It’s been 40 years since Joan Benoit Samuelson came out of nowhere to win the Boston Marathon in record time in 1979, but the two-time champion isn’t ready to quit the race just yet.
“Most athletes retire at the age of 40, and I’m still able and I feel truly blessed to still be able to get out there and run,” Samuelson said. “I’m most passionate about life and family and the ability to recreate at a level that makes me happy and feel fulfilled.
That passion is the reason Samuelson is still running marathons at the age of 61, and it’s the reason she’ll be running Boston today for the first time since 2015, nearly 40 years to the date of her historic win.
“40 years is a long time, but to be able to come back and share the anniversary with so many runners and people in the sport who have been influential throughout my career, and dear friends, not just friends but dear friends, makes that time seem as though it’s collapsed to a much shorter period of time,” Samuelson said.
“I had never seen the course back in those days,” Samuelson said. “I knew about the Boston Marathon, but I didn’t know what it entailed or the course profile or anything like that. And I barely got to the starting line in time to discard my clothes and toe the line. It was a crazy, crazy day and crazy, crazy run.”
“I just feel blessed that I can attempt the distance 40 years later with a goal in mind,” Samuelson said. “I’m still as passionate about running as I was way back when. Certainly not as fast, but certainly as passionate to be here to share this moment with family and friends and my daughter, who will be running as well. It’s all pretty cool.”
A native of Freeport, Maine, Samuelson was an All-American cross-country runner for NC State before attending Bowdoin, where she was a student for her historic win in 1979. It was the start of a remarkable stretch that made Samuelson a distance running legend. She won another Boston Marathon in 1983, again breaking the course record, and also won the 1979 Auckland Marathon, the 1982 Nike OTC Marathon in Oregon and the 1985 Chicago Marathon.
Samuelson had yet another historic win at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, when she won the first women’s marathon in Olympic history.
It was a landmark moment for women’s distance running and women’s athletics as a whole, made possible by Samuelson and other female trailblazers.
“My career really does parallel the history of title IX,” Samuelson said. “I started high school in 1972. That was the year title IX legislation was enacted into law. It was the year that Nike was founded, my longtime sponsor. It was said back then that if a girl or woman ran more than 1500 meters, she’d do bodily damage and never be able to bear children.
“150,000 miles later and two children later, I’m still enjoying the sport as much as I was before sport really became an opportunity for women,” she continued.
All those miles have only deepened her enthusiasm for running as a sport and a lifestyle.
“I refer to running as a two-way road. We all have inspiring stories to share. Each and every runner out there on Monday has a story of inspiration. There’s not one of us who hasn’t overcome one challenge or another,” Samuelson said. “I guess it’s the joie de vivre that transcends everything. I only wish that everybody in life had a joie de vivre, and running is a great way to get that.”