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Anybody who tried to predict early how the women’s race would unfold at the 2019 Western States Endurance Run on Saturday was probably wrong—the 100-mile race from Squaw Valley to Auburn, California, was dramatic and intriguing from start to finish and required Clare Gallagher, the champion, to race harder than she probably would have liked beginning at mile 94.
Gallagher, 27, from Boulder, Colorado, crossed the finish on the Placer High School track in 17:23:25 and promptly fell to the ground with joy—and exhaustion. It was the second-fastest time in race history, to Ellie Greenwood’s course record of 16:47:19. Brittany Peterson was second and Kaci Lickteig, 32, of Omaha, Nebraska, was third.
Clare Gallagher (@Patagonia) wins the 2019 Western States 100 in 17:23:24. The second fastest women’s time in race history. Our pre-race interview: https://t.co/4C0OtDdQvz #WS100 pic.twitter.com/jcPsFj6FUp
— iRunFar (@iRunFar) June 30, 2019
For most of the first 80 miles, Gallagher was in second place to Courtney Dauwalter, who at times held the lead by an hour and was well under course-record pace. Then Dauwalter, who had stopped to get her leg taped, was forced to drop out with an injury at mile 79.8 at the Green Gate aid station.
That’s when Gallagher took over at first place, but knew it wasn’t by much judging by the echo of cheers from the aid station below her at the river crossing, signaling Peterson’s arrival.
“The last 20 miles, I was running very scared,” Gallagher said, during her finish line interview now posted at iRunFar, earlier cracking that, “The last six miles, I completely blacked out.”
At the Pointed Rocks check-in point at mile 94.3, the duo were neck-and-neck and remained so until about mile 97. Then Gallagher opted not to stop at the No Hands Bridge aid station, simply dropping any excess gear she didn’t need for the final stretch.
“Brittany gave the best race ever,” Gallagher said.
Peterson, 33, from Pocatello, Idaho, said she was happy to execute her race plan and stayed more mentally strong than she anticipated throughout the day.
“And then chasing Clare, which was pretty awesome and just super epic to get together at Highway 49,” she said, adding, “and brutal.”
Gallagher’s preparation for Western States was also nontraditional. She devotes her life outside of training to environmental advocacy and during the two weeks leading up to the 100-miler, was on a mountaineering and packrafting expedition in the Arctic Refuge.
“It was a miracle that I showed up today healthy, to be honest,” she said. “I was raising awareness of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge…so, everyone, this is for the Arctic. There’s a vote in the House of Representatives in July to prevent oil drilling in the Arctic Refuge. Anyways…call your reps.”
It’s not Gallagher’s first major win in ultrarunning. She was the 2016 Leadville Trail 100 champion and won the 2017 CCC ( Courmayeur – Champex – Chamonix) Ultra 100. She also has a reputation for unusual fueling choices during her races (like cake frosting), as evidenced by the trail of soggy potato chips that fell out of her sports bra onto the track on Saturday.
“I stopped eating from pretty much the last 20 on, which I don’t condone,” she said, adding up until then she consumed mostly gels. “And coke and ginger ale and frappucino and fried rice.”
David Roche, who is Gallagher’s coach, said in an email to Women’s Running, that Gallagher immediately turned to the crowd after her finish to “tell them how much she love them.”
“When she was caught at mile 95, she threw down some of the fastest splits I have ever seen, closing on that track at five-minute pace around the final bend,” Roche wrote. “When I saw her, she screamed, ‘What just happened?!’ I wasn’t too sure either—I just know I saw one of the best athletes in her element, fueled by lots of love.”
On the men’s side, Jim Walmsley, 29, from Flagstaff, Arizona, earned his second Western States victory, beating his own course record by 21 minutes, in 14:09:28. Jared Hazen, 24, who is Walmsley’s roommate in Flagstaff, was runner up, also beating the previous course record and finishing in 14:26:46. Tom Evans, 27, of Great Britain, was third.