Clare Gallagher says it took every ounce of her being to win the 2019 Western States 100. In the following interview, Clare talks about running for most of the day in second place and solo on the course, what happened before mile 80 when she took over the lead from an injured and about-to-drop Courtney Dauwalter, her latest-race duel for the win with second-place Brittany Peterson, and what she learned through her build-up and unideal taper for this event.
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with Clare Gallagher. She’s the 2019 Western States 100 champion. Congratulations, Clare.
Clare Gallagher: Thanks, Meghan. It’s pretty weird to be here.
iRunFar: You don’t have your voice back I guess.
Gallagher: It’s a little, it’s coming. It’s there.
iRunFar: You sounded a little bit atmospheric at the finish line last night, like you left your voice out on the course.
Gallagher: [laughs] Oh, for sure. I left every ounce of my being on that course in the last six miles.
iRunFar: Okay, I do want to talk to you about all 100 miles, but let’s just get to the point for a hot second. You were running in the lead starting around mile 80. You thought Brittany [Peterson] was some minutes behind you. She rolls up on you at about mile 93 in the dark.
Gallagher: Yes, exactly.
iRunFar: This is about a mile before the Pointed Rocks aid station, the last major aid station.
Gallagher: Uh huh.
iRunFar: What happened in that moment?
Gallagher: In this moment, it was uphill on that rocky section before the highway.
iRunFar: The highway.
Gallagher: And I yelled some expletives and was like oh my gosh and I honestly switched, like something in my body switched, because usually in ultras if someone passes you, they pass you. Clearly I wasn’t working hard enough, because as soon as she passed me I just stuck on her pacer Cody Lind’s heels and I said, “Come on, Alastair [McDowell],” my pacer, and the four of us just trudged forward for a mile, to 94, and at 94…
iRunFar: At the aid station.
Gallagher: Yeah, at the aid station, I had taken all my excess belongings out of my pack, threw them, and didn’t stop for food or water and just didn’t look back.
iRunFar: Tried to drop a couple ounces of extra stuff.
iRunFar: Go light.
Gallagher: Yeah. I mean, it was for sure just a placebo thing because I had a little bit of Coke left in my flask, and I was like well, “I have to send this.” And then I started going reckless down downhills, because I had been pretty cautious before about sprained ankles and things, and I was just like, “This is now or it. I’m either going to win or I’m not.” So.
iRunFar: “And I don’t want to go down like this.”
iRunFar: When she came up behind you at around mile 93, did she come hard, did she creep up? What was it like?
Gallagher: Out of nowhere! Truly out of nowhere. Al and I are just plugging away, and he was like,”Oh, there’s no way she’ll catch you, she’s easily 10 minutes back. Because I kept being like, “Look back for a light.” And he’s like, “Can’t see anything…”
iRunFar: And then blam-o.
Gallagher: And then we were like, “Ahh!” And we didn’t even have time to be like, “How did you not see her?”
iRunFar: “How did you get there?”
Gallagher: I did not see her!
iRunFar: “Alastair, you had one job.” [laughs]
iRunFar: “Well, you had like 12.”
Gallagher: He did a great job. But at 90, Hal Koerner was pushing me out of the aid station. He was like, “Come on, go.” I was like, “It’s fine. I’ve got 10 miles, there’s no way.” Honestly I was pretty confident. Maybe he knew how close Brittany was. He probably did.
iRunFar: He could feel her coming.
Gallagher: Yeah. Totally.
iRunFar: Radio reports maybe.
Gallagher: And the crazy thing about Brittany…
iRunFar: Spidey sense of a guy who’s got a cougar trophy.
Gallagher: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. He’s like, “It’s not over, honey.” But Brittany is like really, really fast. She has a fast 5k PR and so I’m like, “Of course it would come down to the final stretch.”
iRunFar: The person who’s got the quick legs.
Gallagher: Yeah, yeah. But I was like man, just stay confident in my own speed, because my coach David Roche basically just has me doing a lot of speedwork. So I was like, “This is for you, David!”
iRunFar: [laughs] Okay so you drop everything at the mile 94 aid station. You guys take off. When we see you next at No Hands Bridge–that’s 2.5 miles later, or 2.3 miles, something like that–you’ve put a minute and three quarters on her.
Gallagher: [laughs] I didn’t realize I had put over a minute on her. I thought she was 20 seconds behind me.
iRunFar: Exactly a minute and 45 seconds. Were you just, were you in like a cloud of non-being and just running?
Gallagher: 100 percent. I was like, if I’m not redlining, then this isn’t going to work. I was redlining, and the only other time I felt like that, and this was more intense, was at CCC two years ago with Maite Maiora on my heels. I was like, oh I never thought I’d go into this well again and here I am.
iRunFar: “Here I am.”
iRunFar: And the final three miles to the finish are not an easy three miles. There’s a climb up Robie Point. There’s just a grinder paved-road climb. And then there’s a downhill hammer, a mile hammer to the finish. Take me there.
Gallagher: I ran every step up Robie Point.
iRunFar: You ran every step.
iRunFar: Got it.
Gallagher: And I just sort of zoned out. I just sort of ignored my legs. Actually it was Bryon [Powell] who had given me advice, because I have a bad Achilles…
iRunFar: Oh, okay.
Gallagher: And he was like, “If it hurts to walk, and if it hurts to run, just run.”
Gallagher: And I’m like, well I’m taking that advice now!
iRunFar: “Here we go! I’m just going to run!”
Gallagher: Yeah. And then when I got to the road, I still was incredulous that I had put enough time on her, so I was just kind of belligerent to my crew.
iRunFar: “No, we’re going.”
Gallagher: I was like, “Where do I go?!”
iRunFar: “How do I get there?”
Gallagher: And then I get to the track and I’m just like, “Ahh!” [waves arms] [laughs] I thought she was going to come at any moment. It just, major kudos to Brittany for putting on such a stellar race. And Courtney [Dauwalter] for that matter, to pull us along like that.
iRunFar: I mean seriously. This is one of the most dynamic 100-mile women’s races I’ve ever seen. I mean probably…
Gallagher: Because looking at the other girls behind, it was equally as competitive.
iRunFar: And it was still flopping until the end.
iRunFar: You know, like track sprint finish…
Gallagher: Right, with Kaytlyn [Gerbin] and…
iRunFar: Camelia [Mayfield]?
Gallagher: Camelia, yeah.
iRunFar: It was just a hell of a women’s race. It was thrilling. Really thrilling. Okay. Let’s back up a little bit. Courtney took the race out. You were squarely in second, basically from after the Escarpment to–when did you go squarely in second?
Gallagher: Exactly. Um, yeah. Maybe, oh it was the first aid at like, 10 or five [miles], I can’t remember.
Gallagher: Yeah, 10. And I didn’t stop for water, and I had been running with Amanda Basham and she just stopped to grab water. Oh, and Brittany actually.
Gallagher: And then I just, I lost them. But I could tell that they were only five minutes behind me.
iRunFar: Not far.
Gallagher: Pretty much the whole time.
Gallagher: But I was alone, which is rare. Oftentimes us women can run with guys at least, and this was the first race where I was in my own little universe.
iRunFar: For a long time.
Gallagher: Yeah. Which I think helped conserve energy, because you know I talk a lot when I’m running. And I’m like, “Wow, I feel really good.” Just pitter pattering by myself. [laughs]
iRunFar: Actually someone on social media said yesterday, “I wonder what it’s like to run with Clare. Does she talk the whole time? What it would it be like if she didn’t talk and had that energy left over?”
iRunFar: I guess we found out.
Gallagher: Yeah. And then when I got to my pacers, I was like, “I’m not talking to you. Just FYI.”
Gallagher: And it worked.
iRunFar: “I’ve been in my quiet zone all day.”
Gallagher: Yeah, and this is working.
iRunFar: When did the actual pass over between Courtney and you happen? Was that on the climb up to Green Gate?
Gallagher: Yeah, exactly. It was pretty much right after I got off the boat, and I could see Courtney walking with [her pacer and husband] Kevin [Schmidt] and she was just so joyous. She is such a class act. I can’t think of anyone better to be like, the matriarch of–well that makes her sound old. She’s not old at all. But like just the boss of…
iRunFar: Matriarch is a term of respect, not a term of age, so I think it’s okay.
Gallagher: Yeah. Of our sport.
iRunFar: Call her the matriarch.
Gallagher: Yeah. She basically knew she was dropping and was so kind and excited. She spent all this energy cheering me up, because I was running–I ran every uphill because I felt good on the uphills–and she was just like, “Go get that cougar!” I was like, “Oh, Courtney! I love you!”
iRunFar: “I love you, woman!”
iRunFar: Did you know before that that she had been struggling for some miles or did you just come up on her and?
Gallagher: At the river. I got to the river and I was like “Oh, this has been fun. I wonder if Kaci [Lickteig] or Brittany will catch me. And then someone goes, “Courtney was three minutes ahead of you.” And I was like, “Oh.”
iRunFar: “Something has changed here.”
Gallagher: Yeah, yeah. And then the wheels started clicking and my competitive instinct really took over right at the river.
iRunFar: Talk to me a little bit about how you felt. When we interviewed you before the race, you said you had little physical concerns, and you had not had the world’s most usual taper. You went to the Arctic. You went carrying heavy packs around off trail. Probably a little bit more on your feet than you would typically be.
Gallagher: Yeah. Like 14 hours on my feet for eight days.
iRunFar: How did you feel for 100 miles yesterday?
Gallagher: Honestly I felt really good.
Gallagher: Yeah, I think the technicality of the high country really was a blessing for me because it felt relatively smooth, and I just had this new attitude. Basically getting back from the Arctic, and I was like, “Nothing’s going to be as hard as walking in off-trail tundra with a 50- or 60-pound pack. I think I used it to my advantage and tried to ignore the little niggles.
Gallagher: And yeah. So I’m just knocking on wood that everything came around in like eight days since I’ve been back.
iRunFar: You had a little thing tied around your knee last night. You were okay?
Gallagher: Oh yeah. So that was the knee that it’s a chronic patella problem that made me drop two years ago.
Gallagher: And I started feeling it around mile 80, I was like, “No.”
Gallagher: And I was like give me the KT Tape, and I put different variations of KT Tape on my knee, like twice, during the race. It was actually on Cal Street where I first put it on. Oh, and we saw a little baby black bear!
iRunFar: Oh? Where?
Gallagher: Oh my gosh on Cal Street.
iRunFar: During the day?
iRunFar: Little? How little?
Gallagher: Well I mean it was…
iRunFar: Not little little.
Gallagher: Yeah, yeah.
iRunFar: But it could still eat your face.
Gallagher: It was a little baby and it was so cute and I thought it was an omen. It was this little bear being like, “Go get it! Save me!”
iRunFar: The bear. Well I think it’s a grizzly bear that’s on the California flag but little California bear cheering you on.
iRunFar: You crossed the line with an absolute look of shock on your face. I mean to me it looked like shock. Is that what you felt or was it just, what was in your head then?
Gallagher: I was like feeling every possible emotion I think I’ve felt in the last 10 years. [laughs] On the finish line. I’m like semi-crying, semi like really psyched, and so depleted. And I was running just so scared, you know, which is a hilarious thing, but it drives such a cool human-potential limit and I was so psyched to have pushed my body that hard. Just reaching another level where I basically kind of saw, like I wasn’t really able to hold stuff down for most of the last 20, and so I was just running on fumes.
iRunFar: It was just the internal combustion engine still running on not a lot of fuel.
iRunFar: You have racked up wins at some incredible races over the years. You’ve had a hugely fast time at the Leadville Trail 100 Mile. You’ve been the CCC champion. But in my mind, winning the Western States 100 is kind of the top so far. What does that feel like?
Gallagher: It’s so crazy! It’s so crazy. I think especially coming into this race with pretty low expectations. I knew I was fit, and honestly at the start of June before I was going to Alaska, I was really sure I was going to gun for the win, and a podium. I just came in really loose and grateful for my amazing crew, and to see all these friends and stuff. So it’s a good lesson, at least to me personally, that it’s a good way to race. And Western States, I mean, it’s a lot. It’s a lot of goodness.
iRunFar: You get that amazing cougar. I think it’s one of the coolest prizes in our sport.
Gallagher: Oh, for sure. I didn’t realize that until last night when I was lying down, I was like, “Sweet!”
iRunFar: “Cougar!” Well congratulations to you on your win of the 2019 Western States 100. I can’t wait to see what you do next.
Gallagher: Thank you, Meghan! Thanks, iRunFar.
A video interview (with transcript) with Sébastien Spehler and Thibaut Garrivier after their first and third-place finishes, respectively, at the…