Clark wasn't running in place on her treadmill

Posted: Monday, February 28, 2000

A treadmill?

Chris Clark winning the United States women's Olympic marathon trials by training most of her mileage on a treadmill is insane. It is stunning. It is unreal.

It is wonderfully amazing.

A treadmill?

That's like a hockey player preparing for a National Hockey League season by Rollerblading. Like a basketball player readying himself for an NBA campaign by shooting at the hoop above the garage. Like a baseball player blowing off spring training to take swings at balls thrown from a pitching machine.

Of course, given that simply negotiating the icy patches between house and car in Anchorage this winter was a matter of life and death, it is no mystery why Clark relied so heavily on indoor training. She didn't want to break a leg for last Saturday's race in Columbia, S.C.

The running world will never get over this. An unknown, unheralded, Alaska woman floats in from the frozen north and beats all of the nation's best while ignoring the unseasonable heat and humidity that by all rights should affect her the most.

Over and over we heard that Kenyans dominate men's marathoning because they run hills, at altitude, from their youth on. There is no treadmill tale in marathoning mythology.

Will the next generation of runners emulate Chris Clark, running 22 miles at a time on a treadmill, indoors, while watching videos? You've got to love it.

This is the most improbable Alaskan sports victory of all time.

Believe it.

Yes, the University of Alaska Anchorage men's basketball team upset then-No. 2 ranked mighty Michigan in a college basketball game in 1988. Still, on any given day, one team will ambush another.

Clark's feat tops that.

Yes, Libby Riddles drove her dog team through a vicious storm to outlast the front-running mushers and help put the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on the map in 1985. Still, Riddles had top dogs, and kennel partner Joe Garnie had already demonstrated they were poised to contend.

Clark's feet top that.

Yes, Tommy Moe won the Olympic gold medal in downhill skiing, and probably not even his immediate family thought it would come down that way. Still, Moe was a veteran of the World Cup circuit.

Clark's feat tops that.

All of these were memorable and significant triumphs. Yet Clark's is more unlikely.

Why? So many things were stacked against her.

Clark's best time may have ranked her 22nd on the list of competitors coming into the run, but she had little track record competing against top runners outside Alaska, so she was likely a 100-to-1 shot.

Clark is 37. While that is not necessarily old for a champion marathoner, it is an interesting time of life to be recording personal bests by seven minutes. Which Clark did by winning Saturday in 2 hours, 33 minutes, 31 seconds.

Clark is married, with two children, and has a job as a pathologist at Providence Alaska Medical Center. Which means she has a life beyond running. Which means she has responsibilities besides running. Which means she cannot be single-minded about running.

Clark is from Alaska. The long winters, extreme temperatures, and terrible footing conspire to make high-quality running difficult year-round.

Enough?

Well, Clark also trained on a treadmill. A treadmill? Movies as visual aid or not, most people have trouble tolerating the relentless repetition of the scenery in their bedroom, living room, or family room for long stretches on a treadmill. Certainly, Clark had to adjust the setting to the ``champion'' level and hope her house didn't shake apart as she pounded out the miles.

Many people must have thought Clark was merely running in place on her treadmill.

She fooled them all.

The funniest thing of all is that by keeping the temperature at 70 degrees in her house, Clark found it easy enough to acclimate to 80 degrees in South Carolina.

Imagine. Anchorage heat helped prepare her for victory.

This is a lady who put it all together under remarkable circumstances to record the greatest running accomplishment of her life. People of such heart and will are often called Olympians. That's why this fall, Clark will be running all the way to Sydney, Australia, to represent her country.

You don't have to know Chris Clark personally. You don't need to know anything about marathoning, or even be a sports fan. But if you're an Alaskan, you should be proud of Chris Clark today.



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