Runners in the Wild: Erin Clark

The following was written by Erin Clark, member of The Raleigh Distance Project and currently in medical school at Campbell University. She talks life, running, school and how she balances it all to hit some pretty fantastic milestones.

I haven’t always been a morning runner. The story of how that happened is kind of a small-scale example of how things seem to go in life–things happen, I don’t think much of it, and then months later I look back and realize that each tiny detail was really part of an awesome master plan.

Before my second year of medical school in summer 2016, I was staying with a physician and her family for a family medicine internship in Brevard, NC. I had just run Boston for the first time and was planning to run one of the community races at the Sir Walter Miler, so I told her about it (aka bragged and then looked like an idiot) on our drive back from clinic one day. And then I found out that not only had she and her husband run Boston a few years prior, but they were both badass runners (sub 3 hour/2:40 marathoners). Macy runs for an hour before work every morning. Her husband Phil is a coach at Brevard HS/the Running Syndicate and writes for a bunch of running magazines including Runner’s World.

Following Macy’s example, I started running every morning before class–out my front door and around the Campbell campus and tobacco fields in Buies Creek. It was usually only 4 miles max, but it was consistent. When I moved to Raleigh that winter, I found more people who liked to run in the morning–more on the Raleigh Distance Project. Day by day waking up and getting out to run, I unconsciously created a habit–roll out of bed and get out the door. I started to get faster, my grades got better, and I had motivation to be more productive and go to bed early.

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When I ran just under 1:30 at City of Oaks in 2016, Phil reached out with an offer to coach me–he said “you’re getting seriously legit” and persisted after I won a 4-miler and then ran a 50k the next weekend (“Someday you’re going to ask me to coach you…and I will say yes”). I finally took him up on that before Boston and ran an 8min PR with the most consistent and fun marathon I had ever run. Phil coached me through studying for boards (2nd at the Biltmore 15k), summer adventures (a 70 mile week in Alaska), shorter races (a 5:19 road mile and 5:30 denim mile), and last-minute race registrations (top 20 at the VA 10 miler).

Then we started gearing up for the Richmond half, which would fall at the end of my 8-week internal medicine rotation. I was prepared for a tough training cycle, but I knew it was possible thanks to ladies like Megan Roche and Rebecca Tracy. When I had to get to the hospital by 6:30am for pre-rounding, I had a few solid weeks of 4am start times with only me and my dog out on the road. Even when I could only manage 2-3 miles, having that routine was important.

It wasn’t perfect or pretty a lot of the time. Eyes half shut, hair always in a messy ponytail braid, mismatched attempts at brightly colored clothes, pre-coffee brain, heavy legs. I struggle with hitting paces on solo workouts in general, and being half asleep or half frozen didn’t help much. Plus the emotional toll of taking care of really sick patients added up more than I expected. I got super frustrated with myself a few times, and sometimes my inability to say no left me stretched too thin and awake too late. But grinding through tempo miles and practice questions was worth it–I ran a 1:23:04 at Richmond. And then I passed my end of rotation exam a few days later.

It’s been flattering lately to have people tell me how impressed they are with my dedication and training and performance. But for me it’s just a fact, it’s not negotiable in my mind–my day starts with a run. And I’m excited to see what role these morning runs continue to play in my life’s master plan.

Other things I enjoy besides waking up early/running/being a medical student: drinking coffee, adventuring, taking Charlie to the dog park, yoga, coaching lacrosse, bible study & small group hangouts at Midtown Community Church, cooking, eating snacks, walking around downtown.

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Erin runs for The Raleigh Distance Project supported by Runologie. You can follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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