CAPE ELIZABETH — At the 2008 women’s U.S. Olympic marathon trials, Joan Benoit Samuelson achieved her goal of breaking 2 hours and 50 minutes at age 50, and bid adieu on the streets of Boston.

“That was going to be it,” she said, of putting a fitting end to her competitive racing career.

Eleven years later, she manages an apologetic smile. Truly, she says, she meant to walk away. Her plan, at 62, was not to be coming off three fast (6:31 mile pace) road races this summer, at the Shelter Island (New York) 10K in June, at Freeport’s L.L. Bean 10K in early July and at the Bix 7-miler in Iowa last Saturday.

Her plan was not to be planning a fall marathon in Berlin, and seriously considering spring marathons in Tokyo and London. And if not for those women, the three Olympic qualifiers – Deena Kastor, Magdalena Lewy Boulet and Blake Russell – who waited to greet her at the finish line of those 2008 trials, her retirement plan may have succeeded.

Instead, their desire to pay tribute moved her.

“I was really touched,” Samuelson said, “and thought, ‘What a great sport to be part of.’ ”


When Saturday’s 22nd edition of the TD Beach to Beacon winds its way through the streets of Samuelson’s hometown, she will be busy overseeing the start, observing the leaders from a media truck and greeting runners at the finish line. Every one of them has a story, and many of them share theirs with the race founder.

To her, their stories are motivating and inspiring. That this year’s race beneficiary is The Telling Room, an organization built on the power of storytelling, seems particularly appropriate for Samuelson, who has learned to transform tales into fuel.

“What amazes me about her,” said David Weatherbie, the former race president whose father Keith coached Samuelson in track at Cape Elizabeth High, “is her ability to create a new goal basically every single year, something that keeps her going. We have 10 guys in our running group and we marvel at the fact that she continues to do this.”

In the years since her supposed swan song at the 2008 trials, Samuelson has concocted a variety of creative ways to feed her competitive fire. She combined anniversary milestones with previous times and came up with challenging goals, such as finishing Boston this spring within 40 minutes of her time from 40 years earlier.

In that vein, she has run marathons since 2008 in New York, Chicago and Athens as well as Boston. The Berlin Marathon falls on her 35th wedding anniversary, so she and husband Scott Samuelson are planning to run in Germany in late September.

Boston, Chicago, New York and Berlin constitute four of the six components of the Abbott World Marathon Majors, which is why Tokyo and London are on her radar to complete the series in 2020.


Yes, she has considered quitting, but running – which she started at age 15 as a way of recovering from a broken leg sustained while skiing slalom gates – has become “part of who I am,” she said.

“When it really hurts and when the passion’s no longer burning, I’ll stop,” she said. “I say I’m going to retire at 65. I’ve got three more years to retire. Maybe I’ll retire before that, maybe I won’t.”

She paused, the Portland Head Light behind her, a gentle breeze coming in off the Atlantic.

“When I’m so compromised in my form and my ability, I’m not going to go out and try to get age-group records,” she said. “I’m not going to do that to myself. I have too many other things I enjoy in life to be sidelined because I’ve ruined all my joints.”

The fluidity with which Samuelson ran to Olympic gold in 1984 has long since drained from the equation. Now her shuffle is equal parts grit, gristle and determination.

“When you watch her run, it’s not a pretty stride,” said Weatherbie, 51. “But one of the things about Joan is that, she’s just mentally stronger. She has a very high pain threshold. And coupled with the training and the work ethic? There’s no one else like her.”


Cycling, swimming and Nordic skiing exert much less pounding on her joints, but Samuelson isn’t ready to stop lacing up her running shoes.

“When somebody plays a sport at 40, everybody thinks they’re old, you know?” she said. “I still look at my placing in the masters, which is 40-plus. Not seniors or veterans or anything like that.”

At Bix last weekend, in the heat of an Iowa summer, she placed second among female masters to a 41-year-old. Samuelson placed 30th among all women. Her competitive fires still burn. Racing isn’t something she does out of obligation to other runners or sponsors, such as the shoe and apparel manufacturer Nike.

“No, I do a lot of work with Nike around women’s issues and around sustainability issues, so if I never ran another step I’d still have a role with them,” she said. “But I blame them for my longevity because way back when, they did use me in the (ad campaign) There Is No Finish Line.

“I didn’t really understand what that meant back then. Now I think they’re shaking their heads. Of all the athletes, why did we choose her? Because maybe there won’t be a finish line.”

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