This positive running story is all about Clare Gallagher, who found fun and nature by turning to running on trails and in the mountains. Clare currently lives and trains in Boulder, CO, and burst onto the national scene last year when she won her first 100 miler, at Leadville. We recently caught up with Clare and had the chance to ask her several searching questions about her background, that 100 mile debut last year, how to keep a balance between play and training, and much more. Here is the result of that interview. (Picture above is of Clare and pacer Amanda Basham at Leadville, photo credit Ryan Lassen for Salomon).
Can you give us a brief background to your running career, and what led you to where you are now?
As a good high school runner, I was recruited to run cross-country and track at Princeton. I ran all four years there, but dealt with myriad injuries that kept me from competing at a high collegiate level. After graduating, I taught English in Thailand for almost two years, which is also where I ran my first ultra: an 80-kilometer mountain ultra amongst diverse Golden Triangle hill tribes in Northern Thailand. I won and fell in love with ultras from there. Moving back to the U.S., to Boulder, I joined the ultra/trail community and haven’t looked back since. Choosing to surround myself with other crazy trail lovers is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Do you remember what was the moment, the reason behind making that impulsive decision to jump into your first ultra, that 80k in Thailand?
I am innately extremely competitive, so I needed a goal race after moving to Thailand. Running during the monsoon season can be depressing without a future goal. Ultras had always appealed to me because they’re ludicrous, so an ultra in a very rural, exotic place of Northern Thailand seemed like the perfect race for my intrepid spirit. I also planned a three-week backpacking trip with close friends through neighboring Myanmar to be my ‘taper’ before the race. So my month leading up to the race included jaw-dropping, non-stop travel through a crazily developing and history-laden Burma, then over 48 hours of travel to get to Northern Thailand. My friends kindly joined me at the race, as they heard there was epic caving in the area. Looking back, I recall that time as pure adventure with friends, and just a bit (12 plus hours) of running.
You live and train in Boulder, Colorado. What is it that makes Boulder such an attractive town for trail and ultra runners?
As mentioned, the trail and ultra community is robust in Boulder. Even though the town is chalk full of professional runners and endurance athletes, the ultra community sticks to its roots of inclusivity and fun. To me, ultraunning is about having fun on the trails and respecting Mother Nature. My buddies in Boulder share those same values.
Do you have a favorite run that you love returning to in the Boulder area? If yes, what is it that keeps you coming back for more?
My favorite winter route has been from Boulder Running Company up the Creek Path to Four Mile Canyon, across Poorman road to Sunshine Canyon, hop onto upper Sanitas backside access, summit Sanitas, and come back down Lion’s Lair and Sunshine Canyon trail and back to BRC for a very runnable, fun, and trail sprinkled 17 mile run. Friends necessary!
Can you tell us one thing that is uniquely Clare that no-one would know looking at you?
I think running is sort of ridiculous. I take it very seriously because I’m competitive and love the sport, but at the end of the day, I know that I’m not saving lives by running ultras competitively. It’s a constant internal battle with myself: how can I make the world a better place? Is this running thing achieving my goals of making the world a better place? Tough call depending on the day…
Coaching athletes and myself, I have found that it’s so important to achieve a sustainable balance between adventure and training. You have been reported as being pretty unstructured with your own training. How do you achieve your balance between “playing in the mountains and doing workouts?”
Well, over the past six months, I’ve been a lot more structured because I’ve solicited the help of a coach, David Roche. He’s very flexible with my need for adventure, but I’ve run a lot more roads than I would have had I been coaching myself this past winter. I’ve also been skiing less than last winter. It’s a difficult balance because I’ve had more injury scares in the past six months than I’d had for the two years prior coaching myself. Having a coach isn’t necessarily the reason, but I’m beginning to realize that I need constant checks and balances on my training life. I purposefully need to schedule more pure adventure days in order to not overtrain.
2016 was a pretty amazing year for you. What was your high point, and low point, and what was your biggest take away from each?
Winning Leadville was the highpoint, as it opened doors for me that I didn’t even know existed prior to Leadville. One particular low point was right before Leadville, when I decided to not apply to medical school, negating the previous six months of work scribing in emergency rooms and starting post-bac classes. Another low point was figuring out that I have a thyroid insufficiency, Hashimoto’s disease, in addition to being a Celiac, which means I have to take thyroid medication for the rest of my life. For the entire fall and winter and still to this day, I’ve had trouble regulating my fatigue, temperature and appetite.
What would you say to anyone that hasn’t yet tried trail running and is thinking of giving it a go?
Do you like nature? Do you like to feel strong and free, yet very small and part of something much bigger than yourself? Do you like to sweat and smile? If you answer yes to any of the questions, then get to your local trail and be free! Run anywhere from 20 minutes to a few hours. It will change your life, or at least make your day a lot better.
What adventures does 2017 hold in store for you, and do you have any key goals for yourself for the future?
Top ten in Western States 100 is my A-goal, closely followed by CCC in Chamonix in September (the 101k version of the famed UTMB race). I have an FKT attempt in Utah in late September, and I also hope to compete in The North Face 50-mile champs again this year and better my 5th place finish last year. Above all, I aim to stay grounded, healthy, and positive. If I’m not having fun, then I need to check myself!
Thank you so much Clare for taking the time with our interview. Just love your description of trail running, and wish you every success with your adventures and racing in 2017!
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