CAPE ELIZABETH — Running pain free and feeling healthier than she has in years, Joan Benoit Samuelson revealed during an interview Wednesday that she is seriously considering running a marathon this fall.

One possibility, Samuelson said, is the New York City Marathon, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

The former world-record holder and the winner of the gold medal in the first Olympic women’s marathon in 1984, Samuelson had said last year that she was retiring from competitive marathoning after setting an American record for the fastest time by a women over age 50 at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Boston.

“I said no more competitive marathons, but I never said what constituted competitive,” Samuelson said with a smile. “I haven’t run one since the trials, so it’s been over a year. I run one 15- to 16-mile run a week so I can keep a finger in the pie, so to speak.

“We’ll see what happens.”

Samuelson still competes competitively on the road circuit. She ran in the Bix 7-miler in Iowa last weekend and said she will run in the Falmouth (Mass.) Road Race next weekend. At age 52, Samuelson has held her own against runners half her age.

She credits her resurgence and improved health to doing more cycling, cutting her mileage and doing more speed workouts.

“I’m feeling better than I did in my late 40s,” she said.

Following this weekend’s Beach to Beacon 10K race, which she founded in 1998, Samuelson will mark an important anniversary.  Next Wednesday is the 25th anniversary of what she calls the biggest win of her career — the 1984 women’s marathon at the Los Angeles Olympics. 

It was the first time that women were allowed to run the marathon at the Olympics.

“I remember it being an overcast cool morning in Santa Monica and
racing into the heat of the day in the sun on the LA freeway,” Samuelson said. “I
approached (the finish at) the Coliseum wondering if anybody would be in  there
because it was the first time the women’s marathon was being contested
and that it was a Sunday morning.”

The Coliseum was filled, of course, and Samuelson was forever imortalized for her stunningly easy victory. 

Just getting to Los Angeles was an improbable, yet extraordinary accomplishment. Samuelson underwent arthroscopic surgery on her knee 17 days before the U.S. Olympic Trials. She experienced no problems with her knee during the qualifying race, something that still puzzles her 25 years later. She calls it “the race of her life.”

“I still can’t explain how
I was able to get to the starting line,” Samuelson said.

As she approached the starting line at the Olympic Games, Samuelson had a game plan that she executed flawlessly. Not intimidated by the the deep field of runners, Samuelson broke away from the pack early. Assuming she was running too fast a pace, the pack let Samuelson go. Her lead grew to nearly a minute nine miles in and she extended the margin to more than two minutes by the halfway point. She won the race with a 1:26 cushion over her nearest competitor.

Samuelson said she took a lot of grief for ignoring the first water stop, but at the point of the race, she felt finding her own rhythm was more important.

“I always tell people that it’s important to run your own race,” she said. “You can’t run anybody else’s race. You can only run what you think you’re capable of running or have set as a goal. 

“I think that’s a lesson for anybody. No matter what it is they’re doing in life, you have to find your own pace.”

Despite the hot temperatures and stellar field, Samuelson said the toughest part of the Olympic marathon was staring into the face of longtime friend Bill Rogers, the four-time winner at Boston and New York who was providing color commentary for television, for the entire 26 miles. She chuckles at the memory.

“He was three feet in front of me. I couldn’t engage him in conversation because I would have been disqualified. They would have said that was coaching.”


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