As a collegiate track runner at Princeton Clare Gallagher was bright and fast, but she felt like she was running in circles. She struggled with injury and with the ‘what’s next’. “I was perpetually undernourished,” she says. “It was a combination of culture and personal bad habits more than anything… my relationship with food – and with running – then was different than it is today.”
Upon graduation, Gallagher moved to Thailand to teach English. Inspired by people, place and culture her eyes were opened to running in a new way. “I ran for adventure,” she says, “and when I wasn’t running, everything revolved around food.” Gallagher and her colleagues would center their travels around visiting night markets, trying new cuisines, comparing the histories and flavors of Southeast Asia. “I gained 10 pounds!” she reports. “I was running better than ever, had rediscovered my love for the sport and, most of all, I was happy,” she says. She signed up for a 50-mile ultramarathon near Myanmar and something clicked.
“I think it was at that ultra that the most seminal collision of food and sport happened for me,” she says “On the course, I was eating little sticky rice packets and seaweed Lays potato chips and Thai instant coffee. It took me 12 hours to do 50 miles and after that, I knew this sport and its reliance on food was completely up my alley. Eating on the run in Thailand was fun, plus, I knew my body needed all of that good food… or else I’d have to go slower!”
Gallagher never slowed down.
She’s gone on to post numerous podium finishes in notorious events around the world, including posting the second fastest women’s time ever at Colorado’s famed Leadville 100 – with her pockets full of mini-Snickers bars. But, for as hungry as Gallagher is to reach her goals in the sport, she’s perhaps more ravenous to feel good about every bite of fuel she consumes and use her platform in running to spread environmental consciousness wherever she goes.
Gallagher sat down to chat with us about what it means to be hungry – for change, for challenge, for potato chips – and how she feeds the beast.
What do you think of when you hear the word “hungry?”
My initial reaction is to think of poverty. And so, no one I know is ever “REALLY” hungry.
As athletes, “hunger” can mean so many things. What would you say you’re “hungry” for?
I’m hungry to make the world a better place!
What’s your running philosophy?
My running philosophy is don’t run too much, make sure that I’m getting out in the mountains. Mountain running keeps me excited about running, inspired and challenged. I think feeling so small is important. It’s important to be reminded that we’re not the center of the universe. Those hours of the day when I’m in awe are the most important hours of the day for me.
What about your food philosophy?
My food philosophy is “have fun, share food, explore food and try and reduce your environmental impact with food.”
Have fun, share food, explore food and try and reduce your environmental impact with food.
Do you have a “Clare Gallagher” signature dish?
Spinach, eggs, corn tortillas. Something spicy! Really spicy! Like, condiments or hot peppers. It takes me about five minutes to make this little meal and it is horribly unglamorous, but it’s also absolutely delicious and easy. Fry spinach. Fry eggs. Warm tortillas in the same pan. Throw rice and chili peppers in and eat. It’s what my body craves basically all the time.
Is there a food you LOVE LOVE LOVE?
YES. Anything spicy!! I’m lost without spicy food — everything is sad and bland.
So…how does that play into ultrarunning?
It took some getting used to. When I was living in Southern Thailand, I completely destroyed my gut. Oh, the painful shits I had! But, I’ve come to understand spicy food is like a fiber substitute for my body — so I treat it like extra fiber. Before a big race I’m not pounding chili peppers, but three days out? No problem!
When you’re on a long run – what are you carrying with you?
If I’m racing, I’m eating mostly gels because I need to be efficient. It’s really disgusting. I probably ate 20 gels in a 10 hour race. It’s convenient and I can handle them well. But I’m not doing that when I’m training — high altitude, slower paces. I’ll bring whatever I have — sometimes rice cakes! But also chips…or I might make a tortilla sandwich, or some little gummy candies. If I’m out running with friends we share snacks. In the later miles of a 100 miler I’ll eat real food — sweet potato, or a Frappuccino — I train like that… like a kitchen sink.
What do you eat when you win?
After most ultras, I think most can relate to this, I feel SO GROSS. I’ve consumed 1000mg of caffeine and SO much sugar, but guaranteed within 5 hours of finishing a race I crave white rice with olive oil and salt and pepper. Most likely I’m craving simple carbohydrates.
So, it’s not like you feel like you’ve “earned” or “not earned’ a treat?
Fuck no. If you run for 10 hours you’re not eating a salad — you’re lying to yourself. Live a little please.
Is there anything you don’t allow yourself to eat?
I’m celiac, and I choose not to eat meat for environmental reasons but beyond those things – nope! I eat everything. I eat anything.
If you could get an sponsorship from any food, what would it be?
Ooooh! I really want a cider sponsorship! Otherwise, I’d love to be sponsored by the Thai ladies who make pad Thai in the place I used to live. A local CSA would be cool too, or someone who had backyard chickens to get true free range eggs. That’d be a great sponsorship!
I’d love to be sponsored by the Thai ladies who make pad Thai in the place I used to live.
If you could cook dinner for anyone, who would it be?
I would cook dinner for Senator Cory Gardner so I could talk to him about why he’s not the perfect senator for Colorado. I’d really enjoy asking him his stand on two important environmental bills here (The Continental Divide Wilderness, and the Camp Hale Legacy Act). I would DEFINITELY do some research beforehand, I wouldn’t want the meal or the conversation to be anything too offensive — and I definitely wouldn’t cook him meat.
What would you ask Senator Cory Gardner if he were sitting at your dinner table?
Well, I just met him on a plane to SLC on Friday and this is what I said.
What does victory taste like?
Victory tastes like a margarita and tacos!
Is there anything about food or cooking that you’re eager to learn?
I’m trying to learn more about regenerative organic agriculture in the United States — so many of us still get our food from a grocery store and we forget that it comes from the ground. I’m so passionate about climate change mitigation and my eyes are really opening to see how important it is to return to ancient farming practices to regenerate our soils and reconnect to our food. It’s fascinating to me and I’m eager to see how the U.S. transitions backwards – in some ways – in my lifetime.
If you could eat and run in any place in the world, where would it be?
The Dolomites are really killing me because I’m OBSESSED with the place. But Italy is really hard for a celiac. I honestly think I have yet to find a silver bullet of a cuisine + place where I want to run. I need to explore South America more, but right now I feel very much at home in the Rocky Mountains. I have access to all the beautiful food I want!
What keeps you hungry to continue running (and racing)?
I’m happiest running. I’m hungry to be happy.
Follow Clare on Strava to see what culinary and running adventures she tackles next!