Gainesville native Clay Howarth was thinking about ending his pursuit of mountain running when he developed a painful plantar fasciitis injury to the bottom of his foot in 2016.
Luckily, his friend Trevor Pulliam was there to keep him motivated to chase his dreams.
“My foot was exploding with pain. I could not even walk to class,” said Howarth, who recently finished a master’s degree at the University of Denver.
Howarth is pleased he didn’t give up on that dream of being one of the best at running the steep inclines and high altitude that comes with mountain running.
On June 6, the North Forsyth High graduate, earned sixth place out of 200 participants at the National Mountain Running Championship in North Conway, N.H.
“He has a God-given talent and has the physical ability and the mental ability,” said Pulliam, who has known Howarth since eighth grade. “He has tree trunks as legs.
I am extremely proud and can’t wait to see what he does next. He is bound to do something great. I am proud to call him my best friend.”
While the sixth-place finish he missed the cut for the national squad, it was certainly enough to keep the fire burning to get better in the future.
“It just showed me how much of the hard work that I put in paid off,” Howarth said. “It was confirmation that I have potential to make the team.”
Howarth will give it a try in 2018 to make the national squad.
Pulliam is to thank for keeping his friend across the country on track.
Mountain running is no easy task. Training, for Howarth, entails upward of 90 miles per week, along the spine of the Rocky Mountains. It was the painful injury to his foot that made it very unpleasant to put in the miles needed to compete at a high level.
“He was down in the dumps because of his injury,” Pulliam said. ‘I told him, ‘If anyone can do it, it would be you. A year from now, do you want to be a regular guy or national championship runner?
“We’re not going to let one injury discourage you from chasing your dreams.”
That’s all it took.
Howarth, who ran for three years at Western Carolina University, started training again for the race eight months before nationals in New Hampshire.
After he healed from his injury, the two-sport running standout from his days at North Forsyth, went back to training and sought out a mentor.
He began training again with a former running partner, Patrick Chamberlain, while also working the delicate balance of graduate school with a focus in international studies.
Chamberlain also gave Howarth feedback via text message and phone calls when running together wasn’t possible.
Howarth didn’t take up running until making it across the 2.5-mile, cable-stayed bridge that includes a rather large incline above the Cooper River while on vacation in Charleston, S.C.
Now it’s a major part of his life.