Britta Clark takes on ultra-distance races — and soon a PhD

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Posted on July 5, 2018 |
By ABAGAEL GILES

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BRITTA CLARK RUNS a trail in New Zealand. Below, she sits with her dog, Remy, at Blueberry Hill Inn in Goshen.
Photos courtesy Britta Clark

GOSHEN – For most people, it’s hard to imagine running a full marathon. But for Goshen resident Britta Clark, running an ultra-distance trail race of 50K or more is as natural as stepping out her back door.

Clark is the daughter of Tony Clark and Shari Brown, co-owners of Goshen-based Blueberry Hill Inn and Ski Center. The 24-year-old returned to Goshen this spring after a year-long Fulbright fellowship in New Zealand, where she studied inter-generational justice.

Since that time, she’s been winning and placing well in Vermont ultra-marathons right and left. On June 23, she set a women’s course record when she won the Catamount Ultra 50K at Trapp Family Outdoor Center in Stowe. That was after winning a 50K race by headlamp through the jungles of Malaysia called the Penang Eco Race on May 12.

As Clark tells it, it was trail running and Nordic skiing at Blueberry Hill that introduced her to the project that became the focus of her Fulbright fellowship.

In New Zealand, Clark earned a Master’s in Philosophy from the University of Otago for her work studying recent New Zealand legislation that granted legal personhood to the Whanganui River. The designation was a response to a hundred-year long disagreement between the indigenous people living next to the river and the New Zealand Government over who owned the resource.

Clark said she was drawn to the project in part because of her own attachment to the trails at Blueberry Hill. She found that a lot of environmental philosophy didn’t adequately address the value in protecting a place because it has significant meaning to a particular group of people and she wanted to address that.

“You will never have a relationship with a place like the place where you grew up,” she said in a recent interview. “In Vermont, I think we’re lucky to understand that. For me, that’s the trails at Blueberry Hill.”

She is headed to Harvard University in the fall, where she will be earning her PhD in Philosophy. She says she hopes to someday take over maintenance and operations at Blueberry Hill, while working as a college professor.

Clark says she started trail running in 2016, the summer after she graduated from Bates College. “I took out a map and realized there were hundreds of miles of trails that I’d never explored in my 20 years of living there, right out my back door. So I just started running,” Clark said. The same summer she ran the Moosalamoo Ultra, a 36K foot race through the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area. She came in second place out of 52 racers and “that was the end of it. I was hooked.”

Clark grew up Nordic ski racing, which she says gave her the “endurance base” to start trail running. “I was a middle of the pack ski racer in college,” said Clark. When she stopped skiing her senior year, she had every intention of retiring as a competitive athlete. “About a week later I signed myself up for my first marathon.” She never ran another road race, but found that endurance running afforded her mental clarity as a graduate student.  

“With philosophy, I spent a lot of time focusing on really tiny thoughts and concepts and picking them apart. Running is a way to get away from all that thinking. I think being on the trails facilitates that meditative state.”

While studying in New Zealand, Clark continued to run. She competed in The Kepler Challenge in 2016, a 60K mountain race through The Fjordland National Park. She finished first in The Oxford Odyssey Mountain Marathon in 2017, and in the Mt. Difficulty Ascent, a 44K mountain race.

She said the culture around long trail races reminded her of home.

“A lot of New Zealand trail races are over agricultural land. Often, the courses are created when some sheep farmer somewhere decides to host an ultra-marathon and cuts the gnarliest course he can through his hills. It reminds me of my dad’s passion for doing that, and what he’s done at Blueberry Hill for the past 40 years,” said Clark.

“Whenever we talk about what we’d like the inn and outdoor center to look like in ten, 50 years, the one thing that unites my whole family is that those trails are really important to keep around and maintain.”

On June 2, Clark won another race on her home turf: The Endurance Society’s Infinitus Marathon. She finished second overall. Like in the Catamount Ultra, Clark beat some of the top male competitors in the state in that race. The next seven competitors to finish the Infinitus after her were all men.

She likes the hardiness of trail runners, especially the women. Ultra trail running is a rare space where, especially in longer distance events, women can compete directly with men to win races outright. That’s one of the reasons Clark enjoys trail races over road races.

“I can see a guy ahead of me as competition in a way you might not in a road race,” said Clark. She said the camaraderie between racers is also a draw. “There’s more beer in trail running.”

BRITTA CLARK CROSSES the finish line in first place in the Catamount Ultra 50K on June 23.

Photo by Will Robens/Ironwood Adventure Works

Clark comes from a family of athletes. Her half-brother Chris “Flash” Clark graduated from Middlebury College in 1992 and was a member of the U.S. Junior National Cross Country ski team. He competed for two years in Norway and was a serious candidate for the 1994 U.S. Olympic Team, but ultimately did not qualify. He learned to ski and run on the same trails Britta did.

For her part, Britta is glad to be home for the summer before graduate school, helping her parents out at the Inn. She’s eager to explore new trails and learn from her dad.

“In a way, this [coming home to Goshen] is what my Master’s thesis argued for. I think we never forget the places that formed us, and it’s cool to be back in my place, whose importance I was really arguing for all along.”



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