A Blog Interview with David Clark – Ultra Runner
In 2013 a friend of mine ran the Leadville Trail 100 mile endurance race and recommended I watch the movie 1hundred. As I watched the camera crews following you and three other runners during the 2011 version of the Leadville Trail 100 two things happened. #1 – I became enthralled with running Leadville. #2 – I marveled at your story about overcoming the addictive forces of drugs and alcohol. You see I’ve had people in my life who have never been able to break that bound. You not only turned your life around but also thrive in ultra-endurance running events.
Q. Without stealing too much “thunder” from your book…when was the first time you thought, “Oh this is not good (the addiction).” And a second part, when was the first time you went for a run and thought, “Oh this is GOOD?”
David: I had a night when I was literally throwing up out of my truck window while driving down the road. I was barely able to hold off the impending unconsciousness that was coming as a result of the painkillers I swallowed earlier as I left the bar. Somehow I made it home without killing myself or anyone else. I realized I was in a fight for my life when I woke up the night day.
There were a few OH My God, moments… Good and bad, but I really remember running this loop around the recreation center by my old house- it was about 8/10 of a mile track and it had a small rise where the sidewalk went over a hill. After months of dreading this little 20 foot section of path, I sped over it one day. I couldn’t believe the extra energy that seemed to come from nowhere- I felt like a runner.
I love the movie 1hundred, I’ve watched it a ton…I toss it in if I’m stuck working-out indoors. I’ll pop it in the DVD player when there’s nothing good on late at night and the night before an ultra. I must confess I get all jacked up every time I see the four of you finish.
Q. How did the movie 1hundered come about, did you know the other runners prior to filming? Do you keep in touch with them?
A friend of mine told me that there was a documentary being filmed at Leadville in 2011 he also told me they were looking for athletes to be featured. I decided in an instant to send in a video of me telling my story- I am very thankful to Kevin Morris for selecting me for the movie, it was a huge honor.
I didn’t know either of the other runners before the film although Abby and I were both born in Rochester, NY and worked for the same company at the time. We found out later after the film that we had a lot in common. She is a dear friend today.
There were two people in the movie that played a large role in your story, your brother and Emily.
Q. How are they and how did their lives work out after Leadville?
My brother Chase is sill a huge part of my life. He is an amazing guy and one of the truest humans I have ever met. I am sorry to say he is still Out There struggling. The most amazingly difficult thing about recovery is accepting it’s unpredictable nature- you never know when it’s going to come or if it ever will. It is so important for people to know that if they have a loved one struggling no matter what that person may say, they may be on the edge of a break through moment or it may never come. The only thing you can do is love them in the moment and stay out of the way. Any help you give the struggling addict can only prolong the agony- as addicts we must fall and break before we can put things back together.
Emily and I had an amazing love affair. It was like a dragster tethered to a rocket ship. The love we shared was very profound and deep, but in the end we found it difficult to find a peaceful place together. We split up as a couple but we are great friends today and I think she is one of the most unique and exceptional people I have had the pleasure of knowing.
You’ve run Badwater, Leadville and Hardrock plus countless others
Q. What’s your favorite training run/race?
Badwater has always been the pinnacle of what I have been looking for in my life as an athlete and seeker. It’s an extreme and spiritual journey like no other. Your phones don’t work in Death Valley and there is no support from anyone other than your own crew. There are harsh conditions, climbs that break you down and a long road that seems to never end- you are disconnect from everything other than the task at hand. You must find your peace to complete Badwater, there is nothing there to help you or ease your comfort. I think it’s as close to a near death experience as you can have in every way.
I actually dropped at Hardrock this year after only 9 hours of running… I was going to try to complete Hardrock and Badwater on back to back weekends, but after my feet had been wet for over 8 hours I had to make a very tough call to save it for Badwater- It was a horrible choice and I don’t know how it will turn out next week- but I wanted to make sure I was ready.
Q. If you could go for a run with just one person, who would that be?
The Buddha or Jesus Christ, but I don’t think I could keep up with either of those guys so I’ll go with Will Ferrel.
When people find out I run long distances, after the crazy you’re not sane look, I get the same two questions, so I’ll ask you.
Q. What do you think about?
The whole time I am out there is a conscious effort to not think. As I always say “You must be out of your mind to run 100 miles” If I can’t clear my head in a moment I try to focus on a powerful thought like “I am a Champion” or “I am a machine”
Q. Does it hurt? And if it hurts for you like it does for us average runners…at what point does it start to hurt and how do you deal with it?
It does hurt. And the faster I go the more it hurts- the good news is that the race is over quicker though.
For me the pain is usually the worst early on around mile 30 as the body and mind try to reject the concept of continuing all day. I hear runners say things all the time like “I never thought about quitting” but that’s not me. I am always tempted to quit almost every time I run- In fact even in some of my best races I had to really suck it up and make myself keep going. And I am always afraid before a race because I know that my head will catch me at some point. But as a former addict, I know the value of telling yourself to shut up and go to work. The pain and the dark place is where my light learns to shine the brightest.
I noticed you ran with some folks who attended the Leadville running camps
Q. What’s the biggest mistake you see Leadville rookies making?
Going out too fast is always a biggie here at high altitude, it’s easy to dig a deep hole and find yourself in a world of hurt. The problem from that point is some folks blame it on a bad day or lack of preparation and call it quits. The bottom line is you have to believe you can do this, it’s not enough to say you won’t quit, you have to know you’ll make it or your body won’t allocate the resources to get you through the lowest points.
Q. What can us sea level/work a day runners do to get ready for the high elevations of Leadville?
I always suggest you train to your weaknesses no matter what, and focus on what you CAN do. Yes it’s great to train at altitude, but if you can’t do that, make sure every other part of your game is ready. Show up as fit as possible, fuel perfectly and fight it out.
I experienced this with Badwater. I can’t train to run in the heat like others can, so I just go to work here as best as I can.
Looking into the future.
Q. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I would like to think that I will continue to evolve as a person, a musician, a business owner and as a father. I don’t know if I will still be running or if I will have moved on to something else. But I would hope that no matter I do, I will try to do it as well as I possible can.
It is also very important to me that I continue to grow spiritually and to help as many other people as possible. I know that serving others makes me more happy and more peaceful than anything else can.
Q. If someone happens to be reading this blog and they are at that critical junction of their life. Asking, Do I take the next drink, snort or shot…..or tie my shoes and go for a run. What words would you offer them?
I would ask them if drinking or drugging has ever made them more happy? I think it’s important to be very in touch with how bad your life is with substance abuse in it. When the pain of staying where you are is bad enough- you’ll change. Even if you can’t see the way out yet. Some times the best way to see the way out is to run blindly in any direction. I would also invite them to reach out to me if they wanted to talk.
Thank you very much for taking the time to appear on my blog. I’m inspired by your story, your recovery, your life and your running. I hope one day to make it to Leadville and I hope we get to go for a run.
You can pick up a copy of David’s book here.
A short video from David himself about his book.