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Women's Running Coaches Collective
January 31, 2019
Talks with Joan Benoit Samuelson 
Joan Benoit Samuelson racing at 2018 Freihofer's 5K
Photo by Kevin Morris @
Joan Benoit Samuelson
Probably no female distance runner in U.S. history has done more to shine a light on our sport than Joan Benoit Samuelson. The petite Mainer has a long and storied running career that spans from her time at Bowdoin College and North Carolina State (where she helped the Wolfpack win an ACC Championship) in the 70s through to the present where she sets marathon age records. Her story of winning the 1984 Olympic Trials Marathon, the inaugural edition, three weeks after knee surgery is legendary. However, her debut at the 1984 Olympic Marathon in Los Angeles established her as an instant star. Breaking from the pack at an early water station, Joanie ran the remaining 21 miles alone, entering the Coliseum to finish in 2:24:52, a record that stood until 2012. And although she has set many running records while her younger self, it is her commitment to running excellence as she ages that also stands out. In 2008 she ran a sub-2:50 marathon (2:49:08) at the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon at age 50 and 2:47:50 at the Chicago Marathon in 2010. Joanie continues to be a goodwill ambassador to running, giving motivational speeches and coaching fitness clinics around the world. For those who would like to learn more about this remarkable woman, there is her book, Running Tide by Joan Benoit, Sally Baker, Collaborator, or the documentary, “There Is No Finish Line: The Joan Benoit-Samuelson Story.” - Laura Caldwell
Joan Benoit Samuelson and daughter Abby Samuelson finishing the 2018 Chicago Marathon
Photo by Kevin Morris @
1. You have been coached by many coaches over the years, in high school, college, club and your professional career. Could you name several coaches who stand out in your mind because of their coaching style or philosophy? What did you take from them that impacted your running?

High School Coach....Keith Weatherbie
College....played field hockey for first two years at Bowdoin. Was coached by Russ Combs and the late Jim Wescott at NCSU.
Coached by Lynn Ruddy and the late Frank Sabasteanski at Bowdoin when I came back from NCSU.
Coached by John Babington when I ran for Liberty AC and Bob Sevene when I ran for Athletics West.

Keith Weatherbie, John Babington and Bob Sevene had the most influence on me. They expected a lot and knew how to handle workouts and athletes so the workouts always flowed smoothly.  John was an avid runner and Sev often ran with me. John and Sev had a deep understanding of the runner's psyche. Mutual respect between athlete and coach is very important so is the chemistry of personalities.
2. As one of the most successful women's distance runners of all times, with decades of sub 3-hour marathons and faster on your resume, can you tell us about your approach to training over the years? You have been self-coached more than you have been coached. How did that evolve, and how did you approach it?
Keep it simple. Run the way you feel. The athlete knows her own body and how it responds from workouts better than any trainer or coach. I have always run the way I feel on any given day. If anything, I cut myself short on rest and don't take enough easy days. Learning this as I age.

My three key workouts for marathon training at the height of my career starting three months ahead of the actual marathon date:  Long run of 20 miles; medium-long run of 12-15; one speed workout that could be either a track workout, tempo or race. All other runs were run with the energy and stamina I had at the particular time. When I was training twice a day, I felt as though the morning workout maintained my fitness and the afternoon session improved my fitness because I was always training at a deficit after a morning workout.
3. As you look back over your career, what training do you wish you had done more of? What training do you wish you had not done? In hindsight, what type of training works best for you? What is a signature "speed" workout for JBS?
See above. No real regrets except for perhaps not tapering enough.

Signature workouts: 10 x 400m with 200m jog recovery throughout my career before children.
High School: 1 x mile, 2 x 800m, 4 x 400m, 8 x 200m, devised by Coach Weatherbie. 
College: Different ladder workouts depending on the coach.
Club: same

As I moved to more marathons, I did a lot of mile repeats (4-6) with half the number of 800s and 400s.

Photo by Kevin Morris @
4. As you have gotten older, how has your training and racing changed? What things do you do differently than 20 years ago? How have you adjusted to being an older distance runner?

More cross training. For the last several years, I have done a lot of Nordic skiing in the winter. In recent years, I have started to do a fair amount of road cycling. Nordic skiing provides a great upper body workout. I think the more closely upper body strength resembles leg strength, the more efficient a runner is going to be.

After having children, I stopped double training sessions except on winter weekends when I often Nordic ski and run on the same day. My mileage has decreased to about half of what it used to be at the height of my career. I haven't done track workouts since being a young mother with the hopes of avoiding injuries.  
5. We know you have coached over the years. What are your thoughts about being a coach, and how did you approach coaching? What do you think the role of a coach should be?

A mentor, first and foremost. A coach should exude passion and understand that every athlete comes to the sport with different objectives and goals and know how to schedule workouts appropriately based on the ability, talent, and work ethic of the athlete. John and Sev (Bob Sevene) possessed both of these traits or abilities.
6. Every runner has experienced adversity in her/his running career. You have been so successful in dealing with physical setbacks and rebounding with success. How have you dealt with these adversities and been able to come back even stronger?  (ex: Your injury/surgery before the Olympic Trials in 1984) How do you stay strong and motivated?
Passion and the ability to not focus on all the noise surrounding the injury or challenge. I think passion can lead to a strong will. Mind over matter if you will. No pun intended.
7. What do you think drew you to distance running and racing? What ignited your passion to run, and what continues to motivate you?
Love for challenge and the outdoors. Testing my abilities and limits. Always being comfortable in the environment in which I choose to train. Sometimes I think athletes move around too much and would probably perform better if they found an ideal training location for themselves and stayed put. Being able to focus on feelings in an environment that is familiar is what I attribute to my mental toughness, if you want to call it that. :)
Joan Benoit Samuelson and daughter Abby Samuelson after the 2018 Chicago Marathon
Photo by Kevin Morris @

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Kathy Mills Parker
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A very Big Thank You to photographer Kevin Morris for the beautiful photo's of Joan Benoit Samuelson and family!
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