HOKA Athlete Samantha Chan is an up and coming star in the Chinese trail running scene. A former flight attendant, Samantha remains modest about her accomplishments and the enviable impression she has made after switching from the track to the trails. She dominates 100km races in China and has even placed 13th at UTMB’s TDS, a 145km race through the Alps starting in Chamonix.
Samantha says she loves relaxation time and that running has helped her enjoy more of her favorite indulgent foods like french fries and fried chicken. But, her relatable attitude is a stark contrast to her tenacious approach on race day, where Samantha often pushes her limits to the point of tears.
“Ultra races are very painful,” she says, “Every time I sign up, I ask myself why I do it. Why I’m suffering on a cold mountain in the middle of the night, but I keep signing up.”
Ultrarunning hurts, but Samantha’s past reveals her reasons for racing.
“I grew up in a housing estate in Hong Kong,” she says, “We had six people living there, and it was only 300 square feet. I slept with my grandma on the sofa in the living room, and I didn’t have much space of my own.”
For Samantha, running was what made her feel free. As a high school track athlete, Samantha discovered open space, the ability to stretch her legs to carry her wherever she desired and the catharsis of a good sweat.
“When I use up all my energy and feel tired, I feel alive. It burns through all of my negative emotions,” she says. After finding that the confines of her cramped home could not limit her, Samantha embraced pushing other boundaries. As a child, Samantha would not let her family’s views keep her from doing what she loved.
“They think that girls should be quiet. That they shouldn’t do any sports. That they should stay home and do the housework. Ever since I started running, my parents yelled at me. But I just ignored them.”
Samantha continued running as she transitioned from school to work. Finally, a co-worker who noticed her commitment to running convinced her to participate in a group trail race called theTrailwalker 100km.
Samantha rediscovered the thrill of exploration, this time covering new extremes of mileage and mountainous terrain. She was more hooked than ever.
“That’s why I’m so addicted to trail running,” she says,”When I train more and I race more, I can see more of the world by foot. When you get the ability to see the world through your fitness, you are just lucky.”
On top of that, her team won. This was the start of an impressive series of 100km race finishes for Samantha, including winning Kanas 100km in Xinjiang and placing ninth at The North Face 100 Hong Kong.
Since then, Samantha has found support as a female athlete through the trail running community. “They understand you, and you understand them,” she says. Samantha’s community motivates her to keep pushing forward and to inspire those around her to do the same. She empowers others to spread their wings, whether that’s going from 300 square feet of housing to 300km of trail or choosing to defy expectations.
You may know HOKA Athlete Jim Walmsley as the course-record holder at the Western States® 100-Mile Endurance Run. More recently, he was named Ultrarunner of the Year for the third consecutive time by Ultrarunning Magazine and even earned the 23rd spot on Sports Illustrated’s Fittest 50 list. Although Jim has spent the last few years on trails putting up enviable mileage on Strava, his training has taken an unexpected turn. Just two months ago, Jim announced he would compete in the half marathon at Houston Marathon in an attempt to run a U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials Qualifier.
Although Jim ran cross country at the United States Air Force Academy, the half marathon is unexplored territory for this relatively new but very accomplished ultrarunner. We sat down with Jim to find out the things we all can’t help but wonder about his uncharacteristic event choice to start off 2019.
HOKA: How long has competing in a half marathon been a goal for you?
Walmsley: “I’ve known I wanted to try to run a U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials Qualifier in the half marathon for the last year or two. I think it’s a harder standard, especially for an ultra runner, to hit 64 minutes for the half than 2:19 for the marathon, which would show more versatility from me.”
HOKA: Why is now the right time to go for it?
Walmsley: “With The North Face 50 Mile being canceled in November, it turned into a good time to be able to shift focus because there aren’t too many big ultras this time of year, and Houston is renown for being the place to run a fast half marathon time.”
HOKA: What was the reaction you received from your peers and fans when you announced you would be training for Houston Half?
Walmsley: “Most people’s first question is, ‘Why don’t you run the marathon?’ The marathon standard is easier and translates better to my ultra running background. However, for me, it’s about a bigger picture and seeing how I would fare in a faster-paced race that could translate to something similar in a marathon down the road. The half marathon can be complimentary for my trail race schedule whereas the marathon is definitely an event that is more all consuming of preparation and recovery.”
HOKA: How are you feeling at this point in your training? Are you confident?
Walmsley: “I think one of my most relatable feelings through this process is having to talk myself out of self doubt, especially during periods of this training block where I have hit a couple days of not running well or not running as good of a workout as I would’ve liked. I go through self doubt just like anyone else. I am constantly needing to remind myself of the good workouts I’ve had and the entire block of training as a whole. I’ve come a long way towards this goal, and I definitely have a very real shot on Sunday.”
HOKA: Is there anything you are hoping to prove by participating in this race?
Walmsley: “I feel like I’m representing the stereotype of slow ultrarunners from the competitive road perspective. A 63-minute half marathon is a good mark but far off from a competitive world class mark at the distance. But, I think it’s enough to interject something different which makes people rethink the traditional route to road running.”
HOKA: What will be the biggest challenge of this race for you?
Walmsley: “My biggest challenge has been the most obvious challenge. Making a 4:52 min/mile pace feel comfortable enough to sustain for a half marathon. Fitness and strength is there, no question. But, the leg turnover is so different than what I’ve been doing the last 5+ years. The pace is less efficient for me, and it is challenging to sustain.”
HOKA: Do you think this will be more difficult than an ultra for you?
Walmsley: “There are obvious parts that will be harder like the pace. But there are also parts like being in a pack and only lasting one hour that will be a lot easier than an ultra. It’s a fun change.”
HOKA: Which HOKA shoe will you be wearing?
Walmsley: “I will be racing in the Evo Carbon Rocket on Sunday. It’s a really plush but very responsive shoe that I’ve gotten to do most of my workouts in for this race.”
HOKA: What does half marathon training look like for you?
Walmsley: “My training has been more traditional for this half marathon than compared to what I do for ultras. I have kept the mileage modest for the base, with up to 120 miles per week. I do one threshold/half marathon specific pace workout early in the week, followed by a faster, more broken up track workout later in the week and a rolling long run of about 20 miles on Sundays. It’s pretty similar to the schedule I would do in college.”
HOKA: After the half, what’s next for you?
Walmsley: “After Houston Half, I will be trying to pull off an equally interesting change of gears. I’ll be running Fast 100 Ultra, a 100km race in Hong Kong on February 16th. Later in the year, I hope this block of leg speed can be translated into a fast road ultra. I will be going back to Western States in June and running Sierre Zinal 31km and UltraVasan 90km in August.”
As usual, Jim’s story continues to keep us on our toes. Follow the HOKA Twitter for updates on Jim’s performance at Houston Marathon this Sunday, January 20th.
Looking for Jim’s race day shoe of choice? The Evo Carbon Rocket will be released this spring.
Some people run to lose weight. Some people run for the mental health benefits. I run because I’m defiant. Yes, you read that right. There’s a quote from Jack Fraser that says, “According to all known laws of aviation, there is no way that a bee should be able to fly. Its wings are too small to get its fat little body off the ground. The bee, of course, flies anyway. Because bees don’t care what humans think is impossible.”
Just like the bees, I don’t care what others think is impossible either. In 2012, I found myself sitting in a cramped doctor’s office weighing nearly 400 pounds. While I patiently waited for the doctor to give me a prognosis regarding my hip injury, the doctor made a low-pitched groan. “Mr. Evans, I know why you’re in pain. It’s because you’re fat. You need to start walking and lose weight or you’re going to die.” Feeling angry and embarrassed that the doctor had called me fat, I responded, “Screw walking. I’ll run a marathon.” The doctor chuckled and replied, “That was the stupidest thing I’ve heard in all of my years practicing medicine.” My defiance isn’t because the doctor called me fat — I’ve heard that I’m fat all of my life — it’s the fact that the doctor had the audacity to laugh at me and tell me that it was impossible to run a marathon at my current weight and that he thought I was stupid for even thinking that it was possible. I guess the doctor had never heard about the bees. I stormed out of his office, bought some running shoes and created 300 Pounds and Running.
Someone old and famous said when you are met with resistance, you should be bold in conquering it. Being bold is what I set out to do from the moment I created “300 Pounds and Running.” Within the first year of encountering that doctor, I lost nearly 100 pounds and ran more than 15 races, including a marathon in my hometown of Detroit, MI. I was on a roll until I was in two separate car accidents in the same year. I was sidelined for a couple of years and, to add insult to injury, I gained back every pound I lost plus some. Most people in my situation would have given up on running entirely. But I’m defiant, and I made the most with what I had.
When I was finally cleared to run again, it was tough to gain momentum. Mentally, I didn’t know if I could do it again. Outside forces were pressuring me to get started with my weight-loss journey. This bothered me so much. Yes, in the past I wanted to lose weight, but this time I had been away from something that I loved — running — for so long that I wanted to focus on running not weight loss. I received push-back from friends, family and followers who knew me before I was injured and pressured me to focus on weight loss because I had gained back everything that I had lost. This brought me to the realization that larger bodies are forced into a box. When fat bodies are active, people assume that they are being active only to lose weight. When people discover that those fat bodies are not trying to lose weight but are simply trying to be active, they shame those fat bodies for not fitting societal norms.
As a plus-sized male athlete, I realized the lack of diversity in fitness. The media glorifies the ideal “dad bod,” and men who only go to the gym to: a) lose weight and be buff or b) enhance the muscular male physique. However, I was not any of those things. I had man boobs, and I wasn’t trying to lose weight or be big and buff. I just wanted to run. Since the media wasn’t going to celebrate me, I had to celebrate myself.
That’s when I made my greatest declaration of defiance. “This is not a weight loss journey,” I said, loud and proud. I felt it was important for me to identify myself as not only a fat runner but a back-of-the-pack runner, rather than simply a runner, because representation of fat runners is missing in the media. From ads to magazine covers to the articles in those magazines, fat bodies are portrayed as being inactive. When fat or plus-sized bodies are portrayed as active, it’s under the guise of a weight-loss journey. My running journey would not be a weight-loss journey. Instead, it would simply be about running and would celebrate my status as a back-of-the-pack runner.
It’s common to celebrate the runners who are in first place. What about the runners in the back? I cheer, support and champion elite runners. I understand the amount of hard work they have to put in to be the best. At the same time, the back of the pack has put in equally hard work, and it’s not celebrated.
When my body decides that it wants to lose weight, it will lose weight, but I won’t allow other people to tell me what my body should be doing right now. Who is to say that my body wants to be at this weight? Who is to say that I need to be in competition with my body in its current state? Weight loss is a byproduct of being physically active and eating healthy, so instead of focusing on the outcomes, I choose to focus on actions.I’m not going to allow anyone to say that I shouldn’t be active, running or promoting a healthy lifestyle because I don’t fit the mold of what a healthy person should look like according to societal norms. This is how I’m being defiant: by defining myself. I’m my own champion because I set goals for myself that I achieve not because of the number on a scale.
I don’t step on the scale, see that I have gained five pounds and say to myself, “I should train harder.” I train hard because I want to be healthier and because I have race goals. I don’t let people dictate how I feel nor do I get on a scale and tell myself that I don’t have to run because I have met the weight that societal norms say that I should be at. Many people allow outside forces to dictate their goals. These outside forces could be family, friends or trolls in the comments of your social media post. I’m allowing myself to set the goals that I want because I am a goal crusher.
I’ve seen friends who achieve the body weight that society expects of them, and they are unhappy because their goals weren’t set for themselves but because of the pressure from others. The people who are happy are the people who are committed to their own goals of being active. Weight loss is a byproduct not an end goal.
There are three things that I want you to take away from this article. First, be defiant! Don’t allow anybody or anything to create goals for you. Don’t let the scale tell you that you need to exercise, eat less, eat a certain diet or develop unhealthy habits because you don’t fit the picture of what a healthy person should look like. Create your own goals for the life you want.
Second, you can run in the body that you have now. You can enjoy running at any weight, any pace and any distance that you decide. You don’t have to run a marathon to be considered a runner. You don’t have to run two miles a day to be considered a runner. You dictate your distance, pace and time. No one has the privilege to set goals for yourself but you.
Third, allow your body to tell you when it’s ready to let go of the weight. Make your goals, whether they are physical activity or healthy eating, and allow your body to adjust to the changes that you are making. Don’t allow others to tell you that you are doing it wrong because you don’t fit the mold or your goals don’t center around weight loss. Put the work in, and the rest will follow.
When times get tough, I want you to remember the quote about the bees. They don’t care what humans think is impossible. Bees fly regardless. Folks, it’s time to fly.
It’s early morning on the island of Kauai, and the normally humid heat is cool. Hawaii-native Mike Coots drives through the dawn, navigating his pick-up truck over potholes in worn dirt roads to park near the pumping blue surf. He watches the waves for a few minutes before he grabs his fins and boogie board and walks up the beach.
But, just before he gets in the water, Mike takes off his right leg.
A shark-attack survivor, Mike lost his right leg after being bitten by a tiger shark when he was 18. Yet, having one less limb doesn’t hinder him from doing what he loves and being in the environment where he feels most comfortable — the ocean. And despite the nature and location of his attack, Mike has overcome his fears to get back in the water. His positive attitude is something that’s never wavered, and it’s helped him always see the glass as half-full.
The attack happened while Mike was out surfing with a few friends. He was paddling for a wave before feeling an immense pressure on his legs as the shark bit. Instinct took over as Mike tried to pull his legs free before eventually swinging at the shark’s nose. The shark finally let go and Mike scrambled to shore. One of his friends quickly made a tourniquet with his surf leash, and they threw him in the back of a truck and raced off to the hospital. They arrived at the ER, before Mike was lifted out of the truck, immediately blacking out. They sent him into emergency surgery.
“I remember my eyes opening, and I’m in this dream-like state. My mom is looking at the doctor, and the doctor looks at my mom. My mom tells me, ‘Mike, you lost your leg.’ I was thinking that they were telling me I was gonna die in a couple minutes, and I had to say my last wishes. I was like, I know. I saw it come off. I was there,” Mike says.
“Everybody started laughing, and I think that was kind of my ‘It’s gonna be okay’ moment. Once my family realized I was going to be able to deal with this limb loss with a little bit of humor, we’ll just take it one step at a time.”
Even though Mike was able to joke about his situation with his family, he still had a long road to recovery. And at just 18 years old, his reality was overwhelming. “While I was in the hospital, I was visited by a man who was wearing pants. He came really briefly and just said a couple words. I’d never seen this guy, but he left and my mom told me he had a prosthetic leg. I was like, ‘What?’ She told me that’s what I was gonna have pretty soon. And it was a total light switch switching on,” Mike says.
“It was this moment of hope. I knew I was gonna be alright and that I was gonna be able to walk again. I wasn’t even thinking about running. I was like, I’ll be able to go to the bathroom on my own. I could go buy candy on my own. I could walk to a surf shop if I needed to get some sunscreen. Those were the things I was concerned about,” Mike says, “It wasn’t whether I was gonna be able to get a big barrel again or be able to run. I just wanted a little normalcy. By him visiting me, that might’ve been one of the biggest moments of my life. He was a total stranger, and it just showed me, this is gonna be me and this is gonna be my new life.”
As an athlete, Mike’s way of life rapidly changed, but all Mike could focus on was the ocean. “The hardest part about the shark attack wasn’t nearly losing a limb. It was being out of the water for nearly a month and not riding waves with my friends,” Mike says.
Previously it had all been about the ocean, but now it was all about his prosthetic. “It’s crazy how something with carbon and steel can dictate your life. Your leg is your transportation. It’s your self-worth, your health, your self-esteem, your way to get to work, your way to see your family. It really is everything,” Mike says.
But for Mike, the most important thing was being able to get back in the water. He sent a letter to Ossur, an Icelandic prosthetic company, asking if they could help him with a surfing prosthetic. Initially turned away, Mike gave up hope and went about his life. But a few months later, he saw an unread Facebook message from the company.
Within a few weeks, he was flying to Iceland to work with Ossur and get fitted for a surf prosthetic. And on his last day there, they unexpectedly gifted Mike with a running blade.
“I put it on, and I was running again. I ran, and it was incredible. I just started crying. I’d never felt that movement, that inertia. That flow and the feeling of the wind on your face. Even though we were indoors on a track, I could still feel that. I hadn’t felt that in years, and I just started crying,” Mike says.
“In high school, I didn’t appreciate being able to run. Now, I love running because I can,” Mike says, “I came to appreciate running by not being able to run. I came to appreciate running from having missed flights because I couldn’t get to the terminal fast enough. I appreciate running because I could see really good waves up the point and my friends got up there faster.”
So many years later, Mike still remembers the man who visited him in the hospital and gave him hope. Something that he prioritizes in his own life. “I really found value in seeing other people doing things with their prosthetic and being able to live their lives normally. I think that by being there for others and having them see that I can do these sports, it really gives them a little bit of hope that they can do it as well,” Mike says.
One of the biggest ways in which Mike has embraced this lifestyle is by mentoring and helping other amputees. “It started with visiting some local kids that got attacked by sharks in the hospital. I just know the importance of somebody in a similar situation visiting you when you need it the most. There’s value in that, and I try to pass that forward.”
Mike was lucky enough to meet Chase Merriweather, a quadruple amputee from Philadelphia. “Chase is an amazing kid, and I’ve always wanted to have him come to my home and see the island. The first time I met him, I could just tell this kid is special. He had glasses on, and he rode his boogie board up to the sand. He dry docked, but he kept kicking and moving his arms to get further up the beach. He was just so excited. I was like, this is what surf stoke is,” Mike says.
Finally, everything worked out and Chase and his family were able to come visit Mike’s home in Kauai. “Chase and I are similar in that we don’t let what’s missing define who we are. During this visit, I’d hoped he’d return home with surf stoke and a big smile. Now I think I’m smiling just as big,” Mike says.
But, Mike isn’t just spreading hope or positivity for other amputees. A big part of what he does is actually helping raise awareness and advocacy for the species that almost took his life. “I got involved in wanting to help protect a species that nearly took my life because I found value of this species. Sharks are much needed in our oceans, and I think it’s just by being in our water so much that I realized all systems are connected. The ocean has given me everything in my life. It literally has given me everything. And if there’s any little way I can give back to that, so be it,” Mike says.
Mike’s advocacy first started as he was doing extensive researching looking for answers why he was attacked. “I knew every single thing about what sharks had done to humans. But, I had no idea what humans were doing to sharks. And I soon learned what humans were doing to sharks and it didn’t seem right,” Mike says.
And before he knew it, Mike was getting back in the water with the animal that almost killed him. “The first time I came face-to-face with a shark after the attack, it was a bit scary. About two minutes in the water, that fear went way and curiosity jumped in. It was about a half-hour dive and when I got back onto the boat, I was like, this is the most incredible thing you can do on earth. This is something I want to do for the rest of my life,” Mike says.
To many, what Mike does would almost be too much to bear — getting back in the water let alone swimming with and touching sharks. But, Mike’s positive attitude has always been steadfast. “Life throws us these incredible curve balls, and it’s really how we deal with them that defines us. It can throw you bad cards, and you just really don’t know what you’re going to get. But life can also be beautiful and you can take those cards and flip it around and have a lot of fun with it,” Mike says.
Latoya Shauntay Snell has had a busy year. In just 2018, she completed a list of races most people aspire to accomplish within their entire lifetime — Seattle Marathon, Chicago Marathon, New York City Marathon, several half marathons, various 5Ks and 10Ks, a few obstacle-course races and the Javelina 100K.
But, she’s nowhere near done yet.
A self-proclaimed “accidental runner,” Latoya is a prominent figure in the running community and a popular blogger. Known to many by her social media and blog, Latoya uses “Running Fat Chef” as a space where she can speak openly about taboo subjects, share her personal experiences and encourage others to do the same.
When she first started her fitness journey, it was easy for Latoya to find motivation because there were so many challenges she hadn’t done yet. But now with so many accomplishments under her belt, Latoya stays motivated by things or races that scare her. “I want to do a triathlon, but I didn’t get to a point where I was comfortable with my swimming. I’m so tired of knowing that this is the one thing that’s holding me back from becoming a triathlete,” Latoya says.
While Latoya threw herself into triathlon training with as much bravery, persistence and vigor as running, there was still something holding her back. In the end, she wasn’t able to make it to the start line.
“My fear is paralyzing, and at times, it feels a little dehumanizing. I need to get past this fear to be able to chase the adventures that I desire. I’ve done running. I’ve done cycling. I’ve done so many sports. I’m hoping that doing a triathlon will be just as addictive as running or cycling. Triathlon requires a lot of mental and physical work. I’m already putting in the hours, and I would love to experience this freeing experience of being in the water,” she says.
Latoya’s fear stems from two near-death experiences in the water. But what stops her isn’t just the past trauma. It’s also a fear of letting go and surrendering to the water. “Every time I go into the water, at some point, that fear comes alive all over again. It’s one thing to have a fear that’s embedded in your head, and it’s another thing to have a fear that actually becomes a reality. I’m trying to move past that, but letting go and surrendering is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And in the water, you have to surrender in so many ways. I haven’t become comfortable with surrendering to anything,” Latoya says.
Even though facing her fear of swimming will be no easy feat, Latoya has an immense amount of intrinsic motivation to help her along the way. “Everyday I wake up, and I look in the mirror. I ask myself, ‘How can I do better? How can I be better?’ And I do that just by trying and giving my best effort. I’m not looking at everybody else or examining the room and wondering if I can do better than them. I want to be a better version of myself,” she says.
“If I look at everyone else and see what they’re doing, it’s not my journey. My journey is for me. I’m done with trying to impress people. I’ve tried that all my life. It didn’t work for me,” Latoya says, “This is the first time that I can actually say in my 33 years of living that I actually gave my all without trying to be someone else. But, the things that keep me going are actually tapping into my fear. I want to scare myself and see what I’m actually capable of.”
So, what’s next? For Latoya, that’s taking things one step at a time. She’s still rejoicing over her new victories, but she’s also looking ahead. She’s channeling her fear into her next set of races and continuing to push forward, even with something that scares her as much as swimming.
“The unknown can make people nervous. And for me, I’m okay with touching the unknown. I embrace it. I’ve had so many years of being paralyzed from not trying that I can’t imagine the rest of my life without trying to do better or be better,” Latoya says.