I met Clare in 2015 at a small race outside of Montrose, Colorado. We were toeing the line at the Cimarron 50k, a rolling dirt road out and back race that offered $1k as the 1st place prize. Pretty enticing for anyone who has “road wheels” in their running history. Though it was over two years ago, I still remember Clare’s determined look at the turn around point, her smile at the finish, and her laugh during post-race beers and chit-chat. Even though this was a relatively brief meeting, there was something unique about Clare. She reminded me of an “unplugged” version of an album, real, full of emotion, and completely present. I wouldn’t cross paths with Clare again until a year and half later, but I hadn’t forgotten about her.
Since Cimarron, Clare has continued her success within the running world, and has also used her podium and tenacity to educate society about climate change and the importance of public lands.
Gina: Who is Clare Gallagher? The real non-Instagram-famous Clare?
Clare: I’m a quiet soul who doesn’t like big crowds 😉 But actually, I’m pretty chill, just also very intense, positive and slightly manic.
Gina: From what I can tell, you are quite motivated in anything and everything that you pursue. Where does that drive come from? Was there an event/experience/learning lesson that happened in your life that helped nurture this characteristic?
Clare: Well my parents are extremely hands off and laid back, but strangely both my older brothers and I are all super competitive; they’re way more high achieving than me. My oldest is finishing up law school at Michigan and will likely end up being a public defender; then my other older brother is finishing up his Green Beret training. Thus, I never feel like I’m doing enough, and they don’t either. It’s a beautifully productive cycle of motivation and inspiration in my family. I think it comes from my parents being so hands off. They just want us to be happy and have cultivated an atmosphere of love and of leading by example with voracious reading, conversation, introspection and travel.
Gina: Most of us see the bright-eyed bushy tailed Clare, but like everyone, we all have our fears and doubts. Do you have any secret demons? Do they influence or shape who you are/how you act?
Clare: I constantly fear I’m not doing enough. I wonder if running is too selfish and if I’m wasting other gifts on spending most of my time traveling and running. I wonder if I’d be better off actually making lots of money and then donating it to super effective organizations. A demon of mine is my manic nature. I can be really high on life with too much energy, but I can crash hard. Usually I’ll get super sick and agitated and need a few days without moving or talking to anyone. Those days don’t happen that often as of recent, because I’ve gotten better at not burning myself out all of the time. All about this balance thing, eh?
Gina: I’d say you’re a pretty big activist on protecting public lands and conservation. Did you always have the fire inside you to lookout for Mother Nature, or were you triggered by an event or experience?
Clare: Always had it, likely from growing up spending most weekends in the mountains of Colorado and then especially after studying coral ecology at Princeton. I spent two summers mainly underwater (diving for eight hours a day), studying coral in Bermuda and then Palau. Intimately witnessing the effects of climate change in our marine world, and eventually publishing a paper on coral ecology. It first made me depressed, but then it also lit a fire in me that will never die. What’s happening to our ecosystems and to the vulnerable people most impacted by climate change is wrong. We can stop it. If I’m not talking about it, then I am not being a moral citizen of this planet. I know I won’t go hungry tomorrow due to dying reefs, but someone in Micronesia or coastal Bangladesh doesn’t have the privilege of that security. We, as in America, should be helping these people by cutting our carbon emissions.
As far as public lands go: they represent an understandable aspect of American’s lives that I hope eventually leads to talking about climate change. To be honest, climate change is a way, way more pressing issue than protecting our public lands. But climate change isn’t easy to comprehend for most Americans. It’s too far away, too nebulous. But a local open space being sold to a private entity, preventing trail usage, now that’s something Americans can feel emotion towards. Also, I think this current administration is a complete disgrace to our planet, and it makes me so insanely motivated to not let an inch of public land be taken back by the GOP morons in suits. So public lands are sweet, we need them. But the bigger issue is that we need Planet Earth. The thing hurting Earth the worst right now is climate change. We need a climate change mitigation policy more than we need to protect public lands, but public lands are important too and we can fight for multiple things at once, eh?
Gina: What was your drawl to trail running, and what was it about trail running that got you hooked?
Clare: The nature element and how it’s eons more interesting than running on a track. I love running, period. But collegiate running became monotonous and tedious to me, so trail running was a natural progression, especially considering I have an insatiable desire to explore wild places. My first ultra was a 50-miler in Northern Thailand. The sticky rice and remoteness of the jungle got me hooked. Also the hallucinations. Who doesn’t like a running-induced high?
Gina: You’ve had a fantastic year (and it isn’t even over) of racing. What have you learned about yourself along the way?
Clare: Thanks, that’s very kind of you. CCC (Courmayeur, Champex, Chamonix) was validating because I honestly felt like the first part of my racing year was lackluster. I didn’t prepare for Western States in my normal preparation way. I got too invested, too all-in and it made the journey less enjoyable. Even if I’d gotten third in that race, or just finished, I would still look back and change how I trained leading up to it. I need to put less emphasis on mileage, more emphasis on efficient and fast workouts in order to live the rest of my life. Running for 4-6 hours all of the time isn’t the way I need to train or live my life. I wouldn’t do States camp again, even though I met awesome people and had a lot of fun. I don’t need that much running in order to do well. My lead up to CCC grounded me back to being Clare. Ironically, this meant a lot of late nights out, too little sleep, living hard and nonstop with friends, constantly driving to another mountain range, running a lot, dancing a lot, and then boom, a month later, I was in the best shape of my life. I also had a lot of stress post-States and my coping mechanisms aren’t the healthiest, so it’s a misnomer to think that I got in the best shape of my life off rest and recovery. I wasn’t running crazy mileage, but I was slaying the rest of my hours with super quality time with friends and reading and exploring. I’m never going to train well off a monk lifestyle.
Gina: What is your mentality when racing?
Clare: I turn into a feral hunter with a streak of earth-raging appreciation. When the gun goes off, I go out hard. I try not to redline from the gun, especially in CCC, I kept my heart rate down for the first 50k or so. But then when I took the lead, I was pushing so hard, every second. Trying to run uphills that are close to impossible to run up is soul searing. You get stripped so raw, so quickly when pushing that hard. When I had 20k to go in CCC and Maite (second place) was only 3 minutes behind me, I didn’t let myself power hike unless it was physically impossible to run due to steepness. Being in the position to win, or say, podium, makes me very intense; I never feel more alive than in these moments of raw depletion. I live for it.
Gina: What is one piece of advice you’ve learned while running and racing, that has really made a difference in your life?
Clare: If you don’t live your life, someone else will live it for you.
This works for running and racing because I could listen to my coach all day, or my mentors or my competitors, but ultimately it’s my body doing the work and my mind that has to make the decisions on what to do. I also think this advice is very pertinent for normal life and learning to say ‘no’ to things I don’t want to do.
Gina: Now for the less serious stuff. If I were to look inside your fridge, what would I find?
Clare: At the moment, I don’t have a fridge because I’m sort of homeless, but the slew of fridges I frequent (my friends’ in Boulder, my parents’ and my family’s mountain house) all contain hot sauce, eggs and white wine. My food bag in my car always has tortilla chips (Jackson’s Honest), carrots (perfect for driving concentration), coffee (usually old), peanut butter and dark chocolate.
Gina: Are you currently reading any books? If so, what and why?
Clare: American War – a novel that came out in April about a second civil war that occurs in 2075 due to the “North” banning fossil fuels. States in the South want independence, but also turn into a third-world type of country. It’s eerily believable and dark.
Best American Travel Stories of 2015 –been reading this for a while; bring it everywhere in case I can squeeze in a story. Eventually I’ll finish it and move on in years.
I’m also in a book club in Boulder. We recently read Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Dark. I love short stories.
Gina: If you could have a conversation with anyone (dead or alive) about anything, who would it be with, and what would you discuss?
Clare: I’d talk to the Koch brothers and ask them when’s the last time they’ve gone outside for a hike or a walk and whether they enjoyed it. Also ask if they like coral reefs. And then I’d do the same for Ryan Zinke and ask him what he thinks his fellow military veterans think about public land usage.
Gina: And finally, if you had to listen to only one album on repeat for the rest of your life, what would you pick?
Individuals that make lasting impressions do so for a reason. I expect that Clare will continue to find success in all that she does.