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All-Area Cross Country: Clark goes out in style
North Hall High cross country standout and Region 7-AAA champion Nolan Clark is the The Times All-Area Boys Runner of the Year.

Life is one big race for Nolan Clark.

He makes sure to be the first at the track for North Hall cross country practice each afternoon, just like he battled to be the first one to cross the finish line.

It’s a constant theme in his life. Maybe that competitive edge can account for his Region 7-AAA individual title with a blistering time of 16 minutes, 11 seconds on Oct. 30 at Unicoi State Park in Helen.

For his efforts, Clark is the Times 2008 Boys Cross County Runner of the Year.

The Trojans’ senior leader was pleased with being able to win the individual title his final go around. But another achievement was even more satisfying: finishing four seconds ahead of his friend and potential college teammate, Tyler Dunn. The Pickens senior got the edge on Clark in other races earlier in the season.

"If I had finished second at region and still beat Tyler, I would have been happy with that," Clark said.

Clark says that the competition in Region 7-AAA has improved drastically. He says it all started when Flowery Branch’s D.J. Pappas first broke the 17-minute mark, achieving a 16:59 by falling across the finish line, in 2005.

He says that it’s only a matter of time before someone blows past the new region record he won this year’s 7-AAA meet with.

"Region 7-AAA has come a long way," Clark said.

Clark, who plans to run cross country in college next year, has put in the work to achieve all of his successes on the trail. He runs a year-round schedule that involves cross country, track and plenty of road races during the summer. Clark said he probably runs around 50 races each year.

Each afternoon of cross country practice entails a run anywhere from 5-7 miles. Then on the weekend he runs with a group ranging from 8 to 13 miles each time out.

Clark decided to stick with running instead of playing soccer early in his high school career. He said the lean toward running was for the individual responsibility involved.

"There’s no blame game with running," Clark said.

Clark still enjoys the team aspect involved with running. He was a sophomore on the Trojans team that won the Class AAA state title in cross country.

"It’s hard to train properly without a team," Clark added.

Even though Clark competes tooth-and-nail in every race, he learned it can’t be a goal to win them all. This lesson sunk in when he ran a 34:12 (84th overall) at the Peachtree Road Race two years ago. It took a weight off his shoulders when he didn’t have to worry about finishing first.

"I tried my best and ran a really good race, and knew I wasn’t going to win and I was able to accept that," Clark said. "That made running more fun for me."

Clark has tracked his progress from meet-to-meet with the help of his father, who keeps a spreadsheet to track his improvement each year. The Region 7-AAA champ says that the 40-second improvements he used to see from year-to-year, have been shaved to down to just a few seconds recently, but he still sees improvement.

Clark plans to continue his running at a school — preferably somewhere where the weather is cooler. He is considering a major in either medicine or engineering.

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