What's Her Secret: Samantha Gash
The Australian lawyer-turned-runner and activist talks adaptability, resilience and "desert perspective."
In 2010, Samantha Gash became the first woman and youngest person to complete RacingthePlanet’s Four Deserts Grand Slam, which is the most difficult desert ultra-marathon series on Earth. (Check out Desert Runners, the documentary film that follows Gash and three other athletes throughout the race.) Today, the 29-year-old Australian lawyer-turned-runner, activist and National Crusader for the League of Extraordinary Women shares inspiring thoughts on adaptability, resilience and "desert perspective."
What does wellness mean to you? "I think it's about balance in general. I suppose I associate wellness to mental health, but also looking out for your physical side."
What are some of the things you do in your everyday life to maintain wellness? "I'm really busy, my days are so filled that sometimes I get caught up in this whole 'need to be busy,' but I think it actually causes a lot of problems, in productivity and mental health. So I try and do a certain routine every morning when I wake up. For me, I just try and give myself five minutes every morning where I go out onto my patio and just do a few deep breaths, have a glass of water—sometimes with a little bit of lemon in it—and try not to look at my phone for those five minutes, to start the day in the right place."
What else? "My friendships––to my female friends particularly. I have five or six very close female friends from different areas of my life. I invest in those relationships and in return I feel that they invest in me, so they're very meaningful. It's definitely made a positive impact on my life."
What about fitness? How do you stay in shape, and how did you get in shape for the Four Deserts? "When I started with the Four Deserts, I was fit in the sense that I had run a marathon, but I wouldn't say that I was overly prepared for the challenge of the Four Deserts. I didn't really know what a desert ultra marathon was like, where you have to carry everything in a pack on your back for five days; I couldn't even comprehend it, to be honest. I tried to mimic carrying a heavy pack on runs but because of work I couldn't do full days of really, really long runs. I did a lot of hot yoga to prepare for the heat."
Wow! What did you learn that you now apply to your running? "I definitely know now it's about quality running over quantity. So I don't just do long runs, I do speed sessions, a lot of hill work. Basically, for me, the more I can be on the trail as opposed to the road, the better. I have a coach now, but when I did Four Deserts, I was making it up. My training was each race. The first one was in Chile, in the Anaconda desert. And I was injured before going into that race, so my intention was never to do the four, just to do that first one. I got there and learned very quickly it was so hot, and about your body needing to adapt as the days progress. So I learned a lot from that experience. The second race was in China, and the third race was in Egypt, and the fourth race was in Antarctica."
It's interesting how we can adapt to different and extreme situations––in life, too. That's a great lesson.
"I completely agree. We do adapt really quickly if we believe that we can, surround ourselves with the right people and do the right things. So, in desert ultra marathons, the right thing is to listen to your body. [It's telling you things like,] 'slow down,' or, 'have some more water,' or 'increase your food,' or 'buddy up with someone right now because the companionship is going to help you get to the next stage of the race.'"
Has the way you see and treat your body changed since that experience? "I train a lot harder now…and [I learned] you have to really look after your body. I try and eat really healthy. I love salt and vinegar crisps but I realized you have to fuel your body so it can do the things you want it to do. I'm a pescatarian, so I don't eat red meat or chicken. I eat a little bit of fish, and my diet is filled with fruits and vegetables. I try and go organic when possible, and try and be moderate in the things that I do. I also believe a lot more in rest and recovery, when we support our system to be able to repair, mentally and physically, so we can break through that new boundary and push even harder next time."
Can you tell us about the Freedom Runners project you're training for now? "I'm training for a 1,700-mile run, I'm running across the Freedom Trail with South Africa with a lady from the UK, she's 51 years of age, and we're planning on running on average two marathons a day, for 32 days. Our objective is to set up a social enterprise business [in South Africa]. We're going to employ a dozen women to manufacture feminine hygiene products with the goal of addressing the issue that [some] girls in South Africa don't go to school because of their menstruation. So right now I'm running about 20 to 22 hours a week."
What else did you learn that you brought back to your life? "What the Four Deserts taught me was the idea of resilience. Mental and physical resilience. To be able to bounce back. How do we allow ourselves to come back through big challenges or adversity? Perspective, resilience and adaptability are all really important."
Can you tell us a bit more about perspective? "I always call it 'desert perspective.' We sweat about the small stuff all the time in our everyday lives and we think everything's so important and so urgent, and then you realize, I went away for five, six days where I wouldn't have any technology with me, and nothing fell apart because I didn't respond to an e-mail in five days. Things can wait longer than you think sometimes, and in fact we give better responses when we give it a bit of time, as opposed to responding out of urgency."
Throughout June, purchase the digital download of Desert Runners and donate to The Ronan Thompson Foundation, an organization that helps fund childhood cancer research. Every dollar spent over the package price of the film goes to the charity.