93: Eric Clifton – Legendary 100-mile Trail Ultrarunner

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By Davy Crockett You can read, listen, or watch Congratulations to Eric Clifton, originally from North Carolina, now of California, who was inducted into the American Ultrarunning Hall of Fame on November 19, 2021. Clifton was the fastest and most dominating 100-mile trail runner during the 1990s as trail ultras became popular in America. His “go for broke” race strategy was legendary, as he demonstrated to the rapidly expanding sport that amazing speed on trails could be achieved. During his entire career, he has attained more than 60 ultra wins, including 17 of his 31 100-mile finishes. He was known for his colorful running tights and was the original “Jester” of ultrarunning. During the 1990s, Clifton had the most overall 100-mile trail wins in the world. He was a prolific ultrarunner and very fast, with more sub-15-hour 100-mile finishes on trails than anyone during that era. He would win by wide margins on hilly trail courses, sometimes by hours. He set more than 20 course records, still holding some of them after three decades. Help is needed to continue the Ultrarunning History Podcast and website. Please consider becoming a patron of ultrarunning history. Help to preserve this history by signing up to contribute a few dollars each month through Patreon. Visit https://ultrarunninghistory.com/member Eric Clifton was born in 1958, Albuquerque, New Mexico but moved to North Carolina when he was young where his father went into the milk business. Eric started distance running as a senior at Northeast Guilford High School in 1976, in North Carolina, where he ran the two-miler. After finished his first race, he swore to himself that he would never run that hard, and that fast for the rest of his life. A friend suggested that he go out for cross-country. Clifton said, “Running cross-country? That sounds like me, I want to do that. I asked, ‘How many miles a day do you guys run?’ He replied, “About ten miles a day.’ OK, I’m out. He scared me away.” Little did Clifton know that he would average running 10 miles a day for much of his future running career. Serious Running Begins Clifton in 1978 in Greensboro, NC Clifton went to college at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where running teams were not fielded. The running boom had not yet reached North Carolina. But in 1977, he started his true running career. As a college freshman, he read an article in the school newspaper about a professor who would be running in the Boston Marathon. He recalled, “I read this article and I was amazed. Wait a minute, there are races that are competitive events for people who aren’t in school doing track or cross-country? It blew my mind.” Within a week he entered his first race, a seven-miler. He had a blast and was hooked on running after that. Running at Boston became his primary goal. At the time, the qualifying standard for him was 2:50. He ran his first marathon in 3:38. As he kept trying, his finish times went up instead of down. It took him three years before his times dramatically improved. “I finally had a race where I didn’t die. I ran strongly the entire way and did a 2:39. And everybody asked, ‘What did you do?’ I replied, 'It was what I didn’t do, I didn’t die.'” But by the time he qualified for Boston, he had lost interest and did not run there until many years later. Triathlons 1981 First Triathlon Win In 1980, Clifton watched the Ironman on television in its third year and knew that the event was for him. During the ‘80s, Clifton shifted away from running marathons, turned to triathlons and excelled. He ran his first of several Ironmans in 1981. First Ultra - 1982 In 1982, Clifton ran in his first ultra, a 50-mile road race in Wilmington, North Carolina, called “The Lite Ultra” that ran on a four-mile loop. Don Aycock, age 30, originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, one of Clifton’s training partners, had subscribed to Ultrarunning Magazine.

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