It’s been one week since the last race of my season and it feels like it’s been a year. On the Thursday before the race, Outside Magazine*** ***approached me about writing a piece about Cat Bradley’s Grand Canyon FKT. Without breathing, I said yes. So my race weekend was bookended with an interview with Cat and her pacers and then writing an article about Cat. Ultrarunning doesn’t get much more intimate than that.
By Tuesday, when the article came out, I had forgotten that I’d raced just days earlier! Well, my body has reminded me of that every time I’ve tried to move. I’ve largely been immobile since the race. I feel close to the most wrecked I’ve ever felt; the only two comparable times are Western States and Leadville, but those were 100-mile races…
Anyways, Thanksgiving happened with a wonderfully full extended family—40 Gallagher relatives in total—and I’m in Singapore now. Yes, as in Singapore, the country in Southeast Asia. I’m en route to Thailand where I used to live and teach English and where Earthraging started. I’m going back to help with the third year of the swim program I started and couldn’t be more excited to get my feet wet in my old home.
BUT BEFORE IT SLIPS MY MIND: TNF50. What a race!
I think most of the field goes into TNF50 wondering if their legs had already maxed out this year. I sure did. I somewhat reluctantly signed up as soon as my health became close to >90% post-CCC—I’d been nursing a chronic knee injury—but my training was nowhere close to that percentage of maximum. Alas, I signed up because I love to race. And because I really wanted to run across the Golden Gate Bridge.
Week of the race, I felt undertrained, as I didn’t have much time to gain much fitness since CCC. If anything, I was just trying to desperately hold on to any of my CCC and summer fitness. I briefly chronicled my training, and not ideal travel schedule, of the past months here.
I knew I had fewer miles in me than say, Ida Nilsson (winner of the race), who openly shared her 110-mile training week, at altitude in Flagstaff. I have so much respect for Ida because she goes so hard. “A running camp before the race this year was better than the ski camp I had last year.” She laughed in a post race IRunFar interview. If she’s healthy and fit, Ida is a force. It was an honor and pleasure to race a tad closer to her this time around.
Unlike Ida’s, my body operates pretty well off lower mileage. As long as I have speed, over 90% health, and a clear desire to race, I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.
Last Saturday was no exception. I didn’t really even feel like I was racing until my alarm went off at 3:20am. Race was at 5am. My crewman, and boyfriend, Lenny, had arrived at 1am. No rest for the psyched!
Once the race went off, I chatted with many guys, as I love to do in ultras, as it ensures that I’m not redlining from the gun and reminds me that I should be having fun. A highlight of my morning was running near [Megan Roche](http://www.espn.com/espnw/life-style/article/21505005/ultrarunner-megan-roche-fourth-year-medical-school-claiming-national-titles-sport). Now, I laud Ida, but I revere Megan Roche. I could never become the dedicated early bird and dual med school–trail overachiever that she is—trust me, I actually tried doing just that and failed before I even got started. Her openness about life, training and injuries makes her relatable to us mortals, and I take every morsel of Megan motivation I can get. I swear to god it helps. When I ever feel sorry for myself because I’m tired from travel or unprepared for a run, I think of Megan’s past three years and I shut my trap.
It doesn’t hurt that her husband, [David](https://swaprunning.com/), coaches both of us, so I feel connected to her whether she knows it or not. I know we share a similar desire to race our brains out. This is all to say that, Megan, it was such a pleasure to share the sunrise in your company last Saturday and to talk shop in those early miles. We crushed ourselves, but also crushed that race.
Back to the race: Megan and I had no to desire to keep up with Ida, Renee Metivier and Anne-Lise Rousset. We held a comfortable pace till our first crew stop at mile 13.3, Tennessee Valley. Just like last year, and every time this race happens, aid stations for the front runners are NSCAR pit stops. Megan Kimmel caught up to us, looking quite comfortable, around mile 14. We chatted a bit, then strung out after a steep descent, which I decided to hammer. I never looked back. Well, only two miles later I started to feel like crap: mile 16 of a 50-mile race. Not an ideal place to start feeling like compost. I looked back and saw that Kimmel was keeping the same distance behind me. Jason Koop was running in the opposite direction and said I was 90 seconds off the leaders. Oh and by this time, both Megans and I had passed Anne-Lise. So it was just Ida and Renee ahead. It wasn’t even mile 20 and this race already felt like a battle.
While feeling sorry for myself, wondering if I’d gone out too hard or if my lack of long runs since CCC was already hitting me in the face, a guy caught up behind me. He recognized me and said “I’m going to hop on the Clare pain train!”
I thought this was hilarious and not annoying in the least bit. Sometimes, the men who are the same pace of lead women have abrasive ‘man’ complexes that can result in comments that don’t land quite right. I’m talking about guys who think they’re top runner guys, but then are forced to come to terms with the fact that they are actually the speed of top women. If you’re one of these guys, embrace it. You’re not slow. You’re still likely in the top 10% of the field. I just recommend that you cool it on the machismo and try to have fun with us speedy ladies. I encourage you to be like Dmitri!
Dimitri, the pain train man, ran behind me all the way down to Stinson Beach—for over 10 miles. We shared a few words about our year of racing and I learned he’s Russian, but lived in San Diego for the past two decades. For the most part though, we just pretended we were on an actual train. “Choo Choo!” I yelled, “No one’s getting off this pain train. Settle in!” We both committed to the push and push we did.
“All aboard!” was my favorite phrase I yelled as we careened down the sharp switchbacks to Stinson. We were both grimacing at the quad-destroying descent, but also laughing at our ridiculous train scenario. I’d note the fallen trees and we’d both yell “Fuck fuck!” We were on the same page and it was so much fun. We both were working our wheels off, but simultaneously enjoying the moist, fecund forest.
“It’s so green!” I’d yell.
“Yes, it is!” Dimitri would kindly respond.
I never saw him after Stinson Beach, because like I mentioned, my aid stops were fast. Lenny would calmly hand me seven gels, two soft flasks, one with water one with Coke, I’d yell something stupid out of excitement—specifically at Seth Swanson at Stinson because *he *was yelling and was so excited—and then be on my merry way, hunting down the next unassuming men who would board the Clare pain train.
I passed Renee at around 30. She was still smiling and clearly will have a future in ultras if she just keeps smiling.
I never caught Ida. I came as close as a minute, but a Porta Pottie stop at mile 39.5 increased her lead to 4 minutes and it stayed that way for the rest of the race.
A late race highlight was catching up to [Moises Jimenez](https://www.chileclimbers.cl/2017/09/14/moises-jimenez-entrega-cinco-razones-comenzar-practicar-trail-running/). A TNF runner from Chile, Moises and I have shared some of the most intimate of race moments together. With less than 8 miles to go in CCC this past September, I was racing out of my mind, speed hiking uphill, when I caught Moises. It was clear we both wanted to die. His kind eyes and heart-throbbing smile kept me going. He also can yell really loud. “C’mon CLARE!”
This exact same thing happened at TNF on our way down to the Golden Gate Bridge. Except Moises really kept me moving this time, yelling, “C’mon! LET’S GO!” down the steep switchbacks, practically on top of the bridge.
We hit the bridge and my road legs took over.
On the bridge, which is arguably the highlight of my race, I had some surreal dark thoughts. I thought about the book I happened to be reading at the time: *[The Road](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Road)* by Cormac McCarthy. I thought, hey, running this right now is a heck of a lot better than trying to survive a post-apocalyptic world. I thought of the [Rohingya of Myanmar](http://metro.co.uk/2017/11/25/these-are-the-scars-and-burns-of-the-rohingya-refugees%E2%80%A8-fleeing-myanmar-7102484/). How they are being persecuted, murdered, in a form of ethnic cleansing by the Buddhist majority Burmese people. Lastly, I thought about my brother Eric, as I always do in races. How he, who is the most liberal dude you’ll ever meet, happens to be serving his country. How Eric never complains.My “pain train” became very small and embarrassing when I compared it to the real world.
Anyways, ‘twas a fun, meaningful race and I’m so grateful to all involved and who sent me support from near and far. Enjoy the changing of seasons. If you’re wondering what I’m up to, the most likely bet is I’m eating my weight in Pad Thai. Cheers.