Catching Up With Clare Gallagher

Catching up with ultrarunner and environmental activist Clare Gallagher.

By on November 9, 2020 | Comments

While many of us know her for her running, the political world knows Clare Gallagher as an environmental activist. With environmental policy a main debate point in this election cycle, her work has been in overdrive. At the time of our interview, it was two days since the U.S. presidential election and the outcome remained uncertain. “I personally have faith. I’m confident and hopeful; I don’t want to misappropriate my energy,” Gallagher said, unrattled and matter-of-factly. She spent an hour reflecting on her recent year’s work and plans ahead.

“Technically, I work for Patagonia as a Global Sports Activist. Before COVID-19, I was giving talks at stores on environmental issues,” she explained. It’s more than a job for Gallagher though, and her passion comes through. She’s not simply a figurehead, and instead puts her heart into it. She prepares the talks herself, tailoring the presentation to issues unique to that place or country. “The general premise is to get people amped about environmental action, and use that passion to get more involved,” Gallagher explained. “How does the government regulate emissions? What’s going on with local air quality? The biggest success stories are from the relationships I’ve built, some of those were online. There’s a gal in Virginia doing a pipeline protest run,” she pointed to as a proud connection.

Clare Gallagher testifying on a Colorado climate bill in 2019, to commit Colorado to reduce greenhouse-gas pollution. Photo: Mike Thurk

Now unable to visit those stores and with limited travel opportunities, Gallagher’s role has shifted into marketing, and a lot of that was centered around the recent elections. “The energy around the elections was unlike anything we’ve ever seen. But so much was digital, it sucked not to talk to people,” Gallagher, typically talkative, lamented. Gallagher confesses that Patagonia’s viral tag messaging wasn’t her idea, but references other clever ploys. “Patagonia’s got a lot of covert marketing campaigns, especially in trail running communities. A lot of what I would do is find trail runners in a particular state and work with them on social media about climate change. It’s really about building digital relationships, and there’s a fine line about specifically endorsing candidates,” she elaborated, and then went to air quality again. “With air quality, how many millions of people are affected by the deregulation of the environment?”

“I’ve been running less than ever, and working more than ever–and it’s great,” Gallagher said of her current motivation. “Every 15 minutes is scheduled out. In tandem with her work at Patagonia, Gallagher is a volunteer with Protect Our Winters (POW), and has lobbied legislators on climate-change policy in that role. “POW creates schedules based on geographies. Usually we’ll be a group of 10, half athletes and half heavy-hitter business people. We’ll try to see as many members of Congress as we can,” she said of the experience. Gallagher lives in Boulder, Colorado and thus is part of the Colorado contingent. “Joe Neguse, Cory Gardner, Michael Bennet, Diana DeGette, Scott Tipton,” she rattles off the names of Colorado’s representatives and senators that she’s met with.

Rallying for climate and the permanent protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge at the 2020 Outdoor Retailer with Gwich’in friends (l-to-r) Quannah and Jody Potts. Photo courtesy of Clare Gallagher.

“Since 2018, there’s already been so much progress,” Gallagher gushed. “The national conversation on climate change is helping, everything helps move the needle to educate people. I think the biggest topic in Colorado–I prefer to be as local as possible–is summer ozone. And that’s being closely challenged by particulate matter.” A collection of pollutants from things like traffic and oil and gas operations can cause ozone in the atmosphere, and when inhaled, ozone can damage lungs. Particulate matter in the air is things like smoke, fumes, and dust. Colorado’s wildfire season this year–and the smoke from it–was devastating. Three of the four largest wildfires in state history happened in quick succession this summer and fall. “I grew up in Colorado and I’d never seen a summer like this,” Gallagher said of the air quality.

“I can’t claim that I’ve educated 2,000 runners, but it’s cumulative,” and she calls out the Running Up for Air (RUFA) group of races as a real highlight. The event started in Utah, another state with poor air quality, and now has events in Colorado and Montana too. “Someone at RUFA talks to someone else, someone reads a blog post, and there are thousands of people in Colorado working on climate change. It’s cumulative, and I think in Colorado we’ve made significant progress.”

Gallagher has experts available to aid her speaking and lobbying, but takes it upon herself. “I want to know the science, this is what I care about most in the world. This is the most valuable work I’ll ever do. I read quite a bit,” she pushed out with some force.

Clare and many other runners on a socially distanced ballot-dropoff run in October. Photo: In Motion Running

But that’s not the only work she’s doing. Gallagher continues to run 40- to 60-mile weeks, while growing even more connected to her local community and the Rocky Mountain Runners social group. “The last six to eight months has taught me that I run because I love it, I love running with other people–for mental health, the social aspect, that really gets me up. My running’s never been fuller. I’m able to make friends and real connections [through running],” she cheered. She just celebrated her 29th birthday and did a–you guessed it–29 mile run for the day with friends joining at a distance for various stretches. “If the group got too big, I put in a surge,” she quipped.

Clare (yellow shirt) running 29 miles for her 29th birthday with local friends (l-to-r) Ginna Ellis, Addie Bracy, and Abby Levene. Photo: Mikey Oliva

Gallagher’s got a new cat too, named Mermaid. “I’m obsessed with water,” she said and went on to describe her fling with freediving, or diving without an air tank. “There are a lot of similarities [between freediving and ultrarunning]. I did my first deep dive in New Mexico, the Blue Hole. It’s really about mental relaxation,” she said. Running’s a lot about numbers and Gallagher doesn’t offer any on the freediving side until I prod. “My static apnea PR, it was actually a while ago from when I was in Thailand in 2014, is 5:05. I haven’t trained for it. I get in the pool three times a week, but I just flop around. I’ve gone down 100 feet while wearing fins, and that was in Thailand too,” she said without boasting. “It’s like my secret, little life. It’s weirder and more niche than ultrarunning, but it’s got all the same characters.”

And Gallagher’s certainly one of those characters too, a great one though.

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Freediving in New Mexico’s Blue Hole last year. Photo: Drew Herrick

Justin Mock

Justin Mock is the This Week In Running columnist for iRunFar. He’s been writing about running for 10 years. Based in Europe, Justin has run as fast as 2:29 for a road marathon and finished as high as fourth in the Pikes Peak Marathon.