It turned out that ultrarunning wasn’t a diversion from a viable career. It was a career.
Clare Gallagher shocked the ultrarunning world in August when she came out of nowhere to win the women’s division of the Leadville Trail 100 Run. Not only did she crush her first 100-miler, she posted the second-fastest women’s time in the 33-year history of the race: a blistering 19 hours, 27 seconds.
Clare Gallagher comes from a competitive family. “It’s not like my parents instigated it—they’re really low-key,” says the 25-year-old from Boulder, Colorado. “But we can’t even play some board games.”
When “The Settlers of Catan” comes out, the games get heated. Her middle brother, Eric, is in training to become a Green Beret and oldest brother, Scott, is in law school to become a public defender. Her mother, Ann, is a third-grade teacher and her father, Mike, runs an insurance company. Both of her maternal grandparents are surgeons. “We have a high-performing family,” Eric says. “There are high expectations.”
That’s why it was particularly gut-wrenching when Clare realized she wasn’t meant to be a doctor. She always thought she’d go to medical school, just like her grandparents. But two weeks into an organic chemistry course at University of Colorado, Boulder, last summer, “I felt like, ‘Oh crap! This isn’t my true path,’” she says. So she quit in order to focus on ultra-distance running.
“I was really afraid to tell my parents and my grandparents,” Clare says. She gave up a serious career trajectory for a niche sport that favors athletes in their thirties and even forties who’ve developed the mental toughness to keep going for 100 miles.
Clare shined as a four-sport high-school athlete in the Denver area, but spent her college running career at Princeton plagued by injury. Still, she published her thesis on juvenile coral survival in the journal Coral Reefs and even started a swim program for K–12 students in Thailand, where she taught English after college. “She’s always been goal driven,” her brother Scott says. “There hasn’t been a thing she hasn’t churned away at ferociously.”
The ultrarunning idea didn’t come out of nowhere. Clare had started running again in Thailand, reigniting her love of the sport. In 2014 she entered—and won—the inaugural Thailand Ultramarathon 80K. But she still couldn’t shake the idea that she was supposed to become a doctor. After she dropped the organic chemistry class in Boulder, she wasn’t sure how to tell her family.
They finally had the talk. Her grandfather told her, “We still love you and are proud of you, whatever you decide to do.” Less than a month later, Clare was on the Leadville Trail. To those who don’t know her well, the win was a surprise. Despite her competitive nature, Clare is a happy-go-lucky person who entered the race on short notice. But to those who know her best, the win wasn’t surprising at all. “She is a super-granola, fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants type person when it comes to a lot of things,” Eric says. “But she’s fiercely competitive.” Case in point: the race-day plan she made for her Leadville crew mapped everything minutely, including the exact aid station at which they should ask her about chafing. “When the gun goes off,” says Clare, “I lose the carefree attitude and get intense.”
In the end, the payoff for following her heart has been huge. “One race and my life totally changed,” Clare says. “If I continue to run well like this, I can use it as a platform to travel and to talk about the things I really care about: climate change, philanthropy, the environment and trail conservation. All because people care about how I finish in running races!”
Check out Clare’s training and eating tips below:
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