Retired Navy Cmdr. Michael Samuelson of Lakeland has one simple philosophy that sums up his approach to life: “Enjoy yourself.”
Mike Samuelson, in the Run Across America on Trail event, started Altis Endurance Sports last year.
For Samuelson, that enjoyment often comes in the form of running, usually on trails and frequently for more than 26 miles during one run. Oh, and he also likes to run across the country, as in from Washington to Delaware in 80 days.
Samuelson is an avid ultrarunner – an endurance runner who runs marathons longer than the traditional 26.2 miles. His new race-management company, Altis Endurance Sports, which he started in May with Navy buddy and fellow runner Frank Dembia of Annapolis, Md., aims to spread the joy of trail running by organizing half-marathons, marathons and ultramarathons throughout the country.
“There are more and more ultramarathon, marathon and half-marathon races and race finishers every year. The plan is for Altis Endurance to provide quality races for those runners interested in completing events on great trails,” Samuelson said.
The most common ultramarathon distances are 50 kilometers, 100 kilometers, 50 miles and 100 miles. At age 48, Samuelson has been running them for more than 16 years. During that time, he has run more than 20 100-mile races.
“I feel alive. I feel my best when running, even when it’s tough out there and I’m hurting. I don’t wear headphones. I don’t listen to music,” Samuelson said. “It’s what my body needs.”
Samuelson ran his first marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, in 1987. It wasn’t the greatest experience in the world, so he didn’t run another one until the 1994 San Diego Marathon. Once again, not the greatest experience. But this time, something was different.
“I didn’t train well. I did very poorly. I was very queasy. But a half-hour after finishing, I couldn’t wait until the next race. I was hooked,” he said. “I often wonder if I still would have turned out to be a running addict if I hadn’t run so poorly in that race.”
Sounds like a cryptic statement until you factor in Samuelson’s passion for a good challenge, whether in life or on a trail. The tougher a racecourse is, the more determined he is to beat it. And after beating them for almost two decades, he’s now ready to plan them.
The two business partners organized and directed their first race, the Surface Line Week 10K, while they were still in the Navy and, since then, had frequently toyed with the idea of doing it for a living. After their careers took them in different directions, Samuelson continued managing races as a hobby, serving as director of the annual SwampStomper 25K/50K in Millington from 2010 to 2013 – this year, he served as the assistant director of the Jan. 19 race – and the Bartlett Park Ultras from 2007 to 2013.
“The thought of directing races for-profit had crossed my mind a few times over the years, but I never seriously considered it until April 2013. I had just rejoined the U.S. Postal Service in February, delivering the mail in Millington a couple days a week. I enjoy delivering the mail, but I needed another outlet – another challenge,” Samuelson said. "I called Frank and asked if he was serious about directing races for-profit. He was serious.”
The inaugural Altis Endurance event was the Jan. 5 Herb Parsons Trail Marathon and Half Marathon in Fayette County. Tough weather aside, it went off without a hitch, Samuelson said. Next up is the Feb. 23 Shelby Forest Loop Marathon and Half Marathon in Millington.
Fellow runners say they appreciate Samuelson’s respect for the sport.
“I was first introduced to Mike's race-organizing skills at the final Bartlett Park Ultras last September,” said Houston Wolf, a Germantown ultrarunner who’s been running marathons since 2008. “What I can speak to is how well-organized and no-frills it was. Mike understands what runners want and don't want in their race experience. He really gets it.”
So far, the company website, altisendurance.com, lists events and marathon series in Tennessee, Mississippi and Mid-Atlantic and New England states. Samuelson plans to eventually extend that reach even further.
And who knows, maybe one day he’ll organize another trans-America run, a feat he accomplished from May 30 to Aug. 17, 2012, during the Run Across America on Trail event, which took him about two years to plan. Four runners started the 80-day journey in Twin Harbors, Wash. Only two, Samuelson and Jennifer Bradley, who made history by becoming the first British woman to run across America in 80 days, completed the run at Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes, Del. Samuelson’s time was 719 hours and 47.2 minutes, averaging 41 miles a day.
He chronicles the run from the planning stages to the finish line on his blog Run Across America on Trail, runacrossamericaontrail.blogspot.com.
“I tried to choose a route that had as much trail as possible and incorporated more than 1,000 miles of trail in that run,” Samuelson said. “Most ultras take place on trail, and I just wanted to try running across the country on them.”
In fact, “try it” is another one of Samuelson’s short-but-sweet philosophies, one he shares with anyone who expresses interest in giving endurance or distance running a try.
“If you enjoy running, I say go for it,” Samuelson said. “If you want to try a half-marathon or a marathon or even a 50K, just try it. Run for the joy of it and don’t have any regrets in the future.”