Clare Gallagher on finding inner peace as an ultrarunner
By CREE LAWRENCE » Photos Glen Delman Photography
Boulder resident Clare Gallagher is an ultrarunner with an impressive resume, but she doesn’t necessarily run to win. She runs because she loves to run.
“When you strip everything down, just the act and the process of running is so fulfilling for me,” Gallagher says. “You know, you take out all the pressure and competitiveness, and I find that running is the most pure, joyful activity I think I’ll ever do.”
Gallagher, who grew up in Englewood and graduated from Cherry Creek High School, won the grueling Leadville 100 for the second time last summer. She went into the 2022 race with more wisdom than when she won it in 2016, aware of what a challenge it would be, but also confident she had the mental strength and capacity to pull it off.
Undoubtedly, there are mental and physical challenges to running 100 miles straight, she says. Suffering an injury or a hard fall requires digging into a subconscious space of purpose and grit.
“I do think hundreds are a lot more mental than maybe is commonly thought of,” Gallagher says. “You can't deny the physical element of needing to actually get through every single one of those 100 miles. But around miles 50, 60, 70, I think it becomes entirely mental.”
Gallagher’s favorite part of the 2022 Leadville 100 was working with her crew, dear friends who surrounded her with support. She knew they would have her back no matter how the race turned out, and that was a beautiful experience for her.
As a Colorado native, Gallagher spent much of her upbringing outside and in the mountains, doing activities like climbing fourteeners with her family—sometimes against her will, she jokes.
She was recruited to run track and cross country at Princeton University, where she ran the 1,500- and 3,000-meter steeplechase, but she was plagued with multiple injuries, including chondromalacia and others that were the result of muscle overuse.
These injuries, which sometimes prevent her from doing what she loves most, have been the toughest part of running for Gallagher. When times get tough and she needs motivation, she turns to her role model, her 92-year-old grandfather, Pops—her biggest supporter and fan.
Princeton was by no means the pinnacle of Gallagher’s career, and she didn’t find her stride again until after she graduated. While doing a teaching fellowship in a tiny rural fishing village in Southern Thailand in 2014, she found herself with a lot of time on her hands. “I kind of thought I was done with running, because I just had a bit of a sour taste from not really doing that well in college,” she says. “And lo and behold, I was just like, well, running is what I love to do, so I'm going to run. It was there that I signed up for my first ultra, which was about a 50 miler.”
In 2016, Gallagher moved to Boulder, started running professionally and picked up sponsorships from Patagonia, La Sportiva and Petzl. In Boulder, she found a community of trail runners who taught her how to traverse the trail system in all seasons.
She loves running because “it’s a way to connect with our earth. Putting my feet on a dirt trail, being in the forest, looking at the Flatirons, it's so immersive for me to be able to move through our world and environment that we're so lucky to live in, in a way that feels really good. It’s the time in my day where I feel most alive.”
Ultimately, her goal is to give back some of the joy she’s found in the Boulder running community. “I want to continue to share how to run, because everyone can do it. Everyone can,” she says. “It's this beautiful sport where even if you can't run, you can hike. You don't have to be fast. It has changed my life for the better.”
While she still runs professionally, Gallagher no longer works full-time for Patagonia, her main sponsor. She’s now a first-year PhD student in the Department of Environmental Studies at CU Boulder, and she says the break from running full-time has only deepened her love for the sport. No longer able to rely on running as her sole source of joy, she’s working on finding happiness from within.