In February, I had the incredible opportunity to sit down with an icon of women’s running, Joan Benoit Samuelson. Winner of the first Women’s Olympic Marathon gold medal, two time Boston Marathon champ, and owner of a myriad of other running accolades, Joan has been a leader in women’s running for over 30 years. For an hour we sat down and discussed life, training, and what has kept her running for so long.
I’ll admit, I was a little nervous heading into our chat. Growing up a town over from Joan, I’ve known who she is since I was very young and have even seen her out on training runs from time to time. Though I was only 3 when she won the gold medal in LA, I’ve always been inspired by her athletic accomplishments and she’s served as a role model for this little girl growing up in a small town in Maine that anything is really possible. Fortunately for me (and my nerves), Joan is down to earth, humble, and affable. Throughout the hour in which we spoke, I was constantly impressed by the calm simplicity with which she
When it comes to running, Joan is the embodiment of her longtime sponsor NIKE’s iconic slogan. She just does it. With no training plan or schedule, she runs and trains on feel. When I asked her about weekly mileage, cross training, or events, her response was simply “It depends”. On days she is busy, she runs faster or fewer miles. She takes days off when she doesn’t feel well and above all, she listens to her body. In a time where there so much emphasis on training plans and workout specifics, it’s refreshing to hear an accomplished athlete not complicate the process. She cross trains and attributes her upper body strength to two of her other favorite activities: Nordic skiing and gardening. The calm, simplicity of her approach to running reinforced what I’d always suspected: she is truly a naturally gifted runner.
One thing I was most interested to talk to Joan about was her longevity. Not only has she been running competitively for 30+ years, but she has been running well, winning awards and setting records all along the way. For Joan, it’s all about balance. One element of life can’t dominate too much. Joan maintains a strong balance between family, training, and work and even finds ways to integrate them. In 2014, for the 30th anniversary of her Olympic win, Joan ran the Boston Marathon with her two children with the goal of all finishing within 30 minutes of each other (they did). At this point in her career she is most motivated by stories and always looks for what her story is in each race. In 2008 at the Olympic trials, her story was to run under 2:50 at age 50 (she did), and at the Chicago Marathon on 10/10/10, it was the 25th anniversary of her victory there. For her it’s more than just the running, it’s about the story behind the running.
Joan pulls inspiration from everyday runners. She feels that everyone who runs, from the 5k to the marathon, is a runner and doesn’t like the word ‘just’ went talking about distances (i.e. don’t discredit yourself). You aren’t running ‘just the half’, you are running the half. When I asked if she would be running the half or full at 26.2 with DONNA that weekend, she was undecided at that point. While her current race goal was Boston in April, she was considering running the 26.2 with DONNA full at an easy training pace. When I pried and asked what that pace might be, she said because of the all of the snow this year in Maine she didn’t have a good gage on her fitness but would probably around 3:30 marathon.
I left our chat inspired, motivated, and a bit stunned that it happened. Joan is great ambassador for the sport by being approachable, open, and honest as well as incredibly talented. Her longevity in running is enviable, her continued success is unmatched, and the easy marathon pace she ran at DONNA (3:10) something I could only dream of.
Reposted with Permission from Running on E