Running for freedom: How Samantha Chan discovered her wings

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.”

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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 the Trailwalker 100km.

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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.

Check out Samantha’s favorite shoe for the trails, the Speedgoat 3 Waterproof.

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Never say never: Flying at night in NYC

“I had always said I’d never do a marathon, and it really just taught me never to say never,” says Victoria Tomkinson.

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Photo credit: Cesarin Mateo

Victoria Tomkinson always dreamed about living in a big city. Today, she is living out that dream in New York City, where she works as a social media editor curating digital platforms for trendsetting brands and media outlets.

Not only has Victoria proven herself as a bold career woman in a competitive city, she has also created initiatives to use her media platforms as a source of empowerment for women in sports.

Taking action is important to Victoria because she didn’t always see herself as a runner and she wants more women to know their own strength. We spoke with Victoria to find out how she finds balance in the city that never sleeps and how she has learned to embrace risk by “never saying never.”

“It was a time of massive change for me. I felt like I had really taken a leap of faith, but it was 100% worth it,” says Victoria Tomkinson. “I’ve never been a fast runner and because of that I thought I’d never be a runner.”

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Photo credit: Cesarin Mateo

After she ran her first half marathon, Victoria changed her mind. Running was now part of her identity.

“I think not being able to stay away from the challenge and actually enjoying the training has made me secure that no matter how fast, I’m definitely a runner,” she says.

As a runner and triathlete, Victoria hopes to encourage more women to see themselves as athletes and find the enjoyment and pride she has found in her sports.

“That moment when you settle into a run and are really feeling your groove is like nothing else. I think both mentally and emotionally, running is such a space that I can take for myself. Every improvement or goal met makes me feel accomplished, proud and strong,” she says. “I hope to inspire women to consider sport as a part of their everyday lives.”

Victoria also does her part to make sure female athletes are equally represented in the media. “There are so many incredible female athletes out there, and yet we only hear about such a small portion of them.” she says. “The conversation is growing, and I hope that it continues to gain more and more momentum.”

Victoria candidly documents the highs and lows of training on her own social platforms to show the process of training while maintaining a demanding career. She believes that any woman can be a triathlete if they set goals and make it a priority.  She’s also no stranger to training during early mornings or late at night.

“It’s a massive balancing act. Obviously, things come up. Sometimes I oversleep or I slip out for a happy hour, but I definitely prioritize it. I try to make sure that I’m getting early mornings or long Sunday afternoons in. But, I’m definitely guilty of being at the gym at close when I’ve pushed back my workout,” she says.

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Photo credit: Cesarin Mateo

One opportunity that committed Victoria’s training to the next level was an unexpected opportunity to run her first marathon.

“It was a bit spur of the moment, but I actually ended up running the New York City Marathon. I’d just finished my last triathlon of the season and was getting ready to take a step back in training. I got the opportunity to snag a spot in the race two months before it was taking place. I kind of did it on a whim and instantly had to kick running into full gear,” she says.

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Photo credit: Cesarin Mateo

Victoria’s risk paid off. After just two months of training, she finished the New York City Marathon and learned an important lesson. “I learned that I’m stronger than I think I am. I learned that even when it feels impossible, putting in the time and the work will pay off,” she says.

She hopes can inspire more women to try something that feels out of reach, even if it’s not a spontaneous marathon.

Shop the HOKA Mach from our reflective Fly at Night collection.

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Wanting to fly

Screen-Shot-2017-12-27-at-3.18.24-PM“I have always wanted to fly. I’ve spent my whole life exploring the outdoors and in 2015 I started learning to paraglide. Not long after, I started speed flying, which is paragliding down a steep slope with skis. I made an error and crashed into the ground going really fast. It’s a pretty unforgiving situation. I broke my leg and pelvis and spent about four months in a hospital bed. My crash made me learn about pain, patience and most importantly, compassion. My self-identity was deeply informed by my physical self. After I realized I would never be the same, I was forced to separate my own self-image from what I had always been. I still aspire to be that, but I’ve had to dig deep and appreciate the abilities that I still possess. I have an active career as a musician and I was able to write music and play the guitar through most of my recovery. Music is a healing element for most people and I count myself among that number now more than I ever have.” – HOKA fan Tim Bluhm from San Francisco, CA

Tim’s favorite shoe is the Challenger.

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Running to heal the soul

Screen-Shot-2017-12-27-at-3.08.21-PM“I lost my mom to early onset Alzheimer’s on New Year’s Day. Running has always been an outlet for me — I started running in middle school to handle my dad’s alcoholism and my brother’s addiction to drugs. But, I didn’t really realize how essential it was to keeping me whole until I started to grieve for my mother. During her final days and right after her death, I became a recluse. I spent a lot of time thinking by running and hiking trails in the Appalachian Mountains. Those technical, steep trails burned my lungs and caused a few scrapes and bruises, but they also helped heal my soul. Those trail miles helped me come to the realization that I was not alone in this grief and gave me the courage to lean on my friends and husband. I purchased my first pair of HOKA shoes right after I lost my mom and in a way they have become symbolic of the pain I overcame at the beginning of this year. I wore the Clifton as I worked through it, needed to blow off steam and reflected on the memories I had with my mom. They were on my feet when I ran into the sunrises and remembered how grateful I was to see the beauty and light in this life. They will continue to be on my feet to help me face the next challenge or adventure that life throws my way.” – HOKA fan Christina Proctor from Athens, GA

Christina’s favorite shoe is the Clifton.

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World-record holder

Screen-Shot-2017-12-27-at-2.58.51-PM“While my running times are ordinary, my aspirations to push my boundaries are not. I ran 63 marathons in 63 days to set the world record most marathons run by a woman consecutively. I already loved running, but it was the adventure and the enormity of this challenge that truly motivated me. I set my first challenge to run seven marathons in seven days. I learned a lot from that experience — mainly that I was capable of more than I thought. Seven years later, my 50th birthday was the ultimate catalyst. Fifty marathons in 50 days was my goal, but the world record was at 60. I figured if I could get to 50, then why not attempt to break the record with 63 marathons and raise money for charity.

My good friend has Huntington’s disease and I promised him that I would raise money for the charity that helps him and his family. He even ran marathon #29 with me — one of my most memorable. For nine weeks I challenged my physical and mental boundaries and truly live by my motto, ‘think big, then do.’ If you judge by completion times or finishing positions, then I achieve very ordinary results. But what I lack in speed, I certainly make up with in determination, resilience, persistence and love.” – HOKA fan and world-record holder, Nikki Love from Nottingham, UK

Nikki’s favorite shoe is the Clifton.

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