In conversation with endurance athlete, social impact entrepreneur & lululemon ambassador Samantha Gash

. 10 min read
About Samantha Gash
Endurance Athlete, Inspirational Speaker, Author, Social Impact Entrepreneur, World Vision & Royal Flying Doctor Service Ambassador & Mother. Australian Samantha Gash started running as a break from studying law. Little did she know those small steps would turn into a journey that has seen her run over 20,000km across every continent on Earth, and raise approximately $1.3 million for charity while advocating for women’s empowerment, social change and access to education.

This interview transcript was taken from a recording origianlly broadcast live, on October 10th 2020, during the Love Trails x Be More You Virtual Race & Wellbeing Festival in partnership with lululemon

Theo Larn-Jones (Founder of Love Trails): Obviously 2020 has been a really difficult year for all of us. And I know you're based in Perth, and I think you just mentioned that you're in a kind of local lockdown situation in your house at the moment. How have you been? How are you doing?

Samantha Gash (Endurance Athlete & lululemon Ambassador): Well actually I only got to Perth 5 days ago, so I've been in the Victoria lockdown, which is probably one of the more strict lockdowns in the world. I live in the Dandenong Ranges normally, which is a national park. That's where my son and my husband live, we all live all together. And we've had a one hour restriction of movement outside, which then got extended to two hours. We had a curfew, masks, you're not allowed to see anyone. So it's been very socially isolating. And like every single person in this room, every race and probably the majority of goals that I had planned for this year have either had to be cancelled and possibly cancelled forever because they will no longer fit with the next trajectory of my life, or I've had to kind of sidestep them to the more appropriate moment. And I think I would be lying to say that that hasn't required mentally processing it and doing the hard work to be comfortable with that.

The biggest benefit for me has been submitting and surrendering to the situation and not trying to fight it. I think it's just like the seven stages of grieving. At the beginning, you try and make it work. I remember I was meant to do The Speed Project, and it was just when things were getting kind of shut down. And our team were like, I think we can still get there. We'll just run. If the race is canceled, we'll just go and do it ourselves. And so you try and fight to hold onto it for as long as you can. And then you're like, OK, look, I'm not going to let that go. And then you go through a process of anger and grief and then you kind of just you let it go and you realize that there is a lot of power in just being in whatever is right now and realizing that as long as I have the fundamentals, which is shelter, food and my loved ones near me, I'm doing all right.

I'm doing better than so many other people. And on top of that, there is beauty in the simplicity. I typically fly three to four times a week with my job as a corporate speaker and I love that. But I realized on reflection how much time I was spending in the air. And for someone who talks about being grounded and keeping things to basics, I was like, I think all that time in the air probably needed to be counterbalanced with some grounding time.

So I'm not putting aside a lot of the immense challenges to mental health and to loss of life. But I'm a realistic optimist and my default setting is to always acknowledge the situation and then see how I can find the positives to it. And I do believe with space and privilege, which I acknowledge that I have, I am able to be quite creative. And I think we can't spend any money because there's nothing to spend money on right now, like we've been in lockdown. And it reminds me in those situations, there's so little that I actually need. So that's been a bit of that's been helpful for me.

Theo Larn-Jones: As a really passionate trail runner myself, I'm a big advocate for trail running as something that's an enjoyable activity in it's own right, but also something that can really help boost mental health and wellbeing. And over the period of lockdown, it's definitely been something that I've really leaned into. How has running been for you over this period, and what's it meant for you and has it changed from what it was before?

Samantha Gash: It's definitely changed at the beginning, we didn't have a time restriction, so we're in lockdown, but we were allowed to be outdoors as long as we wanted. And so I created the Calendar Club, and I think that was that time of holding on to wanting to still do something.I have a total of two and a half. I finally felt like I was back at race fit, and I had all these plans for 2020,  I was going to run across the United States, the Discovery Trail, and I was going to do the Speed Project. I was feeling really good. And then all this happened. So I wanted to do the Calendar Club to get that enjoyment of the long run again. So that was great. It was intense, but it reminded me that I do love just running for long hours. But I also kind of remembered it's so different doing that stuff when you've got the luxuries back home.

Typically in my expeditions, like I'll do the project and then I'm sleeping in a camper van or I'm in the middle of the bush desert. And when I was doing it at home, I had to get back home, and I'm with my family and I've got family responsibilities and you can't just chill all day. [Laughs] So it looked different. And now, even though I don't like the restriction of time to be outdoors, people don't typically run a huge amount more than seven hours a week, like for the most part. And now we've got the 14 hours. And I always said to people before you complain about a time restriction, make sure you use all your time, first. And then the reality is, you know, when you're looking at people on Strava you're like erm... we don't really move! So I've just kind of gotten into basics of trying to do lot more strength work.

Theo Larn-Jones: Do you had a daily routine that's linked to your mental health?

Samanthsa Gash: Yeah, it's a great one, because I talk about routines all the time, but even though we've had more time than ever in many respects because we can't work like we used to work, I feel like I'm constantly trying to re-evaluate what my routine is. So the first thing is my husband and I both work from home, but we siphon off the first part of the day as family time, so those first few hours in the morning, it's time together. So we'll get morning coffee, we'll actually all jump into bed together. We'll read a book. So that it's really precious family time. When my routine is doing well, my phone is not in my bedroom. I'm not looking at my phone first thing in the morning. And there is such a practice in that. And my husband is the person that keeps me on top of that. Because I work globally, I feel the tendency to always check if I can deal with something from the US or from the UK. And so every time I open my phone, there's something to respond to. So the reality is you may as well just section it off, quarantine it off to a certain time of the day anyway. So that's the first part of the day.

And then my husband and I would typically split up the work day. So I'll be working downstairs and he'll be looking after our son and then we swap over. And then the end of the day, we all go for a run or a hike together. I would say we do that five out of seven days.

Theo Larn-Jones: And outside of those routines, are there any other things that you do more occasionally, consciously, to support your own mental health?

Samantha Gash: Yeah, the winding down routine. At the end of the day, I think that's probably the most important one, because at the beginning of the day, nothing typically terrible has happened. So you kind of start a bit fresh. It's by the end of the day when we're feeling fatigued, exhausted, and all of the mental duress is kind of starting to build up. And so journaling after you finish your work, after all that stuff done, I do a bit of journaling and then I'll go and have a warm shower and then I'll do some stretching, and then I'll hop into bed and I'll read a light book, for 20 minutes or so, whatever it is. And then I go to sleep. Really simple.

Theo Larn-Jones: I wondered if you could share the biggest mental health challenge that you've had to face and how you managed it?

Samantha Gash: I do find it's a hard question because any time you're going to ask me about a really challenging moment, I look back on it now, probably quite positively. Because the most challenging moments of your life, are probably the most redefining of realizing how strong we are, and our capabilities of surviving adversity. And so I could probably tell you 20 challenging things in my life, but I do kind of look back on it going 'that's made me the person that I am today', capable of dealing with a global pandemic, capable of trying to create a new business whilst looking after my toddler at home.

But I guess thinking in the running world when I was doing that run across India, I will say that not one day went to plan. I am 'A type' personality. I plan to the nth degree. In fact, the prep to getting to India was two years of hard work, but I thought of the idea in 2011. So I mentioned there's a lot of people who think that you just kind of work up at a start line and you just give it a crack. But they almost glamorize the experience and social media doesn't help with that. And I try and tell people sometimes that running across India was a five year journey in the making. But the two years beforehand, was devising the route, putting my team together and getting logistics, doing the fundraising with so many different components. But what I've learned is we plan really hard and I still say it's critical.

We plan hard to build our confidence and belief in ourselves, to understand, to appreciate, to respect the undertaking. But the reality is, when you get to any kind of start line, running or not, it's always about agility and continually asking yourself, like, what is the next best plan? Because you create a plan in isolation of the reality. I mean, you're not there. You don't know what's going to happen.

You know, I've got a couple of friends who were prepping runs last year and they were in the middle of it and they got caught in the bushfires. Now, they couldn't have imagined that that was going to be a potential. And so in the middle of the run across India, I thought we were doing it really well. And then all of a sudden, one of my team members came up to me and said, you know how you thought you were running like a marathon for the next four days? You actually now need to run 70km each day for the next four days. And I had just started to be excited that I only had to do 40km. It was like, OK, I was like internally celebrating and again, stages of grieving at first, I was really mad with my team and I was mad at myself for kind of letting go and thinking that it was going to be easy. And then what I found is when I'm mentally overwhelmed and I'm at my capacity, I actually can't move forward. And I know that sounds so weird because you would think if I now realize I had to run 70km that day as opposed to 40km, I better just get going. But I can't operate at fire, you know, when you've got that fire in your mind. So the thing that I do is when I'm feeling incredibly anxious and overwhelmed, I physically stop and try and just like, calm down. And then I always, after maybe just doing putting on some music, meditation, whatever it looks like for you to kind of  diffuse the intensity in your mind and in your body. I then mind map how I'm going to achieve whatever that is. And it can look like the most simplest thing and somebody might look at it like OK, so she's mapping out how she's going to run 70km for the rest of the day. But, by seeing it on a piece of paper, it always looks so much more doable than it does in the intensity of my mind. And then I get it done with lightness, you know, appreciation, not anger. And I remember when I kind of got through that day, even though I took this forty five minute break to kind of calm down and work out my plan, that is the moment I hold onto. That is my strategy of coping with duress.

You can follow Samantha Gash on Instagram, Facebook and on her website

About lululemon

Founded in Vancouver, Canada in 1998, lululemon is an experiential brand seeking to elevate the world by realising the full potential within every one of us. Its innovative products for yoga, running, training and other sweaty pursuits are designed for and with athletes, blending function and fashion and using technical high-performance fabrics. Through its unique grass-roots community-led approach, lululemon builds authentic relationships with guests and local ambassadors to create a community - living The Sweat Life through sweat, connection and personal growth.

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