By Andrew Arbuckle and Neisa Condemaita
Like a spark, Clare Gallagher appeared on the ultra stage when she won Leadville in 2016. Her time was second only to Ann Trason’s record. Just as quickly, she has come to redefine herself in this sport.
«I want to use my trail running platform with the most leverage possible»
She has found her stride as a voice for protecting public lands. Through the opportunities presented by the sport and her ambassadorship with Patagonia, her goal is to bring an increased perception of value to these spaces. She spoke to us about initiatives to evaluate the economic engine behind outdoor recreation and the clamoring of voices in concert for the protection of recent national monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante.
Inspired by a book Indian Running, she hopes to raise awareness for Native American voices in the debate on public lands.
Soon After winning the CCC in Chamonix last fall, Clare Gallagher was the first American female at the North Face 50 mile Championship in December. She will represent Team USA at the Trail World Championships in Penyagolosa Spain this May.
Listen to the conversation (ENG):
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Neisa: Hi Clare
Clare: How’s it going?
Neisa: Good. How are you?
Andrew: Well, you seem to be having a good time. And you were the first American at The North Face Championship the 50 mile Championship in California. That got you a spot on Team USA, right?
Clare: Yeah. I’m really excited about it, to represent the US. It will be my first time doing that which is very cool; and my first time in Spain for that matter, pretty psyched.
Andrew: Absolutely, and you have a pretty functional Spanish, I’m sure that will be fun to practice.
Clare: Un poco. Estoy animada. Is that excited?
Andrew: That’s perfect.
Andrew: What’s motivating you, going into the world championships?
Clare: I’m excited to just go to one. In the trail scene I think they are underlooked to be honest, especially in ultra running, because most world championships have been shorter than 50 miles, so if I’m not mistaken this is the longest an IUA world championships has ever been. One, it suits my strengths more, being longer. Even so, a 50 miler is a short ultra in a lot of ways. I think it’s good the governing body of IUA realizes there’s a lot of people who are racing longer ultras, not just a 50km. It’s setup my spring interestingly. I’m short on points for UTMB. In theory I could skip world championships or do the 100k at the same race to get enough points. That’s because Leadville doesn’t pay to get the points and I didn’t finish Western States last year. It’s pretty silly, the North American engagement with the Europeans… anyways I realized I don’t want to pass up this opportunity even if that means not running UTMB. I’m just excited to actually represent the US in a cool way.
Andrew: Going back to the first part of what you were saying, the popularity or growing attention to the ultra scene has probably propagated the World Championships focusing on a longer which is a good thing as a whole.
Clare: Yeah, it gives some chances for us longer people if you want to call it; longer distance people to be seen on that stage. Whereas in the US, a lot of the teams in the past have been 50km specialists which I don’t think they have been that deep of fields to be honest. If you specialize in a 50k, you can’t hold your own in a competitive 50 miler. On the whole the team this year, on the men’s side we have Zach Miller, Tim Freriks.., those two are without a doubt two of the best ultra runners in the US. They are well known for being versatile from 50 miles to 100 miles. Ultrarunning is not just a 50km, by any means.
Andrew: and it plays to different strengths. How would you spread your message while on the global stage?
Clare: I actually have a cool opportunity that will be a precursor to Worlds. I’m going to race in Italy in a Cinque Terre region. It’s called the Sciacche trail race in the end of March. That will be my first real race this year.
It’s 47 km, it will be kind of short but that particular region which is what I’m focused on right now. In terms of race research it’s fascinating, because it has mass mass tourism in these villages that are super popular with shopping and eating. And so all the people, the tourists go there.
But there are these incredible trails that overlook the villages and the trails have sort of gone to disarray because the park governing body has been spending more money on promoting mass tourism than trail conservation.
So this race is run by an Italian and American woman and they have a shop in town and they’re trying to literally kind of save the region in general, because if you don’t protect the trail area, it promotes mudslides.
This is a no brainer. You need to protect this terraced land that’s famous for making wine, otherwise like last year, four Australian tourists died in a mudslide. So that’s an interesting part of my first race which I’m focused on right now in terms of research and trying to see how I can help promote that issue. Then getting into Spain, I’m so excited just because I speak a little bit; I need to practice my Spanish a little bit more. Now representing Patagonia, I’m more inclined to hopefully do a talk on Conservation in Spain and I’m so excited just to learn more in general about the mountain range. I fell really grateful because all of this is happening before May of this year.
Neisa: We’re not even half of the year yet.
Clare: and representing the US at this time is an interesting privilege but also a duty in some ways. My brother is in the military for the US, in Afghanistan right now, so I’m really proud to represent my country. I’m also very aware that being an ambassador of a country with this psychopath President; I’m not afraid to talk about that, you can’t not talk about the elephant in the room when everyone is wearing country jerseys. I don’t condone 99% of what’s happening in Washington DC. It’s hilarious that you guys… I’m excited to see you guys next time I’m in Washington DC; your a shining badge of happiness. But it’s cool; there’s a lot of symbolism as part of Worlds and a lot of cool storytelling opportunities and connecting with other countries.
Andrew: It’s important to make it so that there are other ways of presenting the US that isn’t just what’s coming out of Washington.
Clare: Exactly. What better place than the trail and ultra community, right? All these happy weirdos running around, high on endorphins. Not a worry in the world!
Andrew: Cackling in the middle of nowhere.
Clare: When actually we do have somethings we can talk about.
Andrew: Congratulations on a new sponsorship with Patagonia.
Clare: Thanks. Yeah I feel really great. You know I can’t speak poorly at all about the North Face. It’s an incredible company and my teammates you know I still consider teammates.
But in terms of my environmental goals and trying to use my trail running platform with the most leverage possible, yeah, I couldn’t be more proud and excited to represent Patagonia as a brand.
It’s the first time I’ve thought about the products of what I wear as a trail runner because in a lot of ways I’m just a marketing asset. You know that’s what I am and so I’m marketing a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. And for the first time in my life I’ve actually really thought about the value of a pair of shorts and how many people go into making a pair of shorts. Are they being paid fairly? Is this pair of shorts using the least amount of materials and water possible? And you know it’s like I can actually go get a PDF off Patagonia’s website and show the data behind it, which is so awesome.
It gives me a little more justification of like just being a runner you know.
Andrew: And if that helps fuel the passion that keeps your legs spinning, that’s great.
Clare: Yeah yeah exactly.
Andrew: Besides that, you’ve got their active foundation where money is being trickled into that, so they can do all their clean energy initiatives and speaking on that – the Ultra Trail world tour opened up at Hong Kong.
And I’m sure you’re aware about the race leader littering at the 100k and being disqualified which is an unfortunate start.
Clare: I totally missed that?!
Clare: what?! was that a male or female?
Andrew: Male Yeah.
Neisa: He was leading the race.
Andrew: He got a bottle of water off of a hiker.
So he got aid outside, unfair aid, but also then his empty bottle he just dumped it on the trail and his thought was oh the hiker will pick it up.
Clare: Oh no. Oh my gosh. That is real bad. Well good for the race for DQ’ing him, it’s an embarrassing way to get disqualified from a race. But also, his embarrassment is trail runners’ gain in terms reminding people how it’s not part of our community’s values, so that’s wild.
Andrew: It just shows that some of the things that we take for granted as trail culture don’t fully penetrate everywhere.
Clare: Right. Exactly exactly. I lived in Thailand for a couple of years and I get that every country and culture is different with how they view trash and littering. And I think there are stereotypes for a reason in certain places, to be perfectly honest.
So that’s why it’s like «OK that sucks.» You know he’s probably super bumbed and embarrassed but the whole point of growth is to highlight, «OK this is kind of a universally bad.»
And that’s – and I struggled with that a lot in Thailand. Because I was working with young kids who are really really not well off and so yeah how do you, how do you talk about littering when someone’s super hungry?
Andrew: Those are the realities.
We can work on trying to get those norms – to raise the awareness of them.
Clare: Yeah yeah exactly! What a punchy way to start the Ultra Trail World Tour. You know we think of all of the people who run ultras now who follow that; feel like oh crap, I really shouldn’t be littering even though no one’s watching me and I know I’m in the mid pack.
Neisa: So Clare, let’s talk about your calendar, how is it looking? You just mentioned the race in Italy.
We know you’re going to Chamonix to race TDS that one has a lot of elevation.
Clare: Did I tell you that?!
Andrew: We stalked you.
Neisa: Yeah, we stalked you.
Neisa: We went to the UTMB website and we were looking at who’s going to Chamonix?
Clare: That’s great. I’ve thought about my schedule so much this year but it’s just been a little tricky to decide what makes the most sense. And as I told you, I just don’t want to force anything. I don’t want to go run 100 miler this year just to do UTMB. I think that’s silly. I don’t have the energy. So I signed up for TDS.
There is still a chance that I might want to stay local in Colorado or in the West for the end of the summer just because I’m doing Lavaredo, at the end of June in Italy. So I’ll be I’ll be in Europe three times by the end of June, which is exciting but I also was trying to like limit my international travel in some ways.
I have some goals in the American Southwest too with just storytelling and trying to run new trails in Colorado and in Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.
Andrew: Your voice about protecting public lands and the storytelling. You have two distinct efforts going on one seems to be advocating for local legislation and the other seems to be about using culture and history to bring conscious value to the land.
Clare: Yeah. Oh wow nicely put. I need to write that down.
Andrew: We learn a little bit by living in Washington you know. But you increase the value and then you increase the voices demanding the preservation of etc..
So tell us more about what you’re doing.
Clare: I’m really interested in right now is this route from Santa Fe essentially New Mexico to almost all the way to Flagstaff in Arizona. It’s called the Hopi Cultural Center and Pueblo specifically Pueblo tribe route that staged one of the most successful revolts of Native Americans. Was actually mainly sort of against the Spanish to be perfectly honest but it maintained the cultural identity of Native Americans in this area because they’re just getting decimated.
So it’s like, depending on which route you take, I don’t know four or five hundred miles through some pretty burly mountains on the border with Mexico and Arizona. So that’s an idea.
I’m reading this really niche book called Indian Running. And that’s where I got the idea. And I’m just trying to connect more with my local running heritage which is Native American running. It could happen in a lot of ways.
There is a wilderness bill that just was proposed by a Senator in Colorado, Senator Bennett and Representative Polis in a range where I grew up going to in Colorado. It’s in Summit County and Eagle County which is like Vail, Keystone, Breckenridge if those ski resorts ring a bell. And yeah, so I hope do some ridge running along this expansive wilderness proposal that’s like – it’s all above 11,000 feet and this place called Camp Hale, the first national historic place, which is where the 10th Mountain groups of World War II trained. Like they trained in skiing and you know mountaineering which is fascinating.
So you know, just to possibly get some content from that to show people the ecological and awesome factor of this area. That’s really exciting to me because it’s current, you know, I think it’s important to do. I get more psyched on things that are actually have current relevance. Yeah. So those are some non race ideas but we’ll see. You know.
Andrew: So you’re kind of doing some promotion at the Outdoor Retailer Show and I’m guessing it was to cheer the action to leave Utah in the face of the energy lobby.
Clare: Colorado is one of eight states in the country that has an outdoor recreation office as part of its state capitol like underneath the governor. The outdoor rec office is led by this awesome guy named Luis Benitez and he used to be a guide on Everest. He’s a bad-ass mountaineer, climber and he’s just trying to quantify the value of outdoor recreation and show how Colorado is a leader in this industry and how it’s actually worth a lot of money and a lot of jobs and people are psyched on it.
So yeah I was promoting it essentially on behalf of that office. Yeah it’s a bummer, I don’t know if I were in Utah right now, in that state capital, I’d be scratching my head; how could we have prevented this? And like what can we do to be less toxic to the outdoor industry in one of the most gorgeous states in the country, like I’m obsessed with Utah!
Andrew: Give us some details because as someone who’s been really in deep for this – with energy lobby against Bears Ears and Escalante and how it created this movement to reverse the national monuments. Yeah.
Clare: Trump in April of last year signed an executive order which means he could do it to the Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke from Montana and it was to review the boundaries of 27 national monuments.
What happened in this time; there is a 60 day public comment period and 2.8 million people commented. There’s been some analysis of those comments and 99 percent of them were in favor of keeping the original boundaries of all of these monuments. So like «hey don’t touch them.» You know, «We like them protected.»
And lo and behold Zinke in August then submitted his final report which had plans to reduce Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante. There’s a few others that are on the chopping block as well. And this is actually all after Outdoor Retailer decided to leave Utah.
You know so like Outdoor Retailer – it was led by brands like Patagonia, REI, The North Face and the outdoor industry association just could sense that the writing’s on the wall with this super conservative government; the state government of Utah that’s not really listening to the majority of public opinion let alone the Native American voices in their state which is what I’ve learned is the most disturbing part of this reduction in size of these monuments is these Native American tribes have been trying to get this land federally protected for decades.
Colorado is being very bold with like «hey we value public lands.» «We value outdoor rec. We value our voices of Native Americans» Say, what if I happen to be born and lived in Utah growing up? Just totally likely. I could have grown up in Salt Lake City and been talking to you still now and how I feel as a Coloradan is I need to be just as invested in Utah’s change because they are sort of ground zero for this change and just because I live next door doesn’t mean I can shy away from this issue.
Andrew: No, I mean these things become precedents that then open the doors for other things to happen.
Clare: Yeah, exactly, a slippery slope. Exactly.
Andrew: Your energy is contagious and what works for you to maintain such a high level?
Clare: Well, I’ll be perfectly honest I can crash pretty hard.
Yeah, I think this type of stuff – what we were just talking about is just a lot more interesting to me than the nuances of a trail race; which I still get equally as psyched about, but the stamp I leave on this earth – I’m more concerned about those bigger, long lasting impacts than just winning a race.
Just because at the end of the day I think winning the race is pretty… it’s necessary for the platform I’m trying to develop, but it’s not the be all and end all. And I think it’s important too to bring in more trail runners in general into the conversation not just elite trail runners. Exactly. Yeah, I want to talk to the thousands of people who are running races. We’re all in this together it’s not just like the people on the podium. Which on the whole, traditionally trail runners seem to like to talk about trail running and like nothing else.
You know, emphasizing the trail part of it and the public lands part of it. I think it’s so exciting, it’s fun, we should all be psyched to do this.
Neisa: And you are absolutely unique and you’re leading this new movement let’s call it and yeah, start educating people and educating the new generations all over the world and I think you are going to have that opportunity at the Trail World Championships.
Clare: Thanks so much. I’m so excited! I can’t wait to pore over maps. Necesito practicar! y mi comida – my food words, food vocabulary.
Andrew: Porque hay que comer rico alla.
Andrew: Well Clare, thanks for taking some time with us and we hope your preps keep going well and we’ll see you in Penyagolosa!
Clare: Thanks! Penyagolosa! I was like «I can’t say it until they say it»
Clare: Perfect, I’m so excited. I’m really excited to connect with the Spanish trail running community, it seems like so fun. I feel so fortunate that you guys are a connector for me, so thanks!
Neisa: Yeah! it’s going to be great. Awesome! And thank you so much Clare.