Wrapped up in a compact 5’3 package, Samantha Palmer is a big presence. She’s a whirlwind of positive energy that blends Midwestern nice with Southern charming to make a flavor all her own. I was lucky enough to meet with her before the USA 10K championship race and got to experience firsthand her excitement bubbling over, because for the first time in many years she would be racing with her sister. Not to mention, it was an excuse for them to come back to New York City together. “We had such a great time when we were here [last November]! And I just love New York Road Runners.”
Not only does NYRR operate the New York City Marathon, they are also a year-round organizer of near-weekly races, have impactful youth programs and activate local runners in community organization, volunteerism and fundraising for charity. Putting on a great event that runs smooth is their specialty, and for elite runners that makes everything simple. It also, as Samantha pointed out, affords them the ability to seed their events with excellent purses and that attract excellent fields.
That was especially true for this race. Women known to the greater running community by their first names run the New York Mini 10k each year, and this year the race was also the USA 10k championship. As has been well documented by other publications, this field featured a longer than usual list of big names. Fans exploded for Sara Hall when she powered up the hill toward the finish, working to extend her lead on Stephanie Bruce. They screamed for Steph and Sally Kipyego just behind her. The three finished with Sara in 32:27, Steph 5 seconds behind and Sally just 3 more seconds away.
Samantha (right, second row above), who finished 12th, hasn’t raced something as short as a 10k in a year; she’s a marathon specialist. At New York last fall she ran 2:32:04, placing as the 9th American and 15th woman. She showed a touch of frustration with this result, but as so many people find in New York, the competition is fierce and there’s a lot of it. 15th woman at the NYC Marathon is pretty impressive when you consider all the factors: the names of the other women in the field, the difficulty of the bridge-laden course, and all the transition she’s had recently.
This has been a year of big changes, starting with her wedding last August to her husband, Will. Afterward both were on a job hunt for collegiate coaching positions, not knowing where they would end up. They found offers at the same institution, Will coaching the men and Samantha coaching the women, but then he got a dream offer for the men’s distance job for the University of Alabama. Samantha couldn’t let him pass on his dream of coaching the Crimson Tide, and smirked as she noted the arrangement also allows her to run full time. “I’m not ready to give it up just yet!” Just a few weeks after they were married, off they went from Toledo to Tuscaloosa.
That’s a lot of change in just a few short months. She grimaced when asked if she feels she’s been reaping the benefits of full time training, and hearkened back to her last trip to New York: “my buildup to the marathon was pretty rough.” But smiles are never far from Samantha, and one quickly crept back in as she thought about it. Since Christmas, she said, training has been going much better and she finally feels like she’s found a rhythm. Alabama has been good to her; in less than a year she’s already talking with a languid Tuscaloosan accent, her eyes sparkled when she spoke about the athletes she volunteer-coaches and the Crimson Tide runners. I mentioned how humid it had been in New York this week. “This is humid!? This feels great to me!”
Geographically, her husband’s position has taken her farther from her Wisconsin origins, but oddly enough, closer to her two-years-older sister Britany. Since her wedding the two are closer than they’ve been since Samantha begged Britany to run on their high school cross country team so they could field a full team of five at events. Britany, who hadn’t run since those high school days, came to New York last November to cheer on her sister, and the groundwork was laid. Even though she hadn’t run in years, Samantha convinced her to run the New York Mini 10k.
“You lied to me!” Britany laughed afterward. She was posing with her medal as Samantha snapped a post-race photo near Tavern on the Green, an iconic part of the Park where Midtown skyscrapers peek over fluffy shade trees and rolling green fields. “That was HARD!” But her complaints were only meant to tease her sister; she was all smiles, and joking with me that after her experience on the Harlem Hills a half marathon seemed like a cakewalk. But does she want to become a marathoner? “I’d like to do a half,” she says assuredly.
Samantha has her eyes on the future too. Training for the Mini 10k went well and she was glad to run in a well-fielded USATF Championship race. Professionally speaking this was a nice stepping stone toward her next marathon, which she hopes will add a punch of speed to her resume. Where will that be? You’ll have to stay tuned to her on Instagram; she’s not telling just yet!
But truly, right from go I could tell that running this race was icing on the cake. As Samantha beams with pride and plants a giant kiss on Britney’s blushing cheek, anyone could see that this one was personal.