5 Facts about Joan Benoit Samuelson

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Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first female marathon champion, won gold at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. She ran the fastest time in the Chicago Marathon, breaking a 32-year-old American record.


Joan Benoit Samuelson: A Quick Overview

"Running gave me a sense of freedom as a young person," says Olympic gold medalist and long-distance runner Joan Benoit Samuelson. She received a running scholarship to North Carolina State University after two years at Bowdoin College, where she ran cross-country and earned All-American honors, an honor reserved for the top collegiate runners in the country. Joan won the Boston Marathon in 1979, which she repeated four years later, setting a world record in the process. Joan's status as one of the greatest runners of all time was cemented when she won the first-ever women's Olympic marathon at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.


5 Facts about Joan Benoit Samuelson

Learn more about the extraordinary life of the first Olympic gold medalist in the women's marathon.

1. After a skiing accident, Joan began running. Joan, who was born in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, grew up skiing but broke her leg while doing so, prompting her to try long-distance running.

2. She underwent knee surgery just prior to the US women's Olympic trials. Joan injured her knee during a twenty-mile run and underwent arthroscopic knee surgery seventeen days before the US Olympic Women's Marathon Trials. She recovered faster than expected and qualified for the 1984 Olympics.

3. She has finished first in six marathons. Joan won the Boston Marathon in 1979 and 1983, the Nike OTC Marathon in 1979, the Auckland Marathon in 1980, the 1984 Summer Olympics, and the Chicago Marathon in 1985, where she set a marathon record with a time of 2:21:21. (Joan finished second in the Bermuda Marathon in 1978 and third in the New York City Marathon in 1988.)

4. Her time for the Boston Marathon set a new world record. Joan ran the Boston Marathon in 2:22:43, shaving two minutes off the previous world record set by Grete Waitz of Norway.

5. She has been inducted into several halls of fame. Joan is a member of the National Distance Running Hall of Fame in 1984, the Maine Women's Hall of Fame in 2000, and the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2004. Her athletic complex is also named after her at Freeport High School, which is located just outside of Portland.


Highlights From Joan Benoit Samuelson

Purchase running shoes from a physical store. Running shoes are a highly personal choice; you can choose from a variety of styles depending on the type of running you do. "You won't order online; instead, you'll go to a running specialty store and have a knowledgeable salesperson fit you to the right shoe for your foot," Joan says. "You have to consider your body mass and the impact of each step or stride." Bone strength is definitely an issue. Some runners will choose shoes that can accommodate an orthotic."

First-time marathoners should aim to finish. "Your goal as a first-time marathoner should be to complete the 26.2 miles." "It's not about time for you; it's about finishing the distance, going the distance, and getting that medal around your neck at the finish line," Joan says. "And I believe that is a sufficient goal." Some of you may run-walk the marathon, while others may want to run the entire distance, which is entirely up to you as a first-timer."

Learn important stretching techniques. Joan demonstrates the stretches that serve as the foundation for perfect running form. The Achilles stretch is one example. "This one is especially important to me because I've had Achilles problems in the past." Achilles also assisted in stretching the soleus and gastrocnemius muscles. "Calf muscles, if you will," she explains. "You're not doing reps with the Achilles stretch." You are in a position. And I recommend that you hold that position for sixty to ninety seconds on each leg. You don't want to stretch too far."

Not knowing the exact road race course could be advantageous. Surprising yourself can help you move faster. Joan says, "I don't look at marathon courses before I run them." "When I don't know what's around the next bend in the road, I tend to run faster to find out." And what I don't know isn't going to hurt me."

Running can provide both freedom and success. "I was embarrassed to be seen running on the streets as a young teenager because I grew up in a family of brothers and in a neighborhood full of boys, so I was always concerned about my tomboy image," Joan recalls. "Running gave me a sense of liberation." It also gave me a sense of accomplishment when I set a goal for myself and was able to achieve it. When I first started running, I did so within the confines of an old, deserted Army post. And there was no vehicular traffic in the area at the time. I'd dash to my heart's desire."

Know how to eat when training for a big race. You must eat properly when training for a half marathon or marathon. "I think the biggest mistake runners make when fueling up for a big race is either overeating or undereating, and that's going to look different for every runner out there," Joan says. "Don't start eating new foods right before the marathon." Make sure whatever you eat in the days leading up to the marathon is tried, true, and tested. And that you can tolerate whatever food you're eating and digest it properly and efficiently."

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