Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Joan Benoit Samuelson: "I would love to run another sub-2:50"

By David Leon Moore, USA TODAY
Twenty-five years ago, Joan Benoit Samuelson, who had won the first women's Olympic marathon the year before, made more history by winning the 1985 Chicago Marathon in an American-record time of 2 hours, 21 minutes, 21 seconds. That record stood for 18 years. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the race, Samuelson, along with 1985 men's winner Steve Jones, will run in the 33rd Chicago Marathon on Oct. 10. Samuelson, 53, who lives in Freeport, Maine, spoke with USA TODAY.

Q: You said after running at the 2008 Olympic trials in Boston that that was your last competitive marathon? What changed?

A: I guess my passion for the sport is still there. I didn't say after the trials what constituted competitive. So I left myself an out. I've been a part of the sport for so long. It's such a great challenge coming back to Chicago, especially after watching how much the sport has grown. I think in 1985 there were about 6,000 runners. This year it's over 45,000. I guess I'd have to say other runners just keep me inspired.

Q: So, what would you consider competitive now?

A: I would love to run another sub-2:50. I've never run a marathon in more than 3 hours. So I want to keep it under 3 hours. If I can keep it under 2:50, I would have run the three biggest marathons under 2:50 after the age of 50. I did it in Boston in 2008 and did it in New York last year.

Q: Will an American woman win another Olympic marathon?

A: I think yes, for sure, an American has the capability. Deena Kastor has the American record. She's now pregnant and how she comes back remains to be seen. Kara Goucher is another one, and she just had a baby. Another one is Shalane Flanagan.

Q: What's your fondest memory of the 1984 Olympic marathon?

A: Running down the L.A. freeway by myself. Winning the first women's Olympic marathon. Winning on home soil.

Q: What keeps you busy these days besides running?

A: I sit on several boards and committees in Maine. I've started a race in my hometown, the Beach to Beacon 10K. I'm very involved with environmental issues. And I still work with Nike, both on running and on sustainability.

Q: What should runners know once they turn 50 and want to keep running competitively?

A: Everything in moderation. I'm certainly not doing the mileage I once did, though I'm still running around 80 miles a week, at least in preparation for this race. It's really a fine line sometimes. Recovering becomes more difficult as you age. It's important to remember to run your own race. I run my own race. You can't run anybody's race but your own.