Like many young people her age, Samantha Gash had a desire to challenge herself and to make a difference in the world. Ambitious, determined, naïve and stubborn Samantha couldn’t have imagined that her journey would take her to the 4 corners of the earth and impact so many lives.
Samantha took up the sport of running in 2008 as a break from study while completing her law degree at Monash University. By following a 16-week training program, she just managed to complete the Melbourne Marathon that year – side by side with a friend. Motivated by the experience of pushing her mind and body beyond what she thought was possible, Samantha ambitiously took the ultimate challenge and entered the ‘4 Deserts Grand Slam’. The rest is kind of history that really does connect the positives of running, giving back and it’s culture. – Sam Gash.
I first met Sam back in 2012 at the Northburn100 (miler) while there as the official shooter, and her calm genuine personality and energy really resonated with me. In a sport where all extremes were being tested, Sam really stood out as she engaged with people on a really genuine confident level. I was intrigued, and since 2012 Sam and myself had had some great discussions, and I look forward to many more. Sam’s passion and authentic approach to life, running and business is quite simply electric.
It’s now an utter pleasure to share some insights into what makes Sam Gash tick. The projects and ways she gives back, and what goes on behind the scenes for such a talented runner and business women in a male dominated arena.
Where do you call home?
I live in the Dandenong Ranges, which is a national park around 35kms from Melbourne CBD. It is such an incredible and peaceful place to live, I still pinch myself that I get to live here.
What is your current occupation?
That is an interesting question. I am a lapsed lawyer turned speaker, writer (if I ever finish my book), endurance athlete, and social entrepreneur. I am a very active World Vision Ambassador and I support a couple of other not-for-profits, events and organisations.
How long have you been a runner?
I ran cross country in primary school and high school. I wasn’t anything spectacular but it was a sport that I had some aptitude for as it didn’t involve a ball and I was mentally tough enough to keep moving forward even if it wasn’t at a fast pace. In my final year of high school and into university, running on the trails became my way of disconnecting from my VCE and law studies. The idea of even entering a fun run seemed far too competitive to me but in 2007 I signed up for my first half marathon and I got hooked!!
What’s your main motivation for running? What are you seeking? Fitness, adrenaline, freedom, mindfulness?
So many reasons!! I now say that running is threaded into everything I do but it is also the least important part of what I do. On a personal level I love running as it is something that takes me outdoors and connects me to nature. When I am indoors I become manic and overly focused with work and initially running was the only thing that snapped me out of that mode. In many respects it has become my way to be mindfully present but I am also aware that running can add stresses on the body and I have learnt to search for more yin type activities such as yoga and even hiking.
I now say that running is threaded into everything I do but it is also the least important part of what I do.
Could you give us a small insight into your usual running or training routine? Are you a structured programme type of person, or do you run more by feel?
You have previously interviewed my amazing coach Ray Zahab and he is the creator behind my running programs. In my opinion there is no one better experienced to prepare me for the expedition-based adventures I go on, like my 1968 kilometre run across South Africa and my upcoming 3500-4000 kilometre run across India. I have been training with Ray for years and I love how his programs have evolved with his evolving views on expeditions, endurance, recovery, and his understanding of me. I am not a huge mileage girl relative to what many ultra runners or even marathoners do. Running is just one component to what I do and I find the balance of my time is spent on my fundraising objectives, expedition logistics, social ventures, and of course my speaking work and writing.
I also like to balance my running with strength training, yoga and mountain bike riding. Last year I found myself tackling an expedition length adventure race in Townsville and GeoQuest and I became hooked into the multi disciplines.
I think it would be fair to say that I don’t like intensely structured training but I know it is important for me. After my last expedition I took close to year before I would wear a GPS watch again. Ray trains me up in periodic phases and we typically take one year to prepare for an expedition.
You have been involved and are currently associated with many great causes, being a positive advocate for a better world. Can you share some of these projects/ associations, and how they relate to running ?
Since 2012 I have used my long distance endurance projects to raise funds and awareness for social change, both domestically and internationally. Through experience my methods for fundraising and advocacy have developed and my understanding between the connection between ‘running’ and how it can relate to social justice issues and philanthropic objectives has become clearer.
In many ways running long distances is something that I am capable of doing and I have found enhanced meaning by being able to use it as a vehicle for something I care far more about than running itself.
Tackling the issue of access to quality education and the complexity behind the barriers to it is something I have been passionate about for as long as I can remember.
Tackling the issue of access to quality education and the complexity behind the barriers to it is something I have been passionate about for as long as I can remember. That issue was a significant reason why I studied a law degree and I thought I would become a not for profit lawyer. For whatever reason I wasn’t half as patient, talented or motivated to develop my skills as a lawyer – and running has been a far more powerful medium for me to affect change.
Initially I think the unique nature of running long distances intrigued people and therefore it was a good way to get people to pay attention to WHY you were doing it. However, on a recent trip to India with World Vision I really began to see how differing climate and terrain played a fundamental role on development need and development response. By running across a country you really get to experience firsthand that change in both climate and terrain, on top of culture, language and politics. I hope I can provide meaningful dialogue on these sometimes nuanced factors to increase people’s understanding.
And now to answer your question my major projects have been a 379 kilometre non-stop run across the Simpson Desert to raise funds for a domestic project with Save the Children. A 1968 kilometre, 32 day run across rural South Africa, aimed at raising funds to support an initiative that focused on increasing access to feminine hygiene products, with the goal of removing a significant barrier to girls going to school.
Being partnered with Save the Children and now World Vision looks like a great way to help others through running and its culture. You ran the Four Deserts which kicked it all off. Can you share with us how this all started?
Running my first ultramarathon in Chile was meant to be a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. The operative word being ‘once’!! I never imagined that running would become such a significant part of my life. I found that experience in the Atacama Desert to be incredibly liberating. The idea that your task was to do something so simple as to move your foot one step in front of the other, yet the thoughts entering your mind would often determine if you were capable of doing that. I found the heat at times so overwhelming and I somehow learnt that finding calmness in my mind allowed my body to feel cooler . The whole experience was so powerful for me that I wanted to go back and explore my self limitations further. Through loads of hard work and mastering a huge logistical puzzle with my law exams and finances I was able to complete the Four Deserts that year.
The Four Deserts taught me that I was capable of anything I set my mind to if I wanted to badly enough and I was wise my approach towards that goal. I have applied a very similar approach when pulling together self devised expeditions and partnering with not-for-profits organisations and other entities.
Where are your favourite places to run and why?
Right now I have been away from home for a couple of months and I am craving some solid time on my home trails in the Dandenong Ranges. I am also obsessed with running in New Zealand and Tasmania. The trails there are far more rugged and less manicured. Not saying I am brilliant at that type of trail running but I certainly enjoy it a lot more.
Do you experience the oft talked about Runner’s High? if so, can you describe it? What circumstances are you most likely to achieve this?
I can experience it when I am capable of turning off my overactive brain. I love that feeling and the knowledge that it exists makes me work harder at connecting to the present.
What is inspiring about your story is that you have turned something that you love into a lifestyle and a way to follow your dreams. Can you tell us more about this?
I do love what I do and I am so grateful that I was able to take the leap away from law to create a unique career path. It took several different career choices (law, finance, communications) to realise that I probably don’t make the greatest employee and are far more motivated when I am in control of how I spend my time and for what purpose. It doesn’t come without its challenges and it has required me to let go of my need to know every step of the process and have faith that I am doing what I am meant to be doing. I think it is easy with the world of social media to idealise or generalise the beauty of other people’s lives. If I ever find myself doing that I remind myself that behind every good photo is a very normal person who has their own set of struggles.
The Four Deserts taught me that I was capable of anything I set my mind to if I wanted to badly enough and I was wise my approach towards that goal.
What facet of running do you enjoy most? What stands out as the best experiences for you and why?
The capacity to create something beyond running and for the people you are able to meet is the most valuable thing I take from running. When I ran across South Africa with Mimi Anderson we had the most amazing crew that shared the highs and lows with us every day. We were raising money for an initiative we developed with Save the Children and each night we stayed with a different farming family across the Freedom Trail in South Africa. It was truly one of the most challenging but amazing experiences of my life. I had a very similar experience with my crew when I ran across the Simpson Desert as well.
Music or no music when running? If so what do you enjoy listening to?
I appreciate running with and without music. I mainly listen to music when I am training in the altitude chamber, on long expeditions or when I have hit a low. I like uplifting or nostalgic songs. I have also started to listen to podcasts when I am training in the altitude chamber, as you can tell I struggle a tad when I have to train indoors.
What advice can you give to people who want to follow their dreams and to do what they love?
Firstly, I think it is important to know what your dreams are; Are they dreams that you are happy to merely dream about? Or are they something that you have a burning desire to put into action? I found exploring lots of different paths and activities in my early to mid 20’s gave me great insight into my strengths, weaknesses and passions. Some things that I thought I was passionate about didn’t ring true when I gave them a try – perhaps the idea of them was more appealing but the reality was different than I imagined.
I think it is easy with the world of social media to idealise or generalise the beauty of other people’s lives.
When you really want to give something a crack I think surrounding yourself with a positive and supportive network of people is essential. It’s great to have YES people as they fill you with confidence that you can make it happen but you also want a couple of trustworthy people who are able to provide constructive advice that allows you to do a proper stocktake on what is needed to make your so-called ‘dream’ a reality.
And then I just say go for it. Experience is the best teacher and it is important not to take a setback as a reason to stop pursuing your goals.
Do you have a certain philosophy regarding running and the concept of community engagement and advocacy? Can running benefit the wider community in more ways than increased fitness? What if everyone ran?
When it comes to advocacy I think people should use the vehicle that most authentically connects to them. If you want to have genuine community engagement people need to relate to who you are as a person. My philosophy to community engagement is:
(1) find something that makes you extraordinary – you don’t need to be naturally talented at it, but it needs to be something that you are willing to make yourself vulnerable in order to reach the true depths to your potential.
(2) connect it to something that you care about.
(3) achieve it through a collaborative approach.
That number 1 definitely doesn’t need to be running!!!
Your top three tips to achieving happiness or balance in life?
I admit, mindfulness is not something that comes natural to me. I have a tendency to act in haste, dwell about the past and fret about the future. I do however believe that my life happiness is enhanced when I am able to be mindful. For those who are unsure what mindfulness is I heard a succinct definition on a Tim Ferris podcast the other day and he said “mindfulness is a present state awareness that helps you to be non-reactive.” I’ve actively worked on a couple of methods to be aware and in control of my emotions and actions:
(i) Practice kindness – life is too short and less meaningful if you can’t help others, whether that be friends, family, or strangers. You don’t need to do things that take huge amounts of time or money, the simplest things can certainly count. When we were recently in Canada we picked up an older man on a highway who was trying to hitch a ride. Where he needed to go required us to make a uturn and go 5 – 10 minutes out of our way so he simply requested that we drop him off on the side of the road. When we insisted on doing the u turn he was so taken back that we were willing to go out of our own way to make his life easier. Simple, 5 – 10 minute time investment and it made an older man not have to walk in the freezing Canadian weather. It also made us feel pretty great!
(ii)Body moving – when I find myself indoors too long I know I have to get myself moving in some kind of way. I used to think I needed to exercise for at least an hour to make it worth my while. I am now happy to get outside for a quick 20 minute run and I feel infinitely happier. It isn’t about training it is about life happiness!
I admit, mindfulness is not something that comes natural to me. I have a tendency to act in haste, dwell about the past and fret about the future.
(iii)I want to complain less.On that same Tim Ferris podcast he talks about the 21 day ‘No Complaints Challenge’. It first requires you to define what a complaint is to you and the goal is to go 21 days without complaining. If you complain, your go back to day 0
Where to from here? where do you see yourself in 5 years from now ?
I tend to see projects in a minimum of a three year commitment. I am already 15 months into my Run India project and in this instance I think I will be heavily focusing on India for at least 4 years. Beyond this project, I need to finish the draft to my first book – every time I open an email from my editor I am nervous that I am going to be berated for writing too slowly. I would very much like to write a second book on my experiences with Run India and I hope to continue connecting with audiences in the school, corporate, and government sector. In terms of where would I like to be based, it would be fair to say I am a bit of a free spirit and I find it hard to be in the one spot for too long. However, my roots will be in the Dandenong Ranges for the foreseeable future.
Visit Sam’s Website