It turns out that running a half marathon is harder than walking a 10K. That was the first running lesson learned by Crystal Clark, a self-described non-athlete growing up.
Clark, whose favorite race distance now is 50 miles, began her running journey at a company picnic. A friend was training for a half marathon and after a few beers, it sounded like a good idea to Clark. “How much harder could running a half-marathon be? Spoiler alert – it was a lot harder!”
Still she found joy in running and it was her salvation when she went through some tough times in her late 20s. “Running saved me. I would put on my shoes and just run until I was exhausted. It was very healing.”
Clark has completed two dozen marathons and ultras, including the Boston Marathon. About six years ago, she not only won an ultra but set a course record that literally will never be broken. It was at the six-hour Hearts and Health Run-Walk in West Chester, Ohio.
“That was a fun race,” she says of the 1.4-mile loop that went around a lake. “It was a small race and a hot day. So I’m not particularly talented but was able to hang on longer under those conditions. The funny part is that I set a course record that day which will always stand because that was the last year for that race. I think the best part of winning that day was having my son there. Of course, he didn’t understand why I didn’t win every race after that.”
Now 45, Clark has embarked on a five-year plan. When she turns 50 she wants to do a multi-day event, “something epic to celebrate.”
Between now and then she wants to finish a 100-miler. She DNF’d (did not finish) at Tunnel Hill but was credited with a 50-mile finish. But more importantly, she is embracing the journey.
“This current year has been all about becoming fitter and a stronger runner,” she says “I’m now running faster than I did in my 20s. I won a small local 5K. I finished third overall in a women’s half marathon. And this fall I’m going to shoot for a sub-3:30 road marathon.”
From listener to podcaster
Clark is recognized for her contributions to the Heartland Running podcast.
In early 2017, she discovered podcasts and started listening to running-themed ones for motivation.
“That’s when I stumbled across the Heartland Running Podcast. It quickly became one of my favorites just because the content was different from other podcasts and the interviews felt more like you were listening to friends talk.”
Clark became active in the podcast’s Facebook group and bonded with founder and host Stephen Lee. “One day Stephen reached out and asked if I would join them on the podcast. We recorded a test episode and the rest is history.”
She joined co-hosts Lee and Andy Cloud where they talked about running, interviewed guests and promoted the sport in an engaging manner. Suddenly, tragedy struck.
The friendship between Clark and Lee blossomed. They quickly became training and racing partners.
“Our goal for the year was Tunnel Hill 100,” recalls Clark, who is an ambassador for Ultra Running Magazine. “Leading up to that race, we ran Run Under The Stars (10 hours), The Hawk 50 mile, and The Bourbon Chase relay as part of an ultra team. We were both in great shape and looking forward to our first 100-mile race.”
Lee passed away in his sleep two days after The Bourbon Chase.
The podcast, of course, was put on pause.
“With the encouragement and support of Stephen’s son, Chandler, we were able to keep going,” Clark says. “Fast forward and almost six months to the date, my husband had a heart attack that resulted in open heart surgery. Life just felt overwhelming and I decided to walk away from the podcast for a while.”
The weekly podcast has been on hiatus since May 2018. “The time has come to change that,” she says. “Of course in the middle of deciding to relaunch it, we decided to sell our house and move. However, I do have my podcasting space picked out in the new house and new episodes will be coming — eventually.”
When the podcast returns, Clark envisions returning to its core value — celebrating everyday runners.
“I think focusing on everyday runners is just more relatable,” she says. “It is inspiring to see people who are able to balance their running goals with family, work and other obligations. I think we can all learn from each other. In fact, that’s what I love about having a podcast. If there is a topic or person I’m interested in learning more about, the podcast is a perfect vehicle to reach out. I selfishly get to have these amazing conversations but also hope there are others out there that will either learn something or at the very least just be entertained.”
Name: Crystal Clark
Hometown: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada.
Number of years running: 18
How many miles a week do you typically run: Currently around 45 to 55.
Point of pride: Getting married at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in 2004.
Favorite race distance: 50 mile.
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Breakfast is always either blueberry oatmeal or avocado toast
Favorite piece of gear: I’ve recently become obsessed with Rabbit running shorts. The trails ones are especially amazing with all of their pockets.
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: I never run with music.
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: Fall down 7 times, get up 8.
Where can other runners connect or follow you:
Heartland Running: www.heartlandrunning.com