Author: Ali Fifer
April’s Woman of the Month is a local Colorado athlete out of Boulder, who has recently made her debut into the Ultra Running* World. At only 25 years old, she has accomplished more than most do in a lifetime, all while keeping the most humble and down-to-Earth attitude you could imagine. Running is what she’s most known for, but this woman has inspiring dreams and is giving back to her community in outstanding ways. So without further ado, meet Clare Gallagher!
Clare Gallagher grew up in Englewood, with a supportive and active family. She studied at Princeton college, focusing on coral reef ecology, and she ran on the cross-country team. She spent one summer in Bermuda researching ocean acidification and the following summer in Palau (a tiny island east of the Philippines) researching effects on baby coral’s survival. A few days after graduating college, Clare left America to teach English to underprivileged children in Thailand. Thailand is where her ultra-running days began. She ran her first ultra-race in 2014 – the 80K (~50 miles) Thailand Mountain Ultramarathon. She won. Upon returning home to Colorado, she ran the legendary Leadville 100 – a 100 mile “race across the sky” in Leadville, CO. Not only did she win this for the women, she ran the 2nd fastest time EVER for women. I was fortunate enough to be at this same race. My dad was running the race and I was his pacer for a segment. I saw first-hand how this race could break people physically and mentally. All the while, Clare was flying her way to a near-record finish.
ON GIVING BACK LOCALLY & INTERNATIONALLY
I could write a short novel solely on Clare’s running accomplishments, but she is doing so much more! What really sets her apart from other athletes and makes her a remarkable woman is how she is using the attention she gains from running to grow a platform to speak on pressing global issues she is passionate about. Her passions include environmental advocacy and spreading human rights awareness, especially for women and minorities. When asked about how she gives back to her community, she responds:
“I realized I can’t do this running thing without giving back. I want to run fast so I can have a platform to talk about the things I care about – environmental advocacy.”
I learned so much from Clare about coral and their dire necessity in ecology:
“As soon as reefs go, that means the fish communities go. People will starve. 1 billion people depend on fish as their main protein source.”
She saw first-hand, the devastating effects of our changing climate and what it does to our planet, starting on a delicate, micro level.
When asked what her proudest moment was, you would think it would be something about winning an epically long, legendary race. Clare’s proudest accomplishment to date was starting a program teaching underprivileged children in Thailand how to swim. These kids lived within walking distance of the ocean, yet were terrified and avoided water because a tsunami had leveled their town a decade earlier, taking many of their loved ones. This is also significant because Americans, Australians, and Brits had been taking over the water tourism of the area – taking money that should be going back into the local economy. This swimming program has continued after her departure and is on its fourth year. The Thai kids that started four years ago with Clare are now able to receive their scuba certification and start running the dive shops and tourism. This is huge for the economy of this area.
ON THE “DARK MOMENTS”
Everyone has their dark moments. They will look different from person to person, but everyone experiences times of self-doubt, insecurity, or lack of motivation. In a 100-mile race, it is inevitable that you will experience this. So how does she push past these thoughts?
“My dark moments usually come down to ‘why am I doing this?’ Usually when I’m in pain or someone’s catching up… This is what makes a strong ultra-runner. You have to have a reason WHY you’re doing this.”
Her reasons for pushing on? She thinks of those who have it worse off than she does – her brother serving in the army and sacrificing to protect our country or the people in Palau whose homes will be drowned by the rising ocean levels when they have little to no contribution to climate change.
“Those are the things that pull me through the dark moments. You have to think BIG. The thought of winning won’t get you there, it’s not enough. You need a bigger reason.”
Other thoughts that get her through a race: “The fear of suffering is worse than suffering itself.” You must accept the pain and push through, knowing it will make you a stronger person. Lastly, she thinks about her mantra “Be a Gallagher.” She says, “I think everyone else in my family is so much more bad ass than me.”
Clare was originally chosen as the Woman of the Month for her impressive athletic accomplishments, but with all the amazing accomplishments and goals she has to speak about, we barely even talked about her athletics! While running 100 miles at once may seem super human to the average person, Clare’s attitude is incredibly humble, and her passion is something anyone can be motivated by. How she deals with the “dark moments” is great advice for anyone dealing with their own. Lastly, when I asked her if she follows any specific training method, her attitude on training is as follows: “I want to keep it more on the passion side of my brain rather than thinking it through too much. I finally got a coach so I don’t have to think… As soon as you take it too seriously, that’s no fun.”
Clare met with me at Zeal in Boulder. FemTribe presented her with a small gift box of Sour Patch Kids (one of her favorite race snacks) and some other small runner goodies.
**Ultra Running, for anyone not familiar with the term, is a race of any distance past the marathon (26.2 miles). Most Ultra races start at 50K or 31 miles.
OTHER PLACES TO LEARN ABOUT CLARE GALLAGHER:
https://claregallagherruns.wordpress.com - Her blog
https://youtu.be/4j1bF7Qwg7A - video of coral studies
http://www.bios.edu/news/summer-interns-reflect-on-their-experiences - Info on her research for ocean acidification
http://www.suds-en-ligne.ird.fr/ecosys/ang_ecosys/intro1.htm - this can be linked in her quote about 1 billion people rely on fish as protein source