Looking Down: An Interview with Gordon Clark

After we filmed the SS22 show, I took some time out to interview Gordon Clark, ultramarathoner and trail runner, who graciously agreed to test our new collab with Merrell 1 TRL and become a "model" for the day.


RC:  First off, where are you from?

GC:  Oh boy, a bit nomadic.  Grew up in Phoenix, went to high school in New York, school in Colorado, back to Phoenix and now here.  [Los Angeles]  Kind of the worst weather on each coast.  Summers in Phoenix and then winter in New York.  Yeah, it was just fun.

RC:  How long have you been trail running, would you say?

GC:  God, trails were a little new.  So going on about two years now.  Came from more road and marathoning.  So yeah, this is the new frontier for me.

RC:  What attracted you to switching over to trails or trying trails in the first place?

GC:  Geez, that's kind of a big one.  Let me see if I can unpack it.  I think COVID in so many ways really made Los Angeles a lot more accessible.  It's just so wild, the relationship to the city with running.  Originally I was in downtown LA but you realize it's 12 miles to get to the beach.  You know what I mean?  But if you put it in car time, that's an hour, which just seems insurmountable.  But when you're running, it's like, "Wow, this actually isn't that big of a city."

But in the lock down, I mean, really I ran the whole city like a mad man in so many ways.  I was running in the middle of the road, nobody was out, it was perfect.  When I started to make my way to the trails in the park systems, it was just such a game changer.  I was cleaning out the carburetors, my lungs, I never felt healthier.  It's kind of weird but you do feel it.

RC:  Yeah. I would imagine after spending so much time running on the roads in a city, being in nature for the majority of your exercise makes a huge difference as to what you're literally inhaling?

GC:  Yeah, yeah.  So every year it would turn up in the form of, in a sense, a respiratory infection, which sounds kind of heavy.  It's nothing big, it's more just phlegmy crap but you feel that.  You feel that almost like a smoker's cough.  It was a little bit of itchiness there.  But I don't know man, I mean,  I just don't know what it is.  I think it was a combination of things that really just made me say, like, "I only want to run really long distances." There's so much exploration.  You have to be so tuned in. I mean, the sad part about the sport is, people, even elites, they die.  One missed step or hit a rock the wrong way and you could fall 30, 40 feet.  So I won't say the stakes are always so harrowing but me, I'm really sensitive with my ankles and if I land wrong or weird ... I have a basketball background and that's just the thing that you injure.  I'm seeing these rocks and I'm super hesitant.  So you have to stay really locked in.  It's actually a lot more mentally exhausting than what I would've thought.  One of the roads you can just zone out, hit a hard pace and go. 

RC:  You could just turn off.

GC:  Yeah, exactly.  You can't drift for too long or really it's weird because you do want to appreciate everything that's around you.  But at the same time, it's like, there could be a small root of a tree that'll just make you a face plant.

RC:  Do you find yourself, when you're running, primarily looking at almost what's directly ahead of you?

GC:  I'm almost always, If on the trails, looking down.  I probably can't even appreciate everything around me.  If I'm really running, it's going to be hard to really maybe survey 20 feet ahead.  So it really is a weird narrow vision that you have but somehow you still feel connected to everything around you and that stimuli's so huge.  I was in Portland just last weekend for a 50K, for my first 31-miler and it's such a beautiful place.  It's just so green and this little tiny narrow track and there's just little glimpses of light that make their way through.  And you're just giggling almost the whole time!  So in a way you still perceive it.  It's really amazing to as an adult, well maybe not a fully developed adult, but as an adult to just feel like a kid just running wild.  You know, that’s what it is.

RC:  That's amazing.  That also makes me feel so much better about our camera angles.  In the sense of where it's looking straight down the whole time.

GC:  It's very true.

RC:  Well, in reference to the show itself, what did you think when we first described this project to you?  What did you think it was going to be like?  And how different was that to what you got yourself into on the day?

GC:  You know, what's so funny about it is, I felt… I don't know if you'd call it method acting but I did feel 100% that character.  This was just the most wild experience and then watching the story unfold, it wasn't hard to be like, "What the hell's going on?"  I mean, it really started when I saw the call sheet for the next day. I opened this up and it was like, "Oh, okay, what's going on?" And then it's a couple pages long and I'm like, "What is going on here!?"

RC:  Did you find yourself genuinely personifying the confused person who found yourself in this scenario?

GC:  Oh, 6,000%.  It couldn't have been easier to be that thing.  Honestly, the hardest part was maybe just walking down that center line and trying to keep the strides with the models.  One, they walk with really long, fast strides.  I was laughing with some of my friends.  I'm like, "I like to think I'm one of the fastest here in LA.  I could not keep up!"  I'm getting yelled at by a couple of people, like you really got to stay with them.  And I'm like, "Bro, I have to start jogging here.  They're really gapping me."

RC:  That's so funny.

GC:  So no, it wasn't too hard at all to fall into that person's purview of what's going on.  Just being pulled along.  I was just immensely grateful everybody else around knew how to handle my stupidity and moving about and everything.  So it made it really easy.

RC:  You were fantastic.

GC:  Thank you, thank you.

RC:  Well, a few things back to the sport itself.  Granted, I guess you consider yourself somewhat new to it, still.  If someone is looking to get into it, what would you recommend for someone who's curious about the sport but when they hear 31-mile run they shut off?  What's the entry?

GC:  Just go, think less about it.  That's one of the more fun and... I hate to say it, but even beautiful parts of the sport.  You don't need a ton.  Just go.  Don't make a plan, find a route real quick online and just shoot over there.   Don't be focused on the running, don't be focused on the movement, just be as present and enjoying as you can in that time.  It'll come, it'll come. If you can run one mile you're a runner. 

If it's somebody like me, who's just been a city dweller their whole life, I consider it my moving meditation now, is what I call it.  My brain can drift.  I've gotten rid of the noise.  I've gotten rid of podcasts and music and NPR.  I mean, I still listen to them at times.  But now when I'm on trails, man,I listen to birds.  I can tell you how a Blackbird sounds versus some new Finch that I'm seeing here, some yellow breasted Finch now.  And it's all just amazing, it's just the musicality is unbelievable.  You can hear the wind hitting the trees in different way, how they sound, palms versus some pines.  So it all just takes you to a place.  Walk if you need to walk, take your time as you go, find a little trail.

If you want to run, run for a small spell and repeat.  Or find some clubs, too, you know?  LA, beautiful part about it is I run with a really cool group where I know somebody like MK [Mutual friend who connected us] and meet a bunch of other completely diverse, original, unique, impressive people.  You'll never be short of finding somebody to run with or a group to run with where it doesn't cost a thing.  Just meet at a time and go.

RC:  Yeah.  As much as running sounds like being such an individual pastime, it really is such a community driven thing.

GC:  Big time.  I had a little bit of a boxing background and I did marvel at how sports were in such exact lockstep.  It's viewed as a solitary pursuit but couldn't be further from the truth.  Really what I've enjoyed about the trail, is like, man, it's a bandana and a pair of booty shorts and you're gone.  Just go run.  You don't need a lot more, take a water bottle.

RC:  I mean, besides good shoes and a water bottle, what are a few things that everyone should know to do or remember when heading out?

GC:  I think it's almost fun to be in a way that maybe a surfer has to look at the next days... Jesus, opening myself for a metaphor, but swell.  I don't know.  Like what the weather's doing and when the sun's coming up. You may want to pay attention to elevation because that can really screw with you.  If somebody's not acclimated or really wants to take a trip, they'll run Mount Wilson and it's like, "Well, if you haven't been at six or seven thousand feet, you're going to feel it.  You're going to feel an absence of oxygen to your lungs."

RC:  What are you finding the main differences are between the type of running you used to do and now the trail running?

I've done a lot of different road running and running is, yeah, it sounds so cliche but it's taken me to some cool places I probably just would never have gone to, undoubtedly.  But marathoning and road running just, it hurts.  I feel like there is a burnout period.  I'd say 20% of those people that do that marathon might lick their wounds a couple days later and say, "What can I do better? How could I get better?  Did I skip a workout that I shouldn't have?"  You know what I mean?  There's a lot of looking in a mirror, you really can't blame anybody. It's not a game, you're just running.  But I feel there's an inverse relationship on the trails where it feels like a party in the middle of nowhere.  And just everybody, just the energy is so contagious but I feel 80 to 90% of anybody who runs a trail for the first time is going to be back.  They're going to do it again.

There's an expression, I can't remember where it came from but, "There's no problem that an 80-minute run won't figure out."  And that's largely been true where I've just been so exhausted mentally and “how's this going to work” or some other dilemma.  And then I go run and everything is just calmed down.  It really just chills you out.  There was an indigenous elder that said when he runs and his tribe runs, it's communion, it's touching Mother Earth and breathing in Father Air. So it all sounds so corny and hokey and kind of granoley but-

RC:  Until you do it.

GC: ...until you do it!  Until you do it, yeah.  Like I said, especially for a city dweller, there's so much relief.  I mean, shit, there's a car alarm going on, my little place here in mid- city, as we speak.  It's just helicopters and sirens.

RC:  No, trust me.  I work and live downtown, right in the fashion district.  So anytime I can get out of the city, I do my absolute best to just get the hell out of here.  On a more positive note, what are you hopeful for?  Say five years from now with this sport, in a perfect world, what does that look like for you?

GC:  So there's things that I want to do and there's a few others we're starting a... I don't want to say trail running club but a team of people.  One in particular, who I think is really the future of running or at least a gap bridger, in that he's a Division One decorated college runner, who's not doing the typical, “let me spend the next two years to try to qualify for an Olympic team. And if I don't, maybe move up to marathon, let me get the marathon legs, which would take five or six years.  Now, I'm in my early thirties and then what do you do after you've peaked marathon?  You go to trail, right?”  That’s kind of the legacy, an old man's sport.  However he’s going right into trails at 22.  So I think you're going to see a lot more of that.  

I think just a new entrance into the sport and a bigger diversity.  Some of our group and team, we've got a social worker who has a big bleeding heart for children, especially in urban areas.  Another friend of mine who's Ethiopian, he thanks his coach, telling him or pushing him into the sport.  So we talked about how we can work on taking kids and maybe working with a brand.  Put some shoes on them and just take them out to wherever, Mount Pinos, San Gabriel's, just finding a way to maybe take some kids who otherwise wouldn't see it, just to go try it.

RC:  That’s amazing.  Exposure at a young age can make all the difference.

GC:  I know a few other groups that are doing it, nothing that we're suggesting is too new but just the idea of wanting to bring more people into the space and yeah, just spreading that love, man.  Because I think it's a “rising tide lifts all boats” sort of thing.  So, I think the more people that are involved with it, I think it just helps the harmony of everything in Los Angeles, in general.  And yeah, it's about all we can do.

RC:  The wheels in my head are turning immediately.  I'm trying to think of different ways ... I'm sure there's some sort of connect that can be made, even between some of our partners with the brand.

GC:  Right. I mean, that would be incredible.  And I really think a lot of these brands, even those that are involved with trail, they come from a similar hill.  I think they're really excited and enthusiastic about what they do. They're probably passionate about nature themselves and, yeah, I just don't think you need a lot more than that. Once you're there, you have that collective energy and synergy that just explodes and ideas come out that show.

RC:  And there we go.

GC:  There we go.  Noise pollution over here.

RC:  Obviously, back in the city.

GC:  So back.

Spring / Summer 2022 runway show available for streaming now!

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