As the red numbers on the digital clock ticked past 19 hours in the dark, Clare Gallagher ’14 crossed the finish line, raised her arms in triumph, took a few more steps, and then collapsed to the ground in exhaustion.
“Oh my god,” she managed to eke out in elation as she sat down on the asphalt road. “Oh my god, oh my god.”
Gallagher had just finished the Leadville 100 trail run — one of the oldest and possibly the largest trail ultramarathon in the United States, and also her first ever 100-miler — and had crushed her field of competitors. She was the female champion. She finished fifth overall. And she had run the second-fastest time by a woman in the race’s history, blazing through 100 miles in the Colorado Rockies in 19 hours, 27 seconds, behind only the 1994 record of 18:06:24.
While Gallagher is a relative newcomer to the ultramarathon scene, she is not new to running. She was a member of the Princeton women’s cross country and track teams under Peter Farrell, who just retired this year after 39 years as head coach.
But if Princeton was about days crammed full of assignments and appointments, and college running about shaving off precious seconds on the track, then post-college, Gallagher knew she wanted something a little different.
“There is no rush to do anything, and I want to keep it that way,” Gallagher said as she reflected on her past two years after exiting FitzRandolph Gate.
It was in rural southern Thailand, where Gallagher spent a year teaching English as a Princeton in Asia fellow, and another year running a nonprofit organization teaching local Thai students water safety skills and marine conservation, that she the found the world of ultramarathon running.
Gallagher remembers arriving in Thailand in June 2014 in the middle of monsoon season. She found herself in a rural town, in a completely foreign place, and where “it rained, non-stop.”
Under the depressing deluge, Gallagher struggled to muster the motivation to run. And so, in one of those spur-of-the-moment decisions, she registered for a 50-mile trail race in northern Thailand. For training, she ran along the beach, did hill repeats on steep rubber tree plantation trails, and ran up and down four-story tsunami evacuation towers. That October, she ended up winning the women’s division easily, placing sixth overall. She was hooked on ultrarunning.
With about 10 ultramarathons now under her belt, Gallagher is looking ahead to building her ultrarunning career. She’s currently talking to several running brands about sponsorships, and is also considering pursuing environmental journalism and coral reef research.
And just as Gallagher has learned to slow her running down from shorter distances at breakneck paces to much longer distances at a more sustainable clip, she has also learned to ease off the accelerator in daily life and “to chill out, so hard.”
“There’s no rush [to anything] and I’ve finally accepted that,” she said.