Meet Samantha Gash! This Australian powerhouse became the first female, and youngest person ever to complete the Racing the Planet’s Four Deserts Grand Slam in one calendar year. But it didn't stop there! Over the past five years Samantha has designed and completed some of the worlds most extraordinary running projects, with purpose, raising over $120,000 for non-profit organisations. Samantha has serious sisu and is inspiring others to push outside their comfort zones and be daring!
Who’s Samantha Gash and what’s her story?
I am a 30-year-old lapsed corporate lawyer - now keynote presenter and trainer; writer; adventurer, ultra/trail runner and social entrepreneur.
I am based in the Dandenong Ranges in Melbourne, Australia.
Running threads everything I do together but is only one component to how I spend my time. While at University, I accepted a job as a graduate lawyer at Baker & McKenzie. Excited, but somewhat dreading the notion of being bound to a desk, I signed up for my first ultramarathon in the Atacama Desert in Chile. The race was 250kms over six days and was self-supported. Being 4 feet 11.5 inches tall I was carrying close to 20% of my body weight, and I looked like a shuffling and sweaty tortoise. Despite the inevitable discomfort, I became hooked and decided to attempt to complete the Grandslam of Desert ultramarathons that calendar year. Over the next eight months, I raced a further 750kms in the Gobi Desert, Sahara Desert and Antarctica. By the end of the year, I had learnt how to run! Not so much due to talent but more due to timing and mental toughness, I became the first woman and youngest person at the time to complete that challenge.
Over the past few years, my passion has been to create self-devised expeditions that not only allow me to run in incredible places across the globe but that raise awareness and funds for social impact projects.
In 2012, I ran 379kms non-stop across the Simpson Desert for a domestic education program with Save the Children. In 2014, I ran with UK runner Mimi Anderson for 32 days across the Freedom Trail in South Africa (1968kms). Our goal was to raise awareness to the fact that 60% of South Africans cannot afford traditional feminine hygiene products, and it becomes a significant barrier to young girls attending school.
And…. I do have an upcoming project in India. It is not till 2016, but these projects take a couple of years to prepare for - specifically when you are collaborating with non-profit organisations, corporates and local community groups. I am heading to India this October with World Vision to develop the project and do a partial recce, so will have more details then! ☺
Why do you run?
Running started as a means for me to disconnect, physically and mentally, from moving forward. Ironic huh!! In my final year of secondary school I was obsessed with doing practice English essays. My Mum would drag me away from my desk and tell me to go for a run around Lysterfield Lake (which is a 6km looped trail right near my house). During those 6kms, I would not fret about what was to come or dwell on what had passed. It was the only time I was in the moment, and that feeling became addictive to me.
My interest in running was only recreational until I did my first marathon – a nearly failed marathon experience at that. However, it gave me the intrigue to want to run further and in places that were off the beaten track. The more I started to race ultras, the more I discovered I was less drawn to the running as to what running can be used to achieve. The feeling I got when I did my first self-devised expedition across the Simpson Desert with Save the Children far outweighed any feeling I got when I ran for myself. In my A-type personality way, I wanted to run more and for even bigger social impact purposes. What can come out of running far are human stories and emotions (perseverance, struggle, ambition, pain, etc.). These connect people to each other, well beyond to those who participate in ultra running, and that is powerful.
What does a typical week look like for you?
I thrive on uncertainty and variety so my weeks can look quite different. If I am not presenting interstate or running overseas, I wake up in my home in the hills. My boyfriend and I will always make a delicious breakfast and have a cup of coffee while responding to emails. Afterwards, I train - hot yoga, a run or a strength and conditioning session. My ‘work’ time is split with presenting, writing my first book and developing the India Project with World Vision. I tend to do a second training session and evenings should (but are not always) spent doing pre-rehab work and relaxing.
How do you train for these big events? Are you just always running?
I train under Ray Zahab in preparation for my big running projects. We begin to build and prepare physically and mentally for the expedition one year out and for sure there are specific training phases that have big mileage. However, my training has become far more holistic in the past few years. I am lucky that my boyfriend is a strength and conditioning coach, and we have a fantastic studio at our house. So two to five times a week I will be doing hot yoga classes, or my mobility/stability and strength/conditioning program. A larger amount of time in the lead up to these projects is spent on logistics (e.g. route planning and security), program development, marketing and fundraising.
What’s the best part of running? And what’s the worst?
Oooh, there are too many. However, I guess the freedom of movement running affords us. I love where running can take us, who it allows us to meet and the barriers that get crushed when you meet someone for the first time while running. I am in winter right now, so the worst thing about running are those few moments before, and at the start of a run in super cold temperatures.
What’s one aspect of the whole process of running ultras that’s surprised you most?
Running an ultra is what you make of it. Although I am the ‘runner’, I find this sport allows me to be highly collaborative – which I wouldn’t have expected when I first started. I work closely with my coach and trainer, my physiotherapist and treatment team, sponsors and training buddies. My relationship with each of these people/organisations enriches my experience!
How do you deal with fear?
There are times when I ignore my fear and confront it head on. In those moment I quickly realise it is rarely as bad as I conjured up in my head. And there are other times when I lean on other people to help me navigate through it.
What’s the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned from running?
“Learn to respect and listen to your body and mind” and “running isn’t everything”!
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
That people have felt far worse and endured far more (said to me when I was feeling very rough ten days into the 32 day run across South Africa).
What is something that you know now that you wish someone had told you when you started your adventures?
I tend to think we are armed with what we are supposed to know at any given point. Life is a journey, and we are meant to make so-called mistakes or experience certain challenges.
What makes you wake up each morning?
Living in the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria, AustraliaP with my beautiful partner who shares a similar vision for life as I do.
What are your goals for the next ten years?
The India Project is something that will occupy my mind and time over the next two to three years. I want the run and the impact we can have in the country to have a sustainable benefit to the lives of girls and their families well beyond the lifespan of the expedition itself. Outside of that I would like to have completed my first and second book within the next ten years.
Finally, who do you think has serious sisu?
On a personal note, San Francisco filmmaker Jennifer Steinman, the way she captures a story; the raw, authentic emotion on the big screen is remarkable.
Serious sisu for me is about trusting the process, creating space in your life for the good stuff to come and being brave and bold to do what feels right for you!