Zac Clark’s counselor was the first person who recommended he start incorporating running into his daily routine. Clark had run before, as a three-sport athlete in high school and a pitcher at York College, but these circumstances were different.
“So much of my running journey is directly related to my recovery from addiction,” he said.
Clark, then 27 and battling alcohol and substance abuse, had checked into the Caron Treatment Center in Wernersville, Pa., about a 90-minute drive from his hometown of Haddonfield, N.J. He weighed 240 pounds at the time, so his counselor suggested he pick up running for both the physical and mental benefits.
Clark gave it a try — and was not a fan.
“I hated it,” he said. “I think for anyone that doesn’t run, those first couple miles are just the worst of all time.
“I definitely hated it. Hated it. I was so out of shape that I would just try and move for a half-hour. I wouldn’t even call it running.”
Fast-forward a decade and Clark is about to run his ninth marathon and first Boston. He celebrated 10 years of sobriety last August and now weighs about 185.
“I learned to like it,” he said. “I learned how to use it to kind of detach from the world and go out and clear my head. It’s become, over the years, really meditative to me.”
Clark’s story was first publicized in the fall of 2020 during the 16th season of the reality dating show “The Bachelorette.” He was chosen as one of the nearly three dozen contestants thanks to an application submitted by his sister. He ended up falling in love and getting engaged to the lead, Tayshia Adams, in the finale.
Clark opened up to Adams about his past. He told her that he underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor when he was 23, which introduced him to strong painkillers such as morphine. He told her that he got arrested for possession of crack and driving while intoxicated. And he told her about the turning point in his life, when he tried to cash a forged check stolen from his father to get money to get high.
When Clark tried to cash the check, the bank teller could sense something wasn’t right, so she called Clark’s father, the account holder, who came to pick him up. Two days later, Clark was in rehab.
After completing a 4½-month stay in treatment, Clark moved to New York, where he’s lived ever since. He’s still running — and is now a big fan of it.
He has run the New York City Marathon seven times and London once. He also has hosted countless group runs open to the public, including a 3-miler in Back Bay two weeks ago.
“For someone that might have been struggling or depressed or on this roller coaster of using drugs, it’s another way to find an outlet to feel good about yourself,” Clark said. “For me, as I’ve gotten into running these marathons, there’s certainly a sense of accomplishment every time you finish one. It’s also such an amazing community — welcoming, all-inclusive.”
In every marathon Clark runs, he raises money for the Release Recovery Foundation, a nonprofit he founded that benefits individuals who need treatment for addiction but can’t afford it. Last year, it raised more than $1 million for treatment scholarships, with $400,000 coming from the New York City Marathon.
The nonprofit is just one part of Clark’s business. In 2017, he and his partner Justin Gurland launched Release Recovery, a full-service recovery company dedicated to helping people reclaim their lives from addiction. They have five properties for transitional living where people can reside after rehab as they work to reintegrate themselves back into the world.
“I have nothing without my recovery,” said Clark. “My life was going downhill fast. Any time I have an opportunity, whether it’s professionally or altruistically, to help someone, I’m there.
“I’m lucky. I feel like I’ve found my calling and my purpose on this planet after I got sober. It’s just been an unbelievable ride. It doesn’t get old.”
As part of the Boston Marathon’s Expo, Clark will speak about his experiences since getting sober. His presentation, “Running With Purpose: Building Community, Helping Others, Daily Practices to Help Runners and Non-Runners Improve and Uphold Mental Health,” is scheduled for Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at the Hynes Convention Center.
Leading up to race day, Clark has received messages about running Boston on social media, including tips for Heartbreak Hill as well as warnings for the downhill stretch that follows. While he is certainly excited about taking on the course, what invigorates him more is witnessing the power that running has — both in aiding his personal development and bringing together the community.
“For me, it’s been an unbelievable tool to kind of get the message out there of hope and show people that anything is possible,” Clark said.
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