Runner Profile: Dan Clark

Cheers for the nomination Caz, hard act to follow your many years as a red but I’ll give it a whirl!

Sporting background

My school years were all football, football, football. By the age of 16 I was a scrawny full-back playing in the local men’s leagues of Boston, Lincolnshire. If my school had a Saturday morning game then I was playing 3 times on a weekend as well as training during the week. Running was never on the agenda.

Apart from the annual school cross country event, my first recollection of running was when Eve Ford moved in with her mum at the opposite end of the village which just happened to be a convenient 3 mile circular route. The step dad was on to me pretty quickly so my running career stalled before it ever got going!

My football continued throughout my teens before playing for Suffolk College when I moved away from home. Still not running, I met Liz when I was 21 and when we had George and moved to Kirton, I played a few years for the Sunday team there at ‘The Rec’ – the start/finish of the FRR Friday 5 race as it remains today.

During 1998, one of the player’s wives was promoting a charity for Tourette’s Syndrome, how apt, and had 3 places going for the ‘99 Flora sponsored London Marathon, she put it to the team and I just said ’yes!’ to a free place,  all I had to do was raise £100, oh and run 26.2 miles, which at the time seemed an inordinate number. All I really knew at the time about the race was the name Eamonn Martin and that it was in London. I figured I’d need to practice this running thing. Getting hold of a training plan back then was asking the one bloke at work who ran a bit. I don’t remember too much but I did a long run to St. Augustine’s church and back, around 14miles. I do remember however thinking how I’d nailed my training on the basis of doing more than half the marathon distance! There was no nutrition plan but Guinness was definitely involved. The event itself was a blur. Liz came to watch with a 2 year old George and a friend. I couldn’t walk for 3 days after and I got a standing ovation on my return to work from my mess room workmates. A seed was sown.

I returned to London in 2002 via the ballot. I collected a second medal in a similar time as before; around 4hrs 40min. Knee issues during the race ended my running for the next 5 years.

George proudly holding up my London Marathon medal from 2002

In 2007, a work colleague, Dennis Warner of Harwich Runners challenged 3 of us to take him on as a relay team in a half ironman in the New Forest. I was allocated the run leg, likely as I couldn’t swim and my bike was a more like a ‘Grifter’ than a racer. I ran a ‘solid’ 2hrs 10min on a tough, sandy route but we came up 5 minutes short of Dennis. Here a competitive seed was perhaps sewn, in running terms at least. In the following few years I did the odd Friday 5, with a Kirton best in the region of 37 ½ minutes. Achilles tendon issues took hold on a training run and I gave up running for good around 8 years ago. I was no longer playing footy, couldn’t run so turned to cycling, mostly to keep my weight down, I needed a challenge.

I bought myself a second-hand road bike one Christmas, blasted out 5 steady miles around Kirton on Boxing Day and was hooked. I decided there and then that I would cycle to my parent’s house 120 miles away by June. Here my desire for big challenges was born, I managed to do it but my God it took me all day – I’m pretty sure I chose June for the amount of daylight hours! I later did a few sportives and even joined a local cycling club (Wolsey) where I first met FRR’s very own, the lovely Karen Eaton, who was quicker than me even though she was recovering from reconstructive knee surgery. I guess speed just isn’t my thing! Cycling came and went and when we moved to Felixstowe in 2015 I was somehow inspired to go running again. I had a regular 5k route and absolutely fell in love with running by the sea and around Landguard peninsular. I was still having issues with the achilles but learning to manage it, Liz suggested I try out a session at Felixstowe Road Runners. No way, I remember seeing them tearing up the Friday 5 races back in the day; I would be way out of my depth. Secretly I really liked the idea; I had just discovered something called Strava in the summer of 2015. I started checking my times, trying to beat my averages. All on the same stretches of Landguard where I knew I wouldn’t see many people. I finally plucked up the courage to join a Tuesday session that Autumn and it changed everything. I remember clear as day Carrie running alongside me on the prom chatting away freely whilst I was blowing hard, barely able to speak. What had I done?

FRR – The Mighty Reds!

I’ve often said over the past few years that without the Road Runners I wouldn’t have any friends. This is so true today. I’ve had some great times and races either with or against someone in red. Here’s a few of my stand-out moments.

At Dublin Marathon where around 30 of us were spread around the capital, the first time properly getting to know the Readies and thanks to Bridget’s navigational skills we managed to find our hotel after going to the wrong one. ‘Bin Man’ Al Read and Dylan Pomietlo smashed the course that weekend and the whole lot of us ended up in Temple Bar getting threatened with expulsion for out-singing the Irish band with our rendition of some Oasis tunes and the DJ Ötzi classic ‘Heyyy Baby’, mostly orchestrated by reprobate George Clark.

Then there was Valencia, where the Duggan’s added a little more class and calm to proceedings and was ultimately to be my PB marathon, still standing today in 3hrs 25min. Jess Farthing was on ‘Dad duty’ and not running  but make no mistake he set a drinking PB that weekend, legendary.  A beautiful city and race to attempt a fast marathon.

Also, in the mix is the great plot for FRR’s male Lejog last year where the skulduggery of chasing the prize will live long in the memory. Peter Woods’ face when I turned up for my 3rdmarathon in 3 days, whilst he sat chatting in his comfy chair by the fireplace (regulars to the Great Barrow series will know) was a picture! I ended up doing 5 marathons in 5 days in the last 5 days of 2018, he pushed me all the way and close to breaking point! The shield sits proudly on my mantelpiece.

I can’t write my yarn without a mention of my good mate Shaun Good, always out supporting my running adventures. Following a failed attempt by both of us in our respective spring marathons of 2017 (Paris and Brighton) to hit our sub 3.30 targets, we decided to see if we could push for a different, seemingly impossible goal and enter the heady world of ultramarathons. That summer we trained relentlessly in sync and ran the full 100km of the Stour Valley together, SVP100. We finished in the top 30 and helped FRR to the team prize. I think both of us learnt a huge amount back then much of which we still apply today in our training and planning.

A well-earned pint after SVP100 2017

Favourite Race

This brings me nicely to my favourite race, simply no question it is SVP100. I’ve completed the past 3 years of this, gaining the coveted black T-shirt in the process, spending many miles with fellow FRR’s like Mark Ford (our last Chairman) who is something of a talent at distance running, Sam Linassi who this year left me for dead (smiling) after we ran the first 20-odd miles together, Shaun back in 2017 and not forgetting running in with my son George this year who I managed to catch on the last 2 miles of the 50k. Every year our formidable team of marshals led by Nicola Stevenson et al host Checkpoint 4, always lauded as the best of the lot and who am I to disagree, cheese and pineapple sticks, Esther’s Melons, the ladies’ water bottle-filling skills. It’s a big race with FRR at its heart and encompasses a key motivation why I run; the people involved. Among some of my other races I’ve met and stayed in touch with several brilliant people along the way from all around the country.

Other favourites

Another single favourite of mine is the Beachy Head Marathon; I ran the whole race with George last year. It’s a stunning route that takes in the famous ‘Seven Sisters’ of the South Downs. This was a truly memorable father and son day out with memories that will last a lifetime.

Beachy Head Marathon, 2018 with George

Running the past two Peddars Way ultramarathons with Jess Farthing is another favourite and despite a double DNF this year it continues to draw us back as we attempt a third one this coming January. Jess is a very funny bloke to run with and helps miles fly by.

Peddars Way 2018 with Jess Farthing at CP2

I also ran London Marathon for the third time this year thanks to getting lucky in the FRR rejection ballot, this time with Al Read. It was a great day of high fives in the capital. The FRR support on Tower Bridge was the stuff of legend, as was the 17 million you tube views of Al and me running past someone dressed as Big Ben getting stuck under the finish gantry.

London Marathon 2019 with Al Read and the Red Army on Tower Bridge

I’ve also run marathons in Paris and Berlin in the past couple of years, with George proving to be an able travel companion.

Going Further

After my first SVP100 attempt, I wanted a bigger challenge and signed up for my first 100 mile race in June 2018, Centurion’s South Downs Way 100. I loved the fear factor of entering a race with cut-offs that made it possible to run my best race but not complete, fear of failure is a great motivator!

Looking broken during the night of SDW100, making a right mess of my tailwind powder!

I finished 3 hours inside the cut-off in a time just shy of 27 hours. Running through the night was epic and surreal in equal measure. I loved the fact that they present you with a buckle, a traditional alternative to the medals in other races. I believe it hails from the iconic Western States Ultra in America which started as a horse race before humans joined in.

SDW100 finish with my supporters!

My biggest achievement to date is undoubtedly this July in perhaps the UK’s premier 100 mile event, the Lakeland 100; 105 miles of simply brutal if beautiful terrain in the Lake District. In its 11 year history there is a 50% failure rate, many of whom are indigenous to the area and mountains. For someone of my ilk hailing from the flat fens of Lincolnshire I am damn proud of this one. The race starts at 6pm on a Friday evening in July and you have 40 hours to complete. It is relentless. At times the weather was biblical rain, causing huge discomfort on saturated feet, blisters, mudslides, hallucinations and in total 50 hours without sleep. Simply a lifetime moment. I completed in a little under 39 hours. Never again, maybe.

Managing a smile after almost 39 hours in The Lakes

During a recce visit in May, I hiked the route with 5 other people (four of whom are from FRR) and a dog named Maverick, who was anything but. Following a life-affirming week, these people will remain friends for life and another great example of how the running world has enriched my life. Thank you to Jimmy, Shabba, Rachel, Magic, Rodders and legend dog.

Since my ‘comeback’ to running at the Paris Marathon in April 2017, I have completed 20+marathons and 10 ultramarathons over 50km. I think I may have found my niche but I do miss competing in some of the shorter stuff with FRR.

What’s next?

I’ve backed off heavy training for a couple of months as I’ve concentrated on recovery and supporting a few others. Liz and I flew out to Copenhagen to witness Shaun complete his epic Ironman journey in August, just a year after learning to swim – mental. A couple of weeks ago I travelled down to the south coast to support George and see him complete yet another ultra, 38 miles on the Downslink. He’s done epic things this year whilst raising money and awareness for his chosen charities STROKE and CALM. Last weekend a few FRR’s ventured out to Amsterdam where I was there primarily to support my wife who drunkenly decided to enter the marathon last New Year’s Eve. I cannot state enough how proud of her I am after being a non-runner a year ago.

I’ve also taken on a role as run director at the Felixstowe Prom Junior parkrun, established by my wife Liz in the summer.

With Peddars Way again in January I’m also hoping to make some of the Cross Country series this winter and I am already in Tarpley 20 in February. It will be good to run with a bunch of Reds again.

My next ‘big one’ is another Centurion 100 miler on the Thames Path in May next year. I’m going for a sub-24 hour finish time on this one so no ‘see if I can finish ‘approach this time! I’ll be on the lookout for a pacer or two for the last couple of legs so watch this space if anyone fancies it!

My adventures over the past couple of years have earned me enough ITRA points to put my name forward for the ballot for UTMB next August. This would just about be the pinnacle of what I can attempt in distance running, 105 miles around Mont Blanc and 27,000 feet of elevation. Fingers crossed I have some of Paul Schwer’s ballot luck come January!

Next Up!

For my next nomination I want to choose someone who I’ve huge admiration for owing to their exploits in the endurance running game and someone I’ve got to know pretty well over the last year or so. Over to you Rachel Crisp (Spud!)

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