The Outdoor Journal ambassador Jonty Rhodes caught up with Samantha Gash during a section of her run in Jaipur, Rajasthan. The Australian ultrarunner and World Vision Australian ambassador is running 3800km across India from east (Jaisalmer, Rajastan) to west (Mawsynram, Meghalaya) to raise funds for the children’s education in India.
During the course of her run, she is visiting World Vision communities and highlighting the various barriers to quality education in India.
In the video interview below, she talks about her journey, her project Run India, her training and what ultimately motivates her to run.
Transcript of the Interview
Jonty: Samantha! Wow, 4000, nearly 4000km is the plan to run across India. You’ve been going for two weeks, or probably about two weeks? Firstly, how are you feeling today? You are looking pretty fresh and rested for someone who has been running in the desert across India.
Samantha: Yeah, its been hard. It’s definitely been the hardest two weeks of any project that I have ever done. I’m not saying that I do this stuff all the time but I’ve done a couple a bit like this, and yeah the heat’s been incredibly challenging. I probably didn’t expect the humidity to be as high as it was, and the monsoon comes later. So conditions wise, its definitely taken a toll on me, even though I’ve…I’ve showered (laughs)…looking all fresh for you Jonty (laughs)..so maybe I’m looking a bit better than I normally would.
Jonty: OK so on the inside not as comfortable as you are looking right now
Samantha: Two days ago, I was in a bad place..umm maybe it was three…three, two days ago…days are definitely blurring…if you tell…I don’t even a 100% know how many days I’m in now. I know when I started, the 22nd of…August…yeah 22nd..
Jonty (cuts in laughing): yeah pretty much!
Samantha (laughs out loud): I’m like is that the month! But everything else is a bit of a blur. Two days ago I was in a bad place. The heat just…the heat cooked me.. You just pushin so hard everyday, we are getting up really really early… The recovery is not what we would nromally have back home.
Jonty: Your story, from an ultramarathon runner point of view, have you always been someone who has had the stamina and tenacity to head down and get across the line even though its hundreds of kilometres away? What is your introduction to ultramarathon running?
Samantha: I think, on a mental perspective I’ve probably had what’s needed to an ultramarathon. But on a physical perspective, like running and even sport is, a thing I have done later on in life..umm..
Jonty: So you have always been a little bit crazy?
Samantha: I’ve been a little unique (laughs)
Jonty(laughing): Unique haha…I can handle that handle
Samantha: yeah… So India was the place that changed why I chose to run. And I think, in the back of my mind, one day I wanted to run across India or run somewhere around India, and make it for a reason connected to social justice and social change.
It’s been in the back of my mind since 2011. My first thought was to run south to north. And I have this really good Indian friend who said don’t go south to north! It’s done so much! He said go west to east, go desert to mountain. He said, doing that kind of route, you’d see such a change in landscape and geography, culture, people, and it goes in the central part of India..the northern central part. He goes, that is the real India. That’s the part that doesn’t often get looked into.
And so from a cultural perspective I think, that’s kinda what excites me about the run, and then to make the run actually make an impact, well, I think that’s why I am committing so much of my heart and soul into this project.
Jonty: Logistically this is more than just getting out every morning and running. It requires a team. You are out there completing 3,800km not on your own. You have a big team? How do you get them all together?
Samantha: So I have a bunch of friends who have come out from Australia, who each, kinda fulfil a different role….
Jonty: Are they still your friends? Two weeks into the trip
Jonty: Are they still your friends? Two into the trip?
Samantha: Yaa, I’m sure they have at times been going, “Why was I friends with this person!” (both Jonty and Samantha laughing)
Umm..yeah I think all of us…I always knew that the people in my team need to have a couple of quality traits beyond their technical skills. Technically they are brilliant, but I said to myself that they need to be incredibly resilient individuals, they need to be culturally sensitive and aware, and they need to be really positive. And I actually think those are three qualities that are more important than their technical skill. Even though it is great with them having strong technical skill.
Jonty: Your motivation to getting into ultramarathon is unique to you. Do you have any advice to give to people wanting to get into ultras?
Samantha: Yeah I mean, there are so many cool ultramarathons around the world. Like if you know that you are excited about a place, that you actually get to experience that event, the hard training that you gotta do to prepare yourself for it become a little bit easier. You have that very tangible goal to work towards. I think working, or training with other people with ultramarathon running can help. And I would say body awareness. If you can start to listen to your body and your mind in unison together, you can achieve an ultramarathon.
Jonty: I know your body and mind are telling you that you’ve got other places to go and things to do so Sam thank you for your time, we really appreciate it! Good to have you on The Outdoor Journal.
In this installment, Tony discusses society’s disconnect from our ancestral hunter-gather lifestyle, the need to completely reinvent the education system, and how to preserve children’s innate abilities.
TOJ: When I see the word “rewilding,” I picture the opening scene of the movie Last of the Mohicans where Daniel Day-Lewis is sprinting and leaping through the woods on an elk hunt. Is that how humans are supposed to be, an athletic animal in tune with nature?
Tony Riddle: In modern society, we’re basically living in these linear boxes, breathing in the same air, getting the same microbiome experience, sleeping in the same room over and over, and nothing alters. Whereas the tribal cultures that we came from are moving through a landscape that’s forever changing. They’re always uploading new sensory pathways, new sensory experiences, constantly in a state of wiring and rewiring the brain. For me, the path of rewilding is getting back to that – being present in nature and honoring a cellular system, a sensory system and a microbiome system in their natural setting.
When you start to really assess it, some people have this vision of hunter-gatherers as savages, but these are sophisticated beings, and as they move through the landscape, they become the landscape.
Tribespeople operate in these states of meditation which, when you have kids you appreciate it. I’ve studied childhood behavior in the formative years, those first years up until the age of seven. The brain is working at a certain hertz that you and I can only achieve through meditation. This is the state of Flow. It hasn’t been cultured or schooled out of them.
When I think of “rewilding” now I have a term I’m calling “rechilding.” We’ve got to try and get back to that level of frequency that tribes have managed to stretch into adulthood. I’ve tried to break down the behaviors of these tribes. I discovered Peter Gray’s work, who asked the question to 10 leading anthropologists, “What does childhood look like in nature?” From infancy through the age of 16, children play. That’s all they do, without any adult intervention, and they learn everything they need to learn about their adult environment in those first playful years. So if that’s the case, then they go into adulthood still playing and they don’t have to work to find flow states through that field of senses and the frequency that they’ve been operating in.
TOJ: In familiarizing myself with your work, I noticed that some elements are about reverse engineering the range of motion, movement chains and posture of our own selves as children, while others focus on reconnecting with a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, how do you reconcile those concepts?
“For children, it’s about preserving their wildness and their innate abilities.”
Tony Riddle: For children, it’s about preserving their wildness and their innate abilities, the stuff that you and I would have had but we went through an educational process where it’s not appropriate to move or say anything out of turn, where children are expected to just sit still in a classroom for hours on end and not share anything. But then you realize that when you go out into the world that you have to share everything, We need to show them the appropriate behaviors and not dumb them down by limiting their experience.
In those early years, we have things like physical education, but before physical education, we have play. We were all playing around, trying to understand the physicality of our body. We’re born with all the gear, we just have no idea how to use it, because our adult species doesn’t know how to demonstrate the appropriate behavior. When we go through the playful state to try to understand this system as children, we might impersonate all the animals, but now as adults, we have to go to animal flow class to relearn it.
When children go to physical education class, they’re given specialist clothing, which includes sneakers and the specialist clothes that their adult species wear. The adults model to children how tough exercise is and how brutal it is. Adults come back profusely sweating, which is absurd because imagine the hostile environments that this species has had to traverse! My DNA goes back 270,000 years to a tribe in East Africa. So imagine how hostile these environments would have been!
“Imagine the hostile environments that this species has had to traverse!”
We observe these parkour kids, they’re showing us what’s innately in us. I love hanging out with them because it’s just expanded my mind and my movement. The physicality of the human being is unbelievable, but it’s been cultured into a sedentary position at this stage because the adult population is showing a compromised, sedentary lifestyle. By the time a child reaches the age of seven, all of the observations are made – the templates for the rest of their lives. So if the adult species is compromised, then within those first six years, that’s all the child will recognize as their potential range of behavior. I call it their “Tribe of Influence.” The tribe of influence is made up of your family, your friends and your close community around you. If you’re observing all their behaviors, that just becomes your social core. It doesn’t mean it’s biologically normal, it’s just the social norm. And social norms of today are so far afield, we are doing the most horrendous things. I read a stat yesterday, since 1970, 60% of the wild animal populations are gone. We’ve managed to do that in 50 years. That’s less than one human life span. Our social norms are compromising the planet.
There’s a great term I’m plugging the moment which Peter Kahn called “environmental generational amnesia.” Every generation that’s born, it can either expand on the knowledge passed down from before, or be dumbed down further, and it only remembers where it left off. So for those 60 percent of the species that are gone, to the new generation that comes in, that’s their new norm.
“It doesn’t mean it’s biologically normal, it’s just the social norm.”
The natural human pathways from our previous generations have been forgotten in a way, but movement is just a component of it for me. It goes beyond movement. There’s a whole physical, social and spiritual animal that needs rewilding. There’s also sleep and play and nutrition and human contact, even sunlight. We’re just disconnected.
We have a D3 issue with our culture now. We’re surrounded by artificial light in artificial environments, but when we do go out in the actual environment, we cover up by wearing sunglasses, so we’re not actually absorbing any of the nutrients from the sun that we should be. Especially in the UK, people are starved of sunlight, but as soon as the sun is out, they’re wearing sunglasses. If you look at helio-therapy, the highest absorption of D3 is around the eyes. There was a study recognizing that sun exposure helped kids with TB recover, but it also found that when they put sunglasses on, they didn’t get the results.
TOJ: If you were the superintendent of a school, what changes would you make if you are in charge?
“The educational system has to be scrunched up, thrown in a bin and restarted again.”
Tony Riddle: It’s almost like the educational system has to be scrunched up, thrown in a bin and restarted again. It’s flawed and it’s not working. In countries that are trying to do something about it, in particular, Finland in Scandinavia, it’s completely different. People are starting to wake up to the fact that it’s not biologically normal to be indoors all day, it’s not biologically normal to sit down all day, it’s not biologically normal to eat processed foods. But, that’s the environment where we’re growing these young bodies and minds.
The future is unraveling at such a rapid rate with tech. My understanding is, the current iteration of the educational system will have to die because of the way that the tech world is transforming things. So what can we possibly take from the educational model of today for five years time or 10 years time, where are we actually going to be in terms of the evolution of tech?
There’s almost like a natural pendulum. It’s swinging way back over this way. Now we’ll start to explore more biologically normal ways. With my barefoot run, I’m trying to raise awareness of these issues like sustainability in the environment and I can reach a wide audience through technology.
“It comes down to small changes.”
It comes down to small changes. You can drive yourself nuts thinking, “I’ve got to do this and do this…”, but actually, there’s value in just assessing things that are in your hands, looking at what is a biological norm versus a biological extreme. If you can’t justify something, you have to let it go. Then, what you can start to do is whittle away at things that aren’t appropriate behaviors and that will improve in the next generation that is observing those behaviors.
You and I are walking around with the observations from those first six years of our lives, and then if you really unravel it, we’re walking around with the norms of our ancestors as well.
We need a different educational model. We need a schooling system based on educating kids about their fundamental needs, including movement and play, one that gets them involved in growing natural foods and learning about their own independent role within the interdependent social tribe.
We’re all unique, but we go to school and we’re taught to conform. You have to sit and do the same exams, but in a real tribal situation, there’s an interdependence of the tribe, When you have kids, you suddenly realize how important it is. I’ve got three kids and another one on the way. They’re all different. Nature didn’t design them to be the same. They’re designed to be uniquely different so they fulfill their role in our tribe. Why not nurture the fact that they are different in order to grow their individual talents at a very young age. How do I nurture their unique abilities and create the appropriate environment for them to learn and become uniquely awesome?
Stay tuned for our REWILD series featuring an in-depth discussion of Tony Riddle’s socially extreme, yet biologically normal practices.
Part 1, Tony Riddle: Introducing REWILD
Part 2, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Children and Education
Part 3, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Transforming Your Body
Part 4, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Barefoot Running Across Great Britain
Feature Image: Tony’s daughter working on her grip strength in Tony’s studio.
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