Recently, I had the opportunity to conduct an email interview with elite ultra runner, Nick Clark. Nick is a Pearl Izumi sponsored athlete making a bit of a splash in the ultra running world. Having proven his abilities in a range of road and trail races over the last several years, he made his 100 mile debut at the Bighorn Trail 100 in 2009 with a second place finish. He continued to put up impressive numbers at a range of events, including a “Vertical Beer Mile,” and in 2010 he finished fourth at the Western States 100 with a time that would have won most years, then later in the year he was first at the Wasatch Front 100.
Nick has stepped up his ultra game in 2011 with an aggressive schedule that includes three 100 mile races. So far this year he’s finished third at both the Western States 100 and Hardrock 100, just two weeks apart, and set a new combined record for athletes running both events by over three hours. Some of his other feats this year include finishing third at the American River 50, and winning the Jemez 50. Still to come for Nick in 2011 is the Mont Blanc 100 (August 22).
When I began formulating interview questions for Nick for the Dailymile Community Blog, it occurred to me that I should let the Dailymile Community itself conduct the interview, so I asked Dailymilers what they wanted to know and got a lot of fun and interesting questions to pass along. As the guy putting this thing together however, I’m claiming the first question for myself.
Mark C.: With all that you must do to maintain condition and prepare for a busy event schedule, how do you find time for anything else? Or do you?
Nick Clark: Yes, I have plenty of other things going on in my life besides running, including a full-time job, two kids, a wife and the joys of home ownership (!). I am fortunate to have a job where I can work from home and essentially set my own hours. When I’m in the thick of training for the summer season I’m usually running twice a day through the week, so I’ll get up early to run before work/before the family gets up and then run on my lunch hour(s) or try to sneak a run later in the day. I’m always looking for running windows, but try not to sweat it if I miss a run here and there. As an example, yesterday I was up at five, ran for three hours, showered, and then cooked a big old kids’ (and adults’) feast for my son’s fifth birthday.
William: I’d like to know more about your training philosophy(ies). (ie…his views on speed work, mileage, elevation gain…etc). Which training things have worked for you and which haven’t? How would you advise someone about becoming a fast trail/ultra-runner?
Nick Clark: Different things work for different people, and I guess a lot of it depends on what type of events you run. I’m typically training for long mountain-type races, so I emphasize elevation gain and – just as importantly – elevation loss, in addition to mileage. That said I still think that raw speed has a role to play, so I try to get to the track or do intervals once a week. I also like to do 10-12 mile progression runs, where I’m running 10k pace over the last three or four miles. Typically, I do those progression runs on rolling routes once a week. Heavy two-day mileage – back-to-back long runs – is also important.
Overall, the two most important training aspects in making improvements in the trail/ultra space – in my opinion – are consistency and specificity. If you race a lot of trail, then run a lot of trail in training.
Dave F.: Ultra athletes often thrive on the obscurity of what they do… would you like the sport to get more visible and mainstream coverage?
Nick Clark: I’m not sure we (ultrarunners) thrive on obscurity, but we certainly tend to enjoy the serenity of long hours alone on the trail. I think the sport is becoming increasingly visible, especially as shoe and apparel companies realize the marketing potential of such a seemingly extreme version of the sport (of running). The ultra market itself is not that big, but a lot of companies seem to see value in sowing seeds there as a means of growing into the broader mainstream of the running market. At least that has been the case with the companies I have been involved with.
To answer your question more directly, I would love to see the sport continue to grow, and I am confident that it will. If we can leverage the popularity of trail running to help preserve wilderness areas and open spaces, then all the better. At the end of the day though, ultra running is a pretty boring sport from a spectator standpoint, so I doubt it will ever get that big.
What mental tips do you use when the chips are down and you need to dig deep to complete the race? I can understand the physical requirements, but the mental side of it amazes me. What on earth do these guys think about when they embark on a 50 mile or 100 mile run?
Nick Clark: Not a whole lot to be honest. A lot of mental energy is taken up with monitoring your system and problem solving as things crop up, but generally speaking I try to maintain a white noise in my head. I find that time moves quicker if I can zone out like that. If my mind wants stimulation, I often find myself trying to solve mathematical problems.
Brian G.:1. What do you do to keep your mind focused during extreme long distance events? 2. Are you mad? 3. Why?
1) See above. 2) No. 3) Why not?
I’ve seen teenagers spend a full day playing computer games, which completely boggles my mind. Running all day is really not that extreme of an undertaking if you compare it to the ways other people kill time. A lot of the things we do to fill our days are unnecessary in the grand scheme of things – I guess I just choose to fill a few hours of my day every day with running, and then celebrate that every now and then by doing it for an extended period. Back home (in the UK), a game of cricket can last five days. Nobody thinks that’s particularly weird.
Lisa P.: What do you do to counter all the running? What do you do you do to recover from injuries? Do you do yoga/ stretching? If so what stretches?
Nick Clark: I don’t do a whole lot outside of actually running in terms of training/recovery. I run through a lot of minor pains and injuries, which I am sure is a terrible idea.
Kevin: What percentage of body fat do you carry going into an ultra race compared to a road race marathoner?
Nick Clark: Hmm, no idea. I’m usually a good 10 pounds heavier in the winter when my mileage is lower than when I’m in peak training in the spring/summer.
1. Fluids, fuel, and electrolytes. What does he need during 100s to make it through? Does it change as the race progresses? 2. Name one or two pieces of equipment he runs with that a novice ultra runner may not think of (like bear spray, toilet paper, pocket knife, etc.).
Nick Clark: I run with as little as possible when racing. Aside from shoes, shorts and a shirt, I carry a water bottle (two for long stretches between aid stations or if it’s exceptionally hot), gels, electrolyte capsules and a jacket/gloves/hat around my waist if I’m in the high mountains.
Nico B.: What is your approach to nutrition while running long events?
Nick Clark: Gels every 30 minutes. I supplement with fruit at aid stations, and then take 1-3 electrolyte caps an hour depending on how much I’m sweating. Later in races, if my stomach is sick of gels, I’ll fill my bottles with soda from aid stations and try to get through that way.
Jane R.: Have you always been great at running or was this a new endeavor for you, if so when did you start?
Nick Clark: Started running marathons ten years ago and ultras five years ago. Before that my main sporting pursuit was rugby. Running for the sake of running was not something I enjoyed as a rugby player.
Steve S.:What’s the secret to a swift recovery from the really long races?
Nick Clark: Not to pimp a sponsor product, but I use Ultragen from First Endurance as a recovery drink (whey protein based) and find it to be very effective. Beer helps too. After 100-milers, I’ll take three to four days off from running then start back up with some light running. For 50 mile races and shorter, I’m usually back running easy stuff the next day. I find that ‘active recovery’ with light jogging tends to aid recovery.
Lisa E.: Wanna race?
Nick Clark: Sure. If you’re ever in Fort Collins, come out to the Towers Road Hill Climb Time Trial on a Thursday night. We (the Fort Collins Trail Runners) do it as a handicapped event, which means that everyone has an equal shot at getting to the top first. However, if you want to go mano a mano without the handicap, we can arrange that too. (Mark C.’s note: The Towers Road Hill Climb Time Trial in a 1700 foot climb over 3.5 miles, starting at over 5,500 feet elevation. Come prepared.)
Iain: Is impressive facial hair compulsory if you want to be an ultra runner?
Nick Clark: No, but apparently it helps. My beard’s a bit scraggily, so maybe that’s why I keep coming up short in my races.
A special thank you to the dailymile community for submitting a great (and fun) series of questions, and also to Nick Clark for taking the time to answer questions from dailymilers during the run-up to Sierre-Zinal, one of the world’s premiere mountain races of 31K with 2200 m of ascent and 800 m descent (August 14), and the Mont Blanc 100 (August 22, 2011).
For more about Nick check his personal, ‘Rocky Mountain Dirt Running-And Some Pavement Pounding Too!‘ and find his vital stats, race schedule, and more about Pearl Izumi Ultra Running at their Website.