Running is one of the most powerful tools to cope with the stresses of everyday life, work more productively, feel better, and realize your own abilities. Running at its core isn’t about finish lines or finish times. It is a personal movement that allows us to discover more about ourselves. In this series, in partnership with New Balance, we speak with three women who share their mental wellness journeys through running. In this edition, we hear from Peloton instructor Selena Samuela in her own words about how her runs shape her outlook on life.

Running used to be a complement to my main fitness focuses, surfing and boxing. For a while, I was a competitive amateur boxer and running gave me the endurance necessary for that sport, to the point that I’d run a 5K as a warm-up for my training sessions.

Then running, when I joined Peloton in 2018, became my job. And that’s unique because it’s not like being a professional runner who has to track factors like pace and stride and is aiming for personal records. Teaching is more about sharing your passion with others. It’s about communicating why you love what you do and inspiring others to embrace that, too.

Running is good for you physically, but it’s the emotional component that surprises people. I talk about this in my classes. I ask students to listen to themselves as much as they listen to me. That’s a skill I learned, by accident, in a single race, but it will stay with me always. A major component of what I talk about in classes has to do with mental health.

Running Into Mindfulness

When I ran my first marathon, I forgot my headphones. Throughout my training, I used music to motivate myself, and I did Peloton classes with music to get ready to complete the 26.2 miles. At first, I was dreading the race without what was a vital component of my training, but it didn’t take long before I discovered there was a meditational aspect to running that I’d been missing. I was able to dig into my inner voice and my breath instead of music. I focused on my stride and on just being present the whole time. It was essentially like a trance that lasted for three hours and 25 minutes.

selena samuela
Selena Samuela runs in New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080v12 running shoes.
Justin Britton

It was the best and most pleasurable run I’d ever had; it was the most inspiring and emotionally charged. Not only did I finish that marathon, but I was also the first woman in that race to cross the finish line, which was so amazing. The feeling was incredible. It was such a huge boost, and I felt like I unlocked a new level of joy through movement.

That’s saying a lot, considering I’ve been active all my life. I used to live in Hawaii and surfed almost every day. I was committed to boxing. I’ve relied on movement to help me navigate through some difficult times. But that marathon was different, and I wanted to keep exploring that feeling, so I started running without headphones. Not that I don’t appreciate a bomb playlist sometimes, but I also love the sound of my breath.

There’s a connection there that’s like surfing, where it’s just you and what’s around you. The same type of focus and presence is there; but with running, there’s also the space to lean into your thoughts and emotions and work through those.

Finding More Flow

Since that race, I’ve spent more time using running as a form of meditation. It’s a way to see my evolution as an athlete and a person, too. I found an ability to focus while running that I apply to my latest sport obsession: Golf. You really have to quiet the mind in that game, and you have to be incredibly resilient. When I was younger, I would have gotten much more frustrated playing golf. Running has helped me become more patient with myself.

selena samuela
Running has helped Samuela focus more and build more frustration tolerance, especially while playing golf.
Justin Britton

I often tell my classes: “Aim toward being your favorite version of yourself.” I think that version is always evolving. Movement, such as running, is like a shortcut to get you out of that stagnant state in order to access growth while still honoring the best parts of you.

For example, right now I’m pregnant and getting ready to become a mom, but I’m still a Peloton instructor and a public figure. Balancing all those things can be challenging. I’ve personally found that during my pregnancy movement has been incredibly beneficial for my mental health.

So, running and movement are ways for me to stay focused on becoming the best version of myself in a way that’s sustainable and nourishing for me and, eventually, my child. That’s what I try to communicate in my classes because it’s challenging—I’ve broken down crying on numerous runs—but it’s also liberating.

Coaching Others to Find Their Energy

My job is to help people get past that stagnation they might be experiencing, whether it is through my playlists or how I program a run (specifically like when the pushes are coming). But sometimes, it is just what I say to my classes.

One phrase I use a lot in class is to tap into your “shark energy.” I got this idea when I was watching a group of people swimming in the ocean and a shark swam by. When that happens, everybody gets out of the water. The shark isn’t even attacking anyone; it’s literally just swimming in its zone; it’s existing in its power. I want people to see that in themselves, whether they’re running or just going about their day. That’s the strength you should bring with you into the world. Embrace that shark energy.

selena samuela
Pregnant with her first child, Samuela continues to run and train as it helps put her in the mindset for her next role: motherhood.
Justin Britton

New Balance helps women do this, and it’s one of the reasons I partnered with them. They have a history of elevating women in sports. It’s a brand that looks forward, toward the future and lays the groundwork to support their female athletes—it’s very inspiring. Also, it’s not just professional athletes but anyone who loves what running does for their minds and bodies and can live with passion.

Meet others whose running has fueled their own mental wellness journeys as Runner’s World and New Balance share the voices of a Los Angeles-based philanthropist and a London-based artist.