December, 2011

Rae Clark

Rae Clark becomes the first Ultra Hall of Fame inductee whose ultra career included a significant amount of what is today the signature element of American Ultrarunning: trail racing. Following a youth sports regimen of gymnastics and cycling, Clark's running career began in his mid-20's, when he got caught up in the "Running Boom" of the mid-1970's. Living and working in California's Silicon Valley, he found plenty of company in the Northern California hotbed of distance running. He gravitated quickly to high mileage and hard-paced workouts, tending to train with local runners who were faster than he. After only a few years of running he broke 3 hours in the 1978 San Francisco Marathon, his first attempt at the distance. Many years later, he would eventually run sub-2:30 for that "short" distance.

In 1980 Clark ran his first ultra, completing the Marysville to Sacramento 50 Mile (which would later become the Jed Smith Ultra) in just over 7 hours. That same summer he entered a race that had just emerged as the flagship event of the rapidly blossoming new sport of trail ultrarunning, the Western States 100 Mile. He finished in 6th place. Clark would become a regular frontrunner at Western States as the event grew in size and stature. He would finish it 13 times, with a best time of 17:11 and a best finishing place of 3rd. Through the early 80's he would leave his mark on other noteworthy trail ultras, winning, among others, the Grand Canyon 41-mile Double Traverse, the Timberline Trail 40 Mile, the Quicksilver 50 Mile, and the Pacific Crest Trail 100 Mile. In 1985 he also won the American River 50 Mile, the premier western 50 mile race.

Throughout the 80's Rae Clark divided his best competitive efforts just about evenly between trail and road/track ultras. In 1982 he demolished the course record of the hilly, high-altitude Lake Tahoe 72-Mile road race, running 9:06:14, a time which has still not been approached in the intervening 30 years. The same year as his American River 50 win, he traveled to southern California and ran away with the Southern Pacific TAC 50 Mile Championship in 5:17:38. This performance elevated Clark to a new level. He was now among the top dozen all-time Americans at 50 miles. He soon expanded his horizons. The following year, in Santa Rosa, CA he ran 152.2 Miles for 24 hours on the track, at that time the #2 all-time certified American performance. Later that year he ran 7:15 to finish 16th in an international field at the Torhout 100km in Belgium, and then won the AMJA 100km in Chicago in 7:18. In 1988 he took his first official USA national title, winning the 100km championship at the Edmund Fitzgerald Ultra, breaking 7 hours for the first time. The following year he lost to 3 others in the same championship despite breaking 7 hours again, but made history by being the 4th of 4 American men to break 7 hours in the same race. The group feat has never been duplicated since. In the late 80's/early 90's Clark also represented the U.S. as a member of the National 100km team to the World 100km on three occasions.

By the end of the 1980's Rae Clark's serious competitive ultra career was winding down. But he saved the best for last. In 1989 he traveled to Queens, New York where he won the USA National 100 Mile Road championship by over an hour. His 12:12:19 remains today, over 22 years later, the fastest 100 mile ever run by an American. Then, the following year, his masterpiece: At the USA National 24-Hour Track Championship in Portland, Oregon, he won by over 23 miles with a new absolute (best of both road and track) American Record 165.3 miles, clocking 13:05 for 100 miles en route. It still stands today as the American 24-Hour Track Record. Only last year did Scott Jurek barely eclipse it (in the World Championship on a road loop course), 20 years after Clark set the bar.

Rae Clark was the first American to become a true "Renaissance Man" of the ultradistance sport, excelling at a world-class level at all three race-type venues: Road, Track, and Trail. We welcome him into the American Ultra Hall of Fame.