Mina Samuels, author of Run Like A Girl 365 Days: A Practical, Personal, Inspirational Guide for Women Athletes, on running, women and transformation
I started running when I was 27. That’s twenty-six years ago now. I had taken a leave of absence from my law firm career and moved from Toronto (I’m Canadian) to New York to study for my Masters of Law. I started running a bit. One day, in the law library, I was talking to a woman I was hoping to become friends with and she asked about my running. I said, “Oh, I run ten, three or four times a week.” She seemed more impressed than I expected. Then I realized that she was thinking in miles and I was thinking in kilometers. I had never run ten miles. I went straight home, put on my running shoes and went to Central Park. I ran one loop. Ten kilometers. I ran a second loop. Twenty kilometers. Twelve miles. My conversion math was getting better.
My feet hurt. My hips felt misaligned. Salt caked my temples. Somewhere around the eighth mile, I felt like the top of my head was opening up. I ran the farthest I’d ever run in my life, twice over. I felt amazing. I didn’t know who I was anymore. If you’d asked me that morning, I would have told you that what I was doing at that very moment was impossible.
I started to think about what I really wanted to do with my life. Result?—I’m not a lawyer anymore. I write, which is my passion. And I often write about the transformative impact of sports in women’s lives, so that’s double passion. I live between New York and Truckee (and a month or two a year in Paris).
I didn’t start seriously running on trails until another decade later. I remember the day the concept of trail running became a reality. My partner and I did triathlons for about ten years after we got together. We met running in Central Park, shortly after that first twelve-mile run. One of the triathlon series we did every summer was up at Lake Dunmore in Vermont. We had just finished a sprint triathlon and packed our car. But we weren’t done working out. We were training for a half-ironman and a friend suggested that the three of us run up to Rattlesnake Point, across the road from the lake. I was a bit anxious. I’d only ever run a bit on trails, and ones that were somewhat groomed, like a nearby rail trail. This run was on a hiking trail. I was a good hiker, but still. We followed our friend (an experienced trail runner) up to the cliffs, more than 1000 feet of elevation gain.
Another turning point in my life. Another top-of-the-head-opening moment of joy. Our friend had opened a door to a whole new part of the world. A world where I could experience the trails that I’d always loved hiking at a faster, more intense, even exhilarating pace. A world in which I could surprise myself all over again by running Pikes Peak Marathon, Three Peaks or Sierra Crest 30K.
A world where I could look out my dining room window in Truckee at Mt. Rose and think, “I should go check out what it’s like to run up Mt. Rose.” So that now I can eat breakfast and not just admire the view, but feel like I’m eating with my familiar mountain friend—that dip down into temporary lushness and a waterfall before the big climbing starts, the way the switchbacks on the steepest part of the descent feel like you’re about to run off the edge of the world, and the wind at the top.
If I only ever ran on trails for the rest of my life, I’d be happy. But I don’t have access to trails all the time, so I still run on roads. Yet even in New York City, I’m most often running on the many dirt paths in Central Park or beside the Hudson River.
p.s. A few years after I started trail running, I also got into mountain biking in a more committed way. Riding on trails has ruined road biking for me! Once you go mountain, it’s hard to go back to the roads.
I don’t feel good—physically, emotionally, psychologically—unless I get outdoors. I can’t stay inside all day. Even if it’s a day off working out, I need to at least walk somewhere. And the best outdoor time is wherever there’s absolutely nothing motorized around—a trail, a lake with no power boats, a hike-in beach, the middle of a park.
Recent research suggests that humans are genetically coded to need to move to thrive. My personal anecdotal experience certainly aligns. I’d add one more thing to that genetic predisposition (which wasn’t part of the study, but which has ample scientific backing of its own). I think we are encoded to move outdoors! Being active outside is extra beneficial. The world made by humanity is pretty amazing. But the world as we found it; the world made by the big bang and everything that’s happened since in the natural environment, that is more spectacular than anything the human imagination could create. When we serve ourselves regular doses of nature, we can’t help but feel better. That’s why things like forest bathing are newly popular.
Why are outdoor sports so important for women?
I have interviewed so many women, like me, who know that sports transformed the way they think about who they are and how they live. And while accessing our female strength and power is possible in any kind of sport, even one that takes place in a gym, I believe that the outdoors is the ultimate environment in which to experience our potential—the ceiling-less sky a direct line to the universe; the engagement of the senses; the uncertain weather and terrain. With so much aliveness all around, how can we not feel our own vitality more profoundly.
What’s your favorite mountain run in California?
Not too long. Yup, that’s a steep climb. Run-dancing on scree to descend. Gorgeous forest. Feeds the soul.
Mina Samuels is a full-time writer, playwright and performer, and in a previous incarnation, a litigation lawyer and human rights advocate. Her books include, Run Like A Girl 365 Days: A Practical, Personal, Inspirational Guide for Women Athletes (June 2019), Run Like a Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives (for which she appeared on The Today Show); a novel, The Queen of Cups; and The Think Big Manifesto, co-authored with Michael Port. She’s created and performed two award-winning solo shows and her ensemble play, Because I Am Your Queen, was produced at University of Illinois’ Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in March 2019. She also posts a weekly translation of one of Jean de La Fontaine’s 17th century French fables with contemporary commentary. When she’s not writing, she might be out on the roads or trails, running, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, doing aerial yoga, or any number of other activities that make her heart beat faster. minasamuels.com.