American running legend is as passionate as ever.
Interview by: Matt Fitzgerald
Joan Benoit Samuelson will run the Boston Marathon for the first time in 18 years on Monday. And her goal is not merely to finish the race she won twice. That’s not Samuelson’s style. Instead she will run as fast as she can, and hopes to run fast—perhaps fast enough to qualify for the 2012 US Olympic Team Trials-Women’s Marathon, which would require a 2:46:00. At age 53.
Can she do it? Of course she can. She ran 2:47:50 in Chicago last October, in far from ideal conditions. But as Samuelson made clear in the following interview, conducted Friday in Boston, it’s not a goal that keeps her up at night.
Competitor.com: What is your motivation for seeking an Olympic Trials qualifying time?
Joan Samuelson: That’s just something the press picked up on. I’m just happy to be running Boston again. It’s been eighteen years. I’m not thinking so much about the Olympic trials qualifying time. I’m just thinking about going out there and giving it my best. If I can run another sub-2:50, I’ll be happy. If I can run under three hours, I’ll be happy. Two fifty-three at 53, almost 54, has a nice ring to it.
I really don’t know what to expect. I could run as fast as I ran here three years ago [at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Tram Trials-Women’s Marathon, held in Boston, where she ran 2:49:08], I could run a little slower. It’s a different course. I’m excited to get back on the traditional course. Like I said, it’s been 18 years.
So the only reason the Olympic Trials thing is out there is because it’s not out of the realm of possibility that you would run a qualifying time?
Well, I think, based on my performances coming in here over the past year—I ran 2:49 [in New York City in 2009], and I ran a 2:47 in the heat in Chicago, when I went out way too fast, and when I should have been running with the masses instead of with the elite athletes at the start. I need to run my own race at my own pace and not worry about trying to hang on to the elites for as long as I can.
The instincts are still the same, huh?
If you did run a qualifying time, would you compete in Houston in January?
I’ll have to see where I am six or seven months from now.
So is the main thing simply that the passion is still there?
It’s the passion. It’s all about the passion. Without passion there’s no fire, and without fire, nothing burns.
Your training probably is not quite the same as it was when you were in your twenties.
No, my training has been totally unorthodox coming into this event. There’s rarely a winter weekend that escapes when I don’t get up early in the morning and go for a run and then spend four to six hours downhill skiing and then cross country skiing after that. So I’ve been doing that most weekends and then very recently my husband and I returned from a trip where we were on skis all day for six days, and that was very rigorous and demanding—much more than we bargained for. So I didn’t want to commit to this race until I came back from that trip. I thought the trip would make me or break me, and it did a little bit of both.
Even back in the day, you used to say you trained by the seat of your pants.
I still train by the seat of my pants—by gut instinct and heart.
By running well past age 50, are you conscious of the inspirational effect you can have on others?
You know, running is a sport that’s very accessible and affordable. And I think, given the healthcare crisis that we’re facing, people need to find a sport that’s sustainable in their lives. And running is a great choice. I’ve been able to run much longer than I originally anticipated, not for show as much as for passion. You don’t have to run marathons to be a runner. Anybody can run.