Clare Gallagher comes to this year’s Western States 100 after having DNFed her only start at the race in 2017. In the following interview, Clare talks about what she was just up to in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, how she’s raced less this year, and why her goal is to run 94 miles this weekend.
Clare Gallagher Pre-2019 Western States 100 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Clare Gallagher before the 2019 Western States 100. How are you, Clare?
Clare Gallagher: I’m great. Thanks, Bryon.
iRunFar: Thanks for bringing the Arctic weather.
iRunFar: Actually, the Arctic front just passed through.
Gallagher: It just passed through. It’ll be gone by Saturday.
iRunFar: So you did just return from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, correct?
Gallagher: Yep, exactly. So northern Alaska, literally in the Arctic Circle.
iRunFar: Like the top of Alaska.
iRunFar: That was unplanned. That was not part of your Western States prep?
Gallagher: No, it was not. Exactly a month ago I got a text from Tommy Caldwell that was like, “Do you want to come up to the Arctic?” And, honestly, it was one of those trips where I couldn’t turn it down. To learn from the Native community up there, Gwich’in, about how climate change is impacting their hunting and subsistence lifestyle, and then to be in the Arctic Refuges was just truly life changing.
Gallagher: There are no trails up there. And Luke Nelson, beloved ultrarunner, who gave me my first lesson in gratitude training.
iRunFar: Oh yes?
Gallagher: Which is like traveling in off trail that’s heinous and miserable, you know, super hard, we had 60-pound packs on, yadda yadda yadda. And he’s like, “You’re going to be so grateful for the Western States Trail after this.”
iRunFar: [laughs] There’s a little less boggy tussock up here.
Gallagher: [laughs] Exactly. A little less loose, life-crushing boulders.
iRunFar: Yeah and there’s no raging rivers to jump across with heavy packs or anything like this. So you’re tapered in the sense of running.
Gallagher: Very much so. [laughs] Very much so.
iRunFar: But how was your training and prep earlier this year?
Gallagher: Yeah, prior to that, honestly this is, I’m really psyched. I have not over-raced this year, unlike last year.
iRunFar: Have you done anything other than win Way Too Cool?
Gallagher: I ran a 21 miler at Luke Nelson’s race Scout Mountain. And, then, I ran across Joshua Tree, so that was a 37-mile run, but in hot weather which was good. But other than that, no. I pulled out of Lake Sonoma [50 Mile], because I had some little injuries I didn’t want to push.
iRunFar: Yeah, but those injuries are all healed up?
Gallagher: Yeah. [laughs] We’re going to find out very quickly on Saturday how a few things I think, like being in snow for two weeks kind of aggravated them. On the whole I went into Alaska feeling extremely fit and I’m coming out feeling more or less the same.
iRunFar: Yeah. And I mean you were doing a lot of trekking basically around.
iRunFar: So long days but not a high intensity.
Gallagher: Correct. Yeah. Zone 1.
iRunFar: But you could actually be more fresh.
Gallagher: Yeah, in a way. The whole 24 hours of lightness.
iRunFar: How’s sleeping in that?
Gallagher: Yeah, I didn’t. It definitely makes you feel a little bit psychotic after a few weeks.
iRunFar: And you’re an energetic person to begin with.
Gallagher: Yeah, I know. It’s like adding, you know…
iRunFar: Fuel to the fire?
Gallagher: Yeah. But I’ve been resting this week and I’m just so excited to be here. It’s such a privilege to run with these shredder people, you know. Especially the women, a lot of the women I hope to be running with are close friends that I don’t get to see that often.
iRunFar: So it’ll be fun no matter what?
Gallagher: Yeah. And it’s a problem if I’m not having fun, you know. Then, I need to fix my attitude.
iRunFar: At least for a long portion of the race.
Gallagher: At least for the first four miles.
iRunFar: [laughs] I hope you’re having fun come the Escarpment.
iRunFar: If not, maybe there’s a problem.
iRunFar: So you were here in 2017, and actually had a really good race until it wasn’t.
Gallagher: [laughs] It’s obscene to tell this story to people.
iRunFar: Well, we’re a good audience for an obscene story.
Gallagher: I think I was in third at mile 89, running well, like pretty solid, right. And, then, by mile 94, well, I DNFed at mile 93. Full on, like I crawled for a lot, it took me four hours to get from 89 to 93 if I remember correctly. So everything just fell apart.
Gallagher: And I ended up developing like a Baker’s cyst behind my knee and it was a relatively benign injury all things concerned.
iRunFar: Yeah, but at the time…
Gallagher: Yeah, it was not.
iRunFar: Life ruining.
Gallagher: Yeah, truly. And so my goal is to make it 94 miles on Saturday. [laughs]
iRunFar: Okay. You are the only person going to line up at Western States with the goal of running 94 miles.
Gallagher: [laughs] Because I think if I make it there I’ll have to finish, because at this point I’ve had two years.
iRunFar: Most people would say if you get to 89 and you have a little bit of time until the cutoffs…
Gallagher: [laughs] That you should be fine.
iRunFar: But it was not an option that year.
Gallagher: Yeah. Yeah it was not an option.
iRunFar: So you’ve had experience running a good race at Western States. You know how to do it.
iRunFar: Even if you DNFed it. It’s not like you were having trouble at mile 30 or 35 and just totally screwed up.
Gallagher: Yeah, that’s such a good point. I kind of forget about that.
iRunFar: You kind of nailed 90 percent of Western and you didn’t blow up in like the sense of like, an epic bonk that was your fault or something.
Gallagher: Right, right.
iRunFar: Or puking or whatever because you screwed up.
Gallagher: Yeah, totally. I got the whole point of like, you have to be somewhat fresh at Foresthill. But I’m going to take that a little more seriously this year. Not push the canyons.
iRunFar: And how are you going to do that? You have a lot of friends but also a lot of really strong women and you’re probably going to want to race.
Gallagher: Totally, yeah.
iRunFar: So how do you, Clare, deal with?
Gallagher: Well honestly, I kind of have this Arctic Zen vibe right now and I feel like that will help me not go crazy fast off the start line like I usually do, and truly try and enjoy the first half, more or less, and you know, capitalize on my lack of heat training, and… [laughs]
iRunFar: Well you brought the Arctic weather. It’s all good.
Gallagher: Yeah, I just don’t, I’m trying to be smart and not just go all out in the first 30 miles.
Gallagher: But it’s a lot easier talking to you right now. [laughs]
iRunFar: We can talk at 30 miles. We can have a little refresher course. Clare, Arctic Zen. Arctic Zen.
Gallagher: Zen, right.
iRunFar: I want to find a Sharpie and just put that on your hand, or your forearm or something.
Gallagher: Totally. I’m also not worried that I’m going to be going out too fast because I don’t feel like, super sharp. I just don’t think it’s going to be a risk.
[There is a gust of wind.]
iRunFar: Ready for that camera to go down again.
iRunFar: Wow, that’s good. There’s a lot of positives to come out of stepping into a really awesome situation, a trip to the Arctic, and not being 100 percent focused for that last little bit.
iRunFar: Like if you were feeling really sharp, like just end up gunning it out of the Escarpment feeling really easy.
Gallagher: Right. Exactly. And yeah just thinking about the bigger picture is always a good thing for me to do. The races I’ve done have all been thinking about you know, a bigger picture, and thinking about the plight of climate change in the Arctic.
iRunFar: [laughs] That is…
Gallagher: …Will I hope bring me back down to Earth in a way.
iRunFar: Well the thing about that, I was up there going up the Escarpment today, and there’s these internal combustion engine cats grooming the snow. Why can’t they switch over to electric cats here, provide a good example?
Gallagher: [Olympic Valley] I think actually gets a decent amount of its energy from renewable energy. I think they’re partnered with Protect Our Winters. I’m not 100 percent sure about that.
iRunFar: We’re going to look into this. If we have a chance to talk after the race we can figure that out. [Editor’s Note: Squaw Valley Ski Resort does indeed partner with Protect Our Winters, a non-profit organization rallying athletes together against climate change.]
iRunFar: Alright, Clare. Good luck. Have fun out there.
Gallagher: Thank you.