Clare Gallagher, 26, of Boulder, Colo., a professional ultrarunner on The North Face ultrarunning team, is still a relative newcomer to the sport of trail running. In 2014, she was teaching English in Thailand after running collegiately. It was there that she rediscovered her love of running during long adventure trail runs and a 50-mile ultramarathon near Myanmar.
Two years later, she toed the line of Colorado’s famous Leadville 100, where she won in a blistering 19 hours, 27 seconds—the second-fastest time ever on the high-altitude course. And that, just two years into her ultrarunning career.
Since then, Gallagher has posted numerous podium finishes at competitive events around the world. But that’s only a fraction of what makes her such an incredible trail runner. She’s also a driven activist for public lands and she isn’t shy about using her platform in the sport to spread a message of environmental consciousness wherever she goes.
We caught up with Gallagher briefly to ask her a few questions about trail running, the environment, and why we should care that they’re tied up together.
Photo credit (from left to right): Mike Thurk, Ben Duke, Thomas Woodson
I was looking to not care about running. I pretty much stopped caring—or told myself that I didn't care—towards the end of my senior track seasons (indoor and outdoor). In reality, though, I cared immensely but was disappointed after injuries and poor performances. Once I moved to Thailand after graduating, I re-discovered that I do in fact love running and that I do want to compete. I wasn't looking for anything in particular; I just did what I wanted, and what I wanted happened to be lots of running. In Thailand, I ran for adventure and to train for a goal. Today it’s the same.
It's very mental. After a certain point in an ultra, fitness becomes superfluous, and the race isn't amongst runners, but amongst minds. I love it because collegiate running never offered the same opportunity to outsmart my competitors over a long period.
Running is not inherently altruistic. Most of us run to make ourselves feel good. Not to mention that, in ultras, we require other people to forfeit time from their lives to help us run stupid distances. It's all so weird and time-consuming. That's not to say it doesn't have value, but I prefer to associate my running with issues more substantial than just running a race. Plus, I honestly race better when I think of climate change or the world’s injustices. I suppose that, too, isn't altruistic if I'm thinking of others' suffering to run better. … Regardless, I justify my running by making it about more than just me.
Any trail runner who doesn't support public land protection or climate change mitigation efforts needs to check their privilege. Heck, I need to check my privilege every day. That's why I put myself out there with advocacy work.
I'm eagerly waiting to help support the pro-climate policy candidate for Colorado's 2018 gubernatorial race. Also, I'm helping Conservation Colorado with pro-wilderness bills in congress, including the Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act, introduced by Jared Polis in 2015 (and hopefully reintroduced during OR this January). This would be in conjunction with Senator Bennet's push to make Camp Hale a National Historic Landscape.
There's an innate reclusiveness to running: we often do it to get away from the world, right? But this probably led to a lack of education about public lands and complacency when it comes to public land protection. We also lack an organizing body in our sport that all runners can connect with and be informed by. I think it's crazy that in trail running, we are directed to get information about public land from the Access Fund or Backcountry Hunters.
I hope I will have made the trail running organization that provides access, education, and support for public lands.