Listening to Amy Clark describe her passion for trail running, you want to end the call, throw on a pair of shoes and head for the woods. Her Twitter name, @dirtsparkle, seems to demonstrate the joy she receives from running in the woods, as it alludes to her somewhat quirky and irreverent mix of glamour girl and hardcore athlete.
"I added a Sparkle Athletic skirt that I wore with friends at a road race to my trail running kit. People went nuts about it and started to recognize me at other races," says Clark. Today, she owns 10 uniquely decorated skirts and wears them at every trail event she attends.
Clark, 50, grew up outside of New York City. Watching road-running legends like Bill Rodgers, Alberto Salazar, Joan Benoit, Grete Waitz inspired her to join the high school cross country team. At 25, she finished the New York City Marathon. Moving to Minneapolis has only added more adventure to her running experiences.
A few years ago, she shifted her attention from road to trail. “I came to trail running late in my running life. A friend, Kurt Decker and wife Sonya, invited me to join them on a trail run at Lebanon Hills Regional Park ,” says Clark. “It was a beautiful winter morning, with packed snow on the trail and a new group of runners to meet.“
Along the hilly 8-mile course, Clark heard people talking about 50 mile trail running events. “I didn’t know this kind of event even existed. I was immediately hooked," she says.
Juggling work and family, Clark finds a way to make running a central part of her life. “I’m an early bird runner with a headlamp. I’ve been sleep deprived for 15 years,” says Clark. “I’ve seen my share of fantabulous sun rises. I’m a happier person when I run. Three hours in the woods makes me feel fine.”
A long-time competitive roadrunner, Clark has embraced trail running races as both a volunteer and competitor. “What inspires me is going into that hard place and coming out the other side and seeing what you are made of,” explains Clark. “I get jazzed off of a 50k with lots of elevation. Can I do this, stay happy and not lose my marbles? Absolutely! The combination of mental and physical challenges that you have to go through in an ultra distance race is a great thing for me.”
Clark also finds the low-key, supportive grassroots approach to trail running appealing. “In our community, you run some races, then volunteer for a few more,” she says. “The trail community is so supportive and social. I get my energy from other people who are running and training.”
Recently, Clark joined a friend at 3am to pace her on a 100-mile race. “It was pitch black and we ran under brilliant stars. The aid stations are filled with people all night long. You won’t find that at a road race,” she says.
A frequent visitor to trails in and around the Twin Cities, Clark ventures to Northern Minnesota for some of the best ultra-distance trails in the United States. “The Superior Hiking Trail is one of my favorite places to run. It’s really hard but so gorgeous. When you go up north your mouth will fall open in wonder when you realize you're surrounded fields of boulders, tangled roots and steep hills. The terrain is the biggest shock."
Clark plans to run in the Wild Duluth event later this fall. “When you do a long trail race and you are out for 9-10 hours the concept of time is different. You can’t apply the times you are used to on the road to the trail. It's a journey and you have to continue to challenge yourself.”