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
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
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
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."