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Clare Gallagher on Finding the Right Shoes for Your Ultra

Clare Gallagher La Sportiva Jackal shoes
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Clare Gallagher is an elite ultradistance runner who’s won some of the world’s most prestigious races. These are the shoes she wears trail running and how she picks her favorites.

Yes, Clare Gallagher is a famous trail runner. But she’s so much more. The outspoken advocate for several outdoor and climate initiatives helped design some fabulous running kits and tested running shoes for La Sportiva.

Her laurels also include wins at the Leadville 100, Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix Ultramarathon, and the Western States 100. So we asked her about shoe selection and for some advice on long-distance running.

“I know which trail shoes work best for me,” Gallagher said.

Before we dive into her answers to some of our running questions, check out one shoe she wears when the mood strikes.

La Sportiva Jackal

La Sportiva Jackal

The Jackal is La Sportiva’s cushioned, wide-fit trail shoe built for distance running. If you’ve tried La Sportiva shoes before and found them too narrow, consider checking these out.

To keep the Jackal light, La Sportiva uses thermo-adhesive reinforcements on the sides of the shoe’s breathable nylon upper, a lighter option than stitching. The midsoles are made of compressed EVA for lightweight cushioning, Infinitoo polyurethane inserts for stability, and 3mm multidirectional lugs on the sole.

La Sportiva Jackal Specs

  • Upper: Sandwich mesh; thermo-adhesive reinforcements; TPU toe cap
  • Midsole: 4mm OrthoLite insole, EVA, Infinitoo PU inserts
  • Sole: FriXion XT, 3mm lugs
  • Weight: 10.5 oz.
  • Drop: 7 mm
  • Price: $140

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Finding the Right Ultra Shoes

One key takeaway from Clare’s advice is that it’s what works for her. But you can use that advice on your way to finding what works best for you. Check out this quick video of the Jackal in action.

GearJunkie: When should you break in your race shoes?

Gallagher: Assuming you know you like the shoes, it could be the day of. I usually have 20-100 miles on my shoes before a race, though.

Do you adjust your shoes mid-race once your feet swell?

Usually, I don’t. The shoes adjust and get looser over time on their own from my experience.

That being said, I don’t have terrible foot swelling.

Can you tell us what shoes work for you, and why?

Kaptivas and Bushido II. I come from a collegiate track background, so my feet are used to lightweight shoes. These shoes still have a rock plate, but I can haul in them still and not feel like I have giant cleats on my feet.

I also like the Jackals for longer training miles, but I think I’ll stick to mostly racing in the Kaptivas because they’re just so streamlined and light.

La Sportiva Jackal woods
Out for a run in the Jackals

Going the Distance

What kind of “ride” do you want from an ultra shoe?

My desired ride is more or less the same for all distances. Like I said, I wear the lightest shoes possible for the races I’m doing. I wore one pair of Kaptivas for Western States 100 last year — zero problems.

If I was running Hardrock, I’d probably choose a heartier, sturdier shoe. I think ultra depends way more on terrain than distance. Running 50 miles on a gravel road is incomparable to even running 20 miles in the mountains on talus.

Do you ween off road running in preparation for an ultra?

Depends on the race — what race is it? Again, WS100 is completely different from a Hardrock-type of race or even something like Never Summer 100K. Is the race runnable? What’s the altitude spread? What’s the terrain — talus, smooth singletrack, gravel road, off trail?

I’m often traveling on speaking tours before races, and usually that means I will always have some road running in my training no matter what I’m training for.

Takeaways From the Trail

Any hard lessons learned from past shoes during a race?

Yeah, some shoes are just plain shitty, and you shouldn’t buy a shoe because it’s cheap or looks cool or your favorite pro is sponsored by that brand. I’ve run in other shoes when I used to have different sponsors and had a hell of a time during WS100 in 2017, changing shoes multiple times because they all were so bad (poorly constructed, ill-fitting, uncomfortable).

The best races I’ve had and won, I never changed my shoe once. Those three races were in three different shoes, I should add, but I knew that those shoes worked going into the race.

Heck, I wore road shoes for Leadville in 2016. And then I wore these really unpopular shoes for CCC and then La Sportiva’s Kaptiva for WS100. The common denominator? I knew I loved each of those shoes enough to get through 100-ish miles.

How do you take care of your feet?

I’ve lost eight to 10 toenails in a race before, and that was less about the shoe, more about my poor nail maintenance. Some brilliant foot-care volunteer after I DNFed WS100 in 2017 looked at my ravaged feet and said, “Did you file your toenails before the race?” I was incredulous.

Since then, I file the crap out of my toenails and cover my feet in talcum powder (you can get it in any country easily versus a fancy gel or something). That has helped me more than any shoe hasn’t helped me.

What’s your favorite trail and what do you wear when you run there now?

My favorite trail is from my home in Boulder, Colorado, called Lions Lair. I usually am wearing the Kapitva, Bushido II, or Jackal depending on how long my run is and how much road I might add on. If I add on a lot of road miles, I’ll probably wear the Jackal.

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This article is sponsored by La Sportiva. Find out more about the Jackals and other gear here.

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