Running for Meaning with Dallas Clark

Photography by Tad Fruits

When I think about interviews with professional athletes, I think about how polished they are, how many times they give a similar interview and a similar answer. It’s easy to feel skeptical about them, to think that maybe they aren’t authentic. But as soon as I met Dallas Clark I was no longer skeptical. He’s tall, intense, the fingers of his hand were kind of gnarled, and he’s quick to flash a smile and make you feel like he’s actually interested in your story. He was back in town for a few days ready to run the Indianapolis Mini Marathon, his first attempt at the 13.1-mile distance. 

Running is among the most basic sports: shorts, shirt, socks, shoes, and you’re good to go. So simple, that some say it’s just a matter of leaning forward a little bit from your waist and then picking your heels up before you fall over. The rest just happens naturally. You barely have to put any effort into it. But this isn’t true at all. Running is hard and takes lots of both physical and mental concentration. Distance running takes a lot of willpower. There are more than 20,000 people who run the Indianapolis Mini Marathon each year. And every single one of them is running for their own, individual purpose. Crossing the finish line means something different to all of us (I’ve run this race a few times).

Clark is the former tight end for the Indianapolis Colts, a member of the 2006 Super Bowl winning team. Without question, he’s a national star with a legacy intertwined with Peyton Manning. He’s running this race and training for an Ironman Triathlon this fall, one of the most challenging endurance feats: a 2.4 mile swim in open water, a 112 mile bicycle ride, and a marathon 26.2 mile run. All in one day. It’s nuts. But he has a higher purpose than just testing his conditioning. 

I talked to Clark before the Mini and then just after. 

Richard McCoy: Welcome back to Indy! What’s your preparation going to be tomorrow before you race?

Dallas Clark: I’ll just eat a good breakfast. The one thing that I’ve found about running and this kind of training for the Ironman is that I stretch as I’m running, or even after the run. It’s funny because in football you have to make sure everything is loose before you get out there; it’s a much longer process of warming up. That’s what’s nice about getting on a treadmill or going for a run, you just warm up as you go. 

RM: Have you run a half marathon before?

DC: I did a half Ironman in April out in California. And that was my first attempt at swimming, biking, and running—my first anything of this caliber. But this is my first solo half marathon. I’m starting here because my whole Project 44 that I created is to raise $2 million for the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital and University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. Peyton is obviously family to me. What he’s done with the hospital and our community and our backyard is amazing! I think we both consider ourselves Hoosiers.

RM: But you live in Iowa?

DC: Yeah, but [I] feel like this is a second home. I haven’t been back in a while, so it’s good to be back and see everyone. I mean just going over to The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis with the kids the other day, saying hi to people and having that connection still here after all the years away. People still recognize me. It’s crazy. I figured if I’m going to dedicate all this time away from family and health, I thought someone else has to gain from this. 

I was like you know what, let’s fundraise and try to make as much money as possible for these kids, and let’s shoot for the moon. Peyton was like “You think you could raise a million dollars?” I’m like dude, I don’t know I if can, but I’m going to try.

RM: Did you ask Peyton to make a contribution online?

DC: I’ll shoot him the link. The pages just got set up, but it’s doing well. The Indiana media has been phenomenal while I’ve been here. I don’t use social media, so I told the media hey I’m using you. I need the story to get out. And I think it’s gone really well. 

RM: Running a half marathon is hard, but a full triathlon is really amazing. I bet it will get lonely out there.

DC: They say at the end of it all, mile 20 in the triathlon is very lonely. That’s when training and everything goes out the door. Then it’s just mind, guts, spirit. That’s the moment when I wanna turn to the kids that are in those hospitals for strength. Here in Indy I worked with the Make-A-Wish Foundation for 10 years, and I met some amazing kids and amazing families. I’ll tell you what, If you could bottle their courage and strength, it would make us look the like the most lazy, delicate flowers. They exemplify strength, and I think they may not even know it. I haven’t done anything for them in a couple years, so it’s just like, let’s go! I’m ready to do something for them. When I’m in the final stretch of the triathlon, and exhaustion has rolled over me about three times at that point, it’ll be good to think about the kids and their strength and why I’m doing all of this.

RM: This Indianapolis Mini-Marathon is special because you get to go out around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. What does that mean to you?

DC: My dad was a big race fan, and the Indy 500 was always on the TV. Coming to Indianapolis and playing for the Colts cemented those memories. I was the Grand Marshal for the Brickyard 400 in 2010 and got to wave the green flag for that race back. I know that getting to experience the history is incredible. As far as drivers go, I really like watching Hélio Castroneves. But back in the day, Rick Mears—he was the guy. I remember having little matchbox cars with his number on them. That whole racing era reminds me of the Dan Marinos, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, the foundation of the sport. The legends.

RM: Are you doing anything else here this month?

DC: No, we’re heading back home tomorrow and I don’t know if I’ll come back for the Indy 500 unless something happens with the fundraiser. I’m an organic farmer in Iowa, so May is kinda a busy time for me with the planting season.

When I crossed the finish line the next day, I looked around and found that Clark had finished ahead of me and was already doing more interviews. When I found him, I did my best to give him a pro football handshake and then a big bro hug. I felt for just a moment like a real athlete, like we were on a similar sports level. 

He asked me the first question:

DC: How’d you do? 

RM: 1:52.

DC: Nice, I got 1:42.

RM: That’s solid!

DC: You inspired me by saying I should be around 1:45 for a respectable time, so I made that my goal. 

RM: How does that time compare to other Colts, excluding wide receivers?

DC: No, you don’t exclude wide receivers, because they’re lazy and won’t likely run the Mini. Reggie Wayne, Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, those dudes get after it. But for the most part the rest of them are all such freakish athletes that they roll out of bed and just have blazing fast speed.

RM: I still think about the story of Marvin Harrison eating junk food before games.

DC: Crispy Kreme Donuts at every half time. The trainers always had to go find Crispy Kreme donuts before the game. He always had donuts in his locker. At halftime of an NFL game, he’s over there eating donuts. To be on the inside and watching him was just amazing. I love that dude. 

RM: What did you think about the course? 

DC: It’s phenomenal. It’s broken up just the right way where there are some nice long stretches and then when that got monotonous there’s a turn here or there.  And of course running the track is amazing. I was able to support one of the Ainsley’s Angels on the front stretch of the speedway, which was really inspiring. There are so many good things happening at this event.

RM: Is your time going to stand as the fastest for an Indianapolis Colt?

DC: I think I set the record. It’s a high bar, but they know where I’m at. I’m at the top, so come get me.

Here’s hoping he’s able to finish his Triathlon this fall and raise $2 million for the important charities he’s running for. 

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