. I support and encourage him, but never want to push.

What happens after the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance run in September?

Taking at least a couple of weeks off from running is a definite. I’ll also cut back on my mileage for the rest of the year. My offseason project is to keep working towards my goal of summiting all of the ranked peaks in Larimer County, where I live. There are 255 and I’ve done about 105 so far. Many of them don’t have trails to the summit, so it involves lots of bushwhacking and is definitely more of a hiking deal than running. At the beginning of the year, I’ll figure out races for 2014 and get back into a training rhythm by February.

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