Story by Jeremiah Kalb
Hospitalist Jack Clark has found that long days of treating patients have conditioned him to conquer multiple mountain passes in Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming (LoToJa) on his endurance road bike in just half a day.
“I see my work here as mental training for the endurance sports stuff I do,” Clark says. “It’s rare that I feel burned out and have to get out of the white coat. And I rarely have to get off my bike.”
He has participated at LoToJa, the longest one-day USA Cycling sanctioned bicycle race in the country, four times as a solo rider and multiple times on relay teams since 2008. LoToJa’s website states it is one of the nation’s premier amateur cycling races and continues to be a grueling test of one’s physical and mental stamina. The doctor just rides to cross the finish line.
Clark, a hospitalist at Madison Memorial Hospital, says he discovered his love for endurance sports after seeing his older brother return home from a three-day road bike tour in Yellowstone National Park. He decided he wanted a piece of the action and completed a similar trip a few years later as a junior in high school. Clark prepared himself for the scenic trip by periodically biking 60 miles round trip from Cody, Wyoming, to the nearby town of Powell to buy bike parts.
His endurance sports lifestyle consists of biking, marathons, and triathlons. Besides helping him stay in shape, endurance sports offer him some alone time in a world that can be chaotic and demanding. “Open time on the road gives you the time to think, to find out who you are, and connect with yourself,” says Clark. He does not carry a cell phone during these times to help safeguard his space. “It’s an opportunity to get deep in my thoughts and let my mind wander in different directions.”
Clark has found the sweet spot regarding self-care, the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s well-being and happiness, particularly when stressed. With most of the world being in a constant state of anxiety and panic, perhaps regular self-care is the most necessary prescription to fill in one’s life.
He completed his first marathon in 2007 in Richmond, Virginia. This particular race was deeply emotional for our physician with a calm demeanor. “I had a younger sister who died in a car accident when she was 19,” a teary-eyed Clark says. “She had a bucket list of things she wanted to accomplish in her notebook. Running a marathon was on that list.”
While Clark was training, he told the race organizers he wanted “Jill’s Race” printed on his race bib. He later jetted off to Virginia with Jill’s dream in his heart.
Up to mile 15, Clark was doing good and ten minutes ahead of schedule. “My lungs were feeling great. My energy level was great. But going up this tiny incline and within three steps, I went from feeling great to wondering if I was going to finish the race.” His left knee started acting up to the point where he needed to stop running and resorted to walking with 11 miles still to go.
“I’m doing this race in memory of my sister,” Clark stresses. “Quitting was not an option, so I had no choice but to grind it out for the rest of the race.” For Clark, it was mentally challenging because of the pain and watching his superb time evaporate into thin air while others passed him by.
The last mile he will never forget when he felt his sister’s presence. “Jill was helping. She was encouraging. People talk about a spiritual aspect of running, which seems to connect you with the other side and forces you can’t see.”
Subsequently, to stay in the sport after his injury, Clark first adopted the Chi Running method. It is a technique that teaches the runner to use the core muscles, upper body, and gravity to do the hard work rather than placing all the strain on the leg muscles. “Adding in the Galloway Method [alternating run-walk intervals], I’ve done 28 miles and went to work the next day feeling fine,” Clark says.
He finds triathlons particularly challenging due to the preparation required to figure out how to transition from one sport to the next [think getting out of a wet suit, mounting a bike, etc.] on race day and balance the training of three different sports. “When you cross-train for three different sports, you’re training different muscles. It seems protective in terms of not having as many injuries.”
Endurance sports have taken Clark and sometimes his family to faraway places. “I did a 70.3 on the Big Island of Hawaii. We took my parents over to that one for a week and made it a family adventure.” A 70.3 is a half Ironman-distance triathlon, consisting of a 1900m swim, 90km bike ride, and half marathon to finish.
Clark’s most recent excursion abroad was an eight-day bike tour of southern France with a group of six, amounting to 425 miles and 28,000 feet of climbing.
On this trip, he learned something unexpected and impactful from the slowest member of the group. Clark took turns riding with different people in the group in order to learn something from each person, and at first, Rohndia encouraged him to ride with someone else. “Rolling her eyes realizing I was not going anywhere, she quipped, you’ll learn from me that you can go two miles an hour and not tip over.”
These words stuck with Clark because, in terms of riding slower, his physical senses became amplified like never before on the road. “I could feel the temperature differences. When I went in and out of trees, I heard birds singing. I saw more things in terms of color and took more pictures. Something is soothing about going forward on a bicycle at this speed,” Clark says.
For Clark, it is not about the three drawers full of racing t-shirts or the medals; it is about savoring the journey and connecting with his community of fellow endurance sports enthusiasts.