Clare Gallagher is the top women’s returnee from the most recent TNF 50 (in 2017) to this year’s race. In the following interview, Clare talks about how the TNF 50 course suits here, why she’s so excited to be running in this women’s field, what she does when she hits a rough patch in a race.
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Clare Gallagher before the 2019 TNF 50. How are you, Clare?
Clare Gallagher: I’m great, thanks! I’m excited to be here.
iRunFar: Yeah? This is a race and a course where you’ve done well.
Gallagher: Thanks. I’ve done it twice.
iRunFar: And you finished fifth and second in those two years.
Gallagher: Yeah, I really like the style of this race.
iRunFar: Why is that?
Gallagher: Unlike the race in the White Mountains we were just discussing as part of your own racing schedule, it’s sort of a fitness-favoring race, which suits my strengths – I don’t love technical running. It’s not my greatest strength in the world, but [TNF 50] is still really hard with the amount of vert that’s in it. It’s sort of this sweet in-between spot where no one is made for this course, but who can put together enough strengths to be “okay” [with air quotes] at this course.
iRunFar: So, what are those strengths that have worked out for you here?
Gallagher: Well, I think fast downhills really help. Kinda just hanging on. This course is one of complete wreckage [laughs]. Pretty much every year – of the two years I’ve run it – I’ve pretty much just hung on. For better or for worse. I definitely think it’s the most painful race.
iRunFar: Because you’re always on. There’s no breaks, per se.
Gallagher: Yeah, correct. When I did it two years ago and got second, I remember hitting the wall at mile 16, I think it was. I was like, “This is it. It’s over. I feel so bad.” But there’s 34 miles more of just like “balls to the wall.”
iRunFar: Which is really – I was talking with Zach Miller about his races here – and if you’re at the front of the race, you’re throwing yourself against the wall for the whole race.
Gallagher: Yeah, which is so fun. That’s what I like about this race. It’s ultrarunning in such a fun form. It’s hilarious, because you have people coming from shorter distances, you have 100-mile specialists… It’s just like kind of a cluster, I think.
iRunFar: Yeah, it’s interesting because obviously you’ve had great success at the 100-mile distance, but you’re good at the shorter stuff as well. The top group of women at this race are really suited to that faster type of racing style. How is that going to play out? Is it going to be a lot more aggressive?
Gallagher: I don’t know. This field of women – they’re so fast. I remember talking with you before Western States and saying, “I’m really excited to run with Anna Mae Flynn. I stupidly didn’t know that she wasn’t running States this year. So now I’m really excited to finally run with Anna Mae. And Addie Bracy and YiOu Wang and Anne-Marie Madden and my two homegirls, Abby Levene and Abby Hall. And Brittany Peterson. Those names – these women – they are so fast. I mean, the list is endless, right? So, I don’t know… I don’t know what I’m going to do [laughs]. I know I’m going to show up at 5:00 a.m. on Saturday morning.
iRunFar: We’ll see what happens…
Gallagher: We don’t have Magda Boulet or Ida Nilsson to take it out [and set the starting pace] and they’ve taken it out traditionally – at least in the two races I’ve done. So who wants to take it out? I’m not sure.
iRunFar: Somebody has to do it.
Gallagher: It could be Keely Henninger. Keely goes out pretty fast. We’ll see.
iRunFar: In a lot of races that doesn’t really pay off, but watching UTMB this year changed my mind about that. Pau Capell ran off the front. People were asking, “When’s he going to blow up?” And he didn’t. This race here is a 50-miler. There’s a higher chance you can start fast and hold on.
Gallagher: Yeah, that’s a good point. I think Pau’s race was extraordinary. Most ultras don’t have those types of outcomes. We’ll see. All the power to them if someone wants to take it out from the gun.
iRunFar: That’ll be fun to see! [Laughs] You’ve had a really great season so far. You won Way Too Cool, which was a shorter distance. You won Western States, which was longer. Do you feel really fit right now?
Gallagher: Thank you. To be perfectly honest, no [I don’t feel really fit].
iRunFar: Why is that?
Gallagher: I’ve done a few races since Western. I’ve tried to stay very local. I did a race above Polar in Gold Hill – one of Joe Grant’s runs. I did one in Wyoming in the Red Desert. Just small, community events. So I don’t really know how my fitness stacks up. My training partner, Abby Levene, is really fit right now, so it’s hard to know where I am. It’s been really fun to train with her. She’s going to have an outstanding race. We’re both coached by David Roche. So, to answer your question: I’m healthy and that’s the main thing.
iRunFar: So, you’re healthy, you’ve run a couple of races. Presumably they weren’t the focus of your season…
Gallagher: Definitely. And my mileage has been… very conservative [laughs].
iRunFar: I remember talking with you before Western States. You said, “I just got back from trudging with a heavy pack in the Arctic.”
Gallagher: I don’t know if it went through my head, but I definitely haven’t overtrained for this race.
iRunFar: You’re fresh, you’re fresh. You really haven’t been beat by a lot of women over the last year-and-a-half, at least in important races. One woman who has beat you is Addie Bracy.
iRunFar: She’s beaten you before at Moab Trail Marathon.
Gallagher: She’s one of the fiercest competitors. She handed it to me. She was so good at Never Summer 100k last year. She beat me by, like, well over an hour. And that, in theory, was at my type of race because it was at altitude and stuff. Addie Bracy’s breadth of talents is so wide. I’ve seen her a few times this fall. She’s clearly obscenely fit and ready to go, so I think everyone should be terrified [laughs]. And very excited. Maybe I’ll be able to run with her for a little bit.
iRunFar: Well, you’ll definitely have a lot of women up at the front to watch and run with. How fierce is it going to be up there? A lot of these women are your friends or at least acquaintances. How is it going to be at mile 25 or mile 30? How does it evolve during the race?
Gallagher: I know for myself that I’ll try and keep it very congenial. It’s such a gift to be able to run with such fast women who are so hardcore. If there are packs, I think it’ll be amazing. If I had to guess, I think that would just push the pace ahead. I don’t have an estimate on what the women’s winning time is going to be, but I think it could be close, if not faster than Ida’s time two years ago. Just by looking at the field. I don’t know if you saw that [potential on the entrants’ list as well].
iRunFar: Yeah, there’s definitely that potential for it.
Gallagher: There’s also a huge potential for blowup. This race is difficult because once you get into that middle section around Stinson Beach, as you know, there’s a few sections where you see people around switchbacks. You can kind of get a lay of the land. I think that really messes with people psychologically. That’s where the carnage begins. You start thinking, “Oh, people are passing me… people are catching up… people look really good on climbs.” That’s where I really like it [laughs].
iRunFar: Why is that?
Gallagher: That is ultrarunning. You’re faced with difficulty in a race and you have to decide, “What do I do about this? How do I match my mind, my body?”
iRunFar: How do you? You have a very positive personality outside of your running and you seem to carry that through into your running. If, at mile 30, you see Anna Mae run quickly up a hill ahead of you, how do you stay positive? How do you keep engaged?
Gallagher: It depends on the scenario, for sure. It depends on how you feel. I think, first and foremost, you eat a gel. I’ll be very honest about my strategy: Fueling breeds positivity. Bonking will make you hate your life and quit.
iRunFar: Very true.
Gallagher: That’s a practical assessment: Gels. But then, around that section of Stinson Beach, the trees are insane. You get power from that energy and then you hit the 50k runners at that point. Presumably the lead 50-mile women will be passing 50k runners and there’s just so much camaraderie. There’s gorgeous trees – are they sequoias or redwoods?
iRunFar: I think they would be redwoods here.
Gallagher: Okay. A redwood forest. It doesn’t get much better than that! Even if you’re walking.
iRunFar: Well, hopefully that’s not the case. Clare, have fun out there and best of luck on a good race.
Gallagher: Thank you!
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