Growing up in Colorado, Clare Gallagher always loved being outside. Her “normal” was a life around nature and animals, and she was raised with chickens, bees, and goats. In Clare’s worldview, being active in the great outdoors was just what you did as a kid. Recreation was skiing, hiking, and running the trails.
“I didn’t know any better than to spend all your free time outside,” she says. And because she grew up loving the outdoors, environmentalism seemed to be a natural part of her identity too. How can you love nature and not want to conserve and advocate for it? In college, she studied environmental issues and it bolstered her passion.
“I was taking a course from the philosopher, Peter Singer, and his take on environmental ethics just blew my mind,” she says. “I basically immediately became a vegetarian. And I started thinking about how I spend my time. If I get a job, how is that impacting the world?”
Not that she knew what that job would be at the time. Sure, she was really good at running. She ran cross country in college at Princeton, but, she didn’t consider running professionally until after college. Instead, she went to Thailand to teach. While there, Gallagher tried her first ultramarathon (any marathon that’s over the traditional 26.219 miles). By the time the 80K race was over, she was hooked. It was her first time doing that kind of distance, and she didn’t just enjoy the experience, she won the race.
Soon, she was running more ultras, falling more and more in love with the sport. And then, in 2016, she had a stunning race as a 24-year-old rookie. She not only won the Leadville Trail 100 in Colorado (a hundred mile marathon), she had the second fastest women’s time in the history of the event. Doors opened for the young runner and Clare decided to go pro.
Gallagher now had a job she loved, but her college promise to herself remained the same. She wanted to incorporate her passion for helping the environment in with her work. Luckily, there are few jobs more perfect for this kind of activism than being a trail runner. Because one of the many ways running is a life-changing sport, (along with the great positive effects physically and mentally), is that it has the tendency to change our perspectives on the world around us. Being an ultramarathoner, for Clare, is a constant reminder of how precious our lands are.
We recently spoke with Clare (just after she returned from trips running and studying conservation in Italy and Ethiopia), and she told us about how her passion for running and her activism with climate change policy are intrinsically tied. She shows us how we can all use the power running gives us to elevate our activism and motivate us to change the world.
We should look at the trails we’re running on, and be aware of the impact climate change is having on them…
I’m not running that much on coastlines, but the damage there is obvious. Louisiana is drowning. All of the towns south of the levees are going to be gone in as early as 50 to 100 years. Miami, New York, all these coasts are going to be gone. That’s one thing that anyone running on coastlines should be thinking about.
In the mountains, which is where I spend most of my time, in the winter there’s just a pathetic amount of snowpack in Colorado now. It’s horrible. Lower snowfalls and shorter freeze periods allow for more insects and invasive species that come out and invade our crops, taking our food. Then in the summer, I’ll see a lot of beetle kill in Colorado from shorter freeze periods. These invasive beetles kill trees. There’s more risk for forest wildfires. That affects trail-running a lot. Every year there’s a handful of major trail runs or ultras that are canceled because of wildfires.
Bears Ears, which I ran through in January, is a national monument in Utah, and it’s now drastically smaller. I know exactly a spot that I ran through with a beautiful sort of desert-alpine environment that could be turned into a Uranium mine, if that goes through. Which is one of the reasons why Trump shrunk the monument. Not only are they eyesores, they are threatening our running. We don’t need to be taking out more hard minerals or fossil fuels. We need to be doing the opposite.