Joan Benoit Samuelson knows a thing or two about proper marathon fueling. She should. She’s been setting records at the distance ever since 1979, when she won the Boston Marathon for the first time as a college senior.
But when I caught up with Samuelson last weekend at the ING New York City Marathon Health and Fitness Expo, she was still picking up a few mid-race fueling tips. Samuelson was at the mobile Gatorade Performance Lab, running on a treadmill and having her carbohydrate stores and intake analyzed.
“Normally when I run a marathon I don’t start consuming Gatorade until half way through the race and I found out I need to frontload more,” she said. “Given my size I can only hold a limited amount of carbohydrates so I’m going to get depleted if I don’t start drinking it earlier,” she explained.
Samuelson ran the ING New York City Marathon last year. This time she was in town to watch the race and soak up the pre-event atmosphere without the pressure of having to compete. It’s a rare experience for one of the greatest American marathoners of all time.
Not only was Samuelson the gold medalist at the first women’s Olympic marathon in 1984, she also at one time held both the world and the American records in the event.
Last month she added another accomplishment to her long list at the Chicago Marathon. At the age of 53, Samuelson ran a 2:47:50, becoming the fastest American woman in the marathon in the 50-54 age group. She missed qualifying for the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials by less than two minutes.
“My plan going into that race was to run another sub 2:50 marathon and then when the press caught wind of it they put the Olympic Trials on my radar screen,” she said. “When someone is 50 plus and trying to shave three minutes off their time, that’s a lot, so I just tried to ignore that pressure,” Samuelson explained.
Samuelson has been competing at a high level for so long, it’s difficult to get out of the racing mindset. “It’s all personal pressure now. I put the goal out there and I will do what I can to achieve that goal. There’s never really a race where I don’t put pressure on myself,” she said.
Two weeks ago Samuelson ran her first marathon for the experience, and not the competition. Just 20 days after racing Chicago, she went to Athens to celebrate the 2500th anniversary of the original Greek marathon at the Athens Classic Marathon.
“I ran Athens with a fanny pack and a camera,” she said. Finishing in 3:03, it was the slowest marathon of her career, but also one of the most memorable. “It has given the marathon a whole new definition. Just being there with all of the history of that race was inspiring,” she said.
Samuelson hasn’t ruled out the idea running a race in the next year in an attempt to earn a spot at the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials. To qualify, she’ll have to shave one minute and 50 seconds off of her Chicago time. “I’m going to wait and see how I feel at the end of the year,” she explained.
Samuelson recently said she’d continue to compete until she can no longer run a 10k in less than 45 minutes. With her speed, we may be watching Joan Benoit Samuelson race and set new records for quite some time.