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Friday Female Athlete: Karen Clarke

Updated: Nov 17, 2023

We’ve been reporting on James Solomon and the Midwest Super Slam of Ultra Running, but there are other stories out there as well. Many other stories. This week for our Female Athlete Friday we’d like to feature Karen Clarke, who completed the Midwest Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (4-100 mile trail races in 1 year). There’s more to her story and more that she had to overcome to achieve this goal. This goes to show that nothing, including cancer, can stop a determined spirit.

The Midwest Grand Slam consists of:

(Karen's times)

Mohican Trail 100 – 28:34:13

Burning River 100 – 28:25:44

Hallucination 100 – 27:58:04

Indiana Trail 100 – 27:41:20

In addition to these races, Karen ran two 50-mile races along with a 50K this year. That’s approximately 532 miles of racing if you are keeping track at home.

The following is her story of running and fighting cancer with excerpts from The Fat Man Chronicles podcast. If you prefer to listen to the whole podcast, check out the link at the end of the post.

Karen is originally from New Zealand and started out as a marathon runner in the 80s. In 2000, she moved to the US and discovered a world of racing not seen in New Zealand. This started out as running for fitness before blooming into something more. Previously she had been a winter hiker (including Mt. Washington and Mt. Rainier) and rock climber with her husband.

A friend of Karens mentioned a day long (34 mile) hike at the Rachel Carson Trail in Allegheny County Pennsylvania and this sparked her interest in Ultra Running. At the end of this hike and after going home, she realized that she could have run some of that. Shortly after, she discovered Trail Ultras. In 2015, she decided to run her first 50 miler. With a thirteen-hour cut off, she finished in about eleven hours and thirty minutes. Her experience with climbing and mountain hiking gave her the will and mental strength to complete this race. After this, Karen fell in love with the preparation for these races and it led to a long term relationship with ultra running (the longest she’s spent in any sport).

Karen is also a cancer survivor. In 2016, she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that required 2 years of treatment. Even during treatment, she continued to train for races. Her time spent in a silent Buddhist group gave her the strength to take control of her situation and overcome that difficult time and continue to run. Since that time, Karen has run nearly three dozen other ultras and received six trophies. Truly amazing! If you would like a deeper dive into her story, you can listen to the Fatman Chronicles podcast from 2018:

Do you have an amazing female athlete story to tell? Mail it to us at along with an action photo or head shot.

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