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9 Questions with Joan Benoit Samuelson

Thirty years ago, a 27-year-old Joan Benoit ran through a tunnel into the L.A. Coliseum and won the first women’s Olympic marathon with a time of 2:24:52.

“I was living a dream,” says Benoit Samuelson, who had set a world’s best time at Boston the previous year. “I found running very accessible and affordable. It allows me to prioritize what’s going on in my life; it gives me time to breathe; it gives me a sense of well-being.”

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Her big marathon victories, combined with her winning attitude, ignited a running boom among American women—a demographic that has continued to embrace the sport with more fervor and passion every year since.

According to RunningUSA.org, of the 180,000 marathon finishers in 1984, 34,200 (19 percent) of those were women. By 2013, 43 percent of marathon finishers were women (232,600 out of 541,000). 

“The numbers speak for themselves,” Benoit Samuelson says. “I don’t know what to attribute that to, except I think women understand balance more than men. And if I dare say, I think they’re better at multitasking.”

On the eve of the anniversary of her gold-medal-winning race, Benoit Samuelson took time to reflect on her Olympic marathon, what’s changed since then, overcoming injury, and the best way to eat healthy—making an exception, of course, for her favorite oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (recipe below—you know, in case you want to multitask).

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OUTSIDE: August 5 is the anniversary of your win at the ’84 Olympics. What are some of your memories from that race?
BENOIT SAMUELSON: 
I remember that first water stop and making the decision not to take water at that point. I never have a race strategy; it’s very important to run your own race and not anybody else’s. I hadn’t been running in a relaxed fashion—I was taking abbreviated stutter steps—so I just made the decision to bypass that water station and get out of the pack and find my own stride and my own space. Fortunately, I couldn’t hear the remarks from the press corps; I guess they were saying I’d made a grave error and that I didn’t know what I was doing. But deep down, I knew what I was doing, and I had faith in my training and faith in my fitness and faith in my career.

I also remember running on the L.A. freeway all by myself. That was sort of bizarre. Back home in Maine, I run on the backroads where I see very little if any vehicular traffic. I look forward to the day I can tell my grandchildren I ran down the Los Angeles freeway all by myself.

Did you consider having the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles a home field advantage?
Well, L.A. isn’t Maine, but I had a lot of friends and a lot of support out there. I felt totally comfortable. During the opening ceremonies, right after they announced the games were open, the American athletes ran to reach out to the Romanians; they were the only Eastern bloc country that didn't boycott the games. It felt very necessary.

Initially, I stayed in the dorms next to the swimming arena, but because the Americans were doing so well in the swimming events early on, my adrenaline started to flow. I said, “I need to get out of here!” So right after the opening ceremonies, I flew up to Oregon [to Nike headquarters], where I was familiar with all the health community, training facilities, and trails.

I almost missed the flight because I noticed a wooden-toy store in the airport. I was getting married a month after the Olympics, and I saw a little wooden boat with little peg figures in the boat—my husband had built me a skiff—so I had to go in and buy that boat for the top of our wedding cake.

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You broke your leg ski racing as a teenager and had knee surgery 17 days before the Olympic trials in 1984. What advice do you have for athletes trying to come back from an injury?
There’s a silver lining in every injury, and sometimes you don’t understand what the silver lining is at the time of injury. But once you start to heal and get back in the saddle, so to speak, you see the silver lining.

I always talk about “the Four Ps”: passion for what you’re doing, patience, persistence, and perseverance. I think those are all applicable to injuries.

What about diet?
I think you are what you eat. I get my nutrition through whole foods, good foods. I eat meat and fish, but free range or organic whenever possible. I’ve never depended on supplements. I have a big garden at home that we can eat out of six or seven months out of the year. I grow a ton of different things, including a ton of blueberries, which are high in antioxidants.

This morning, I finished 16, and I made a smoothie out of blueberries I picked, kale from my garden, orange juice, and a banana. Unfortunately, we can’t grow bananas in Maine, but the smoothie was mostly local.

I discovered coffee when I turned 50 and consider that my performance-enhancement drug of choice. As I aged and became a bit wiser, I could tolerate it. It gives me a little lift and a little buzz.

I try to fuel my body with good food, but I have some weaknesses for sweets. I make a mean oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, which is really an energy bar of sorts, if you will.

How has running gear changed since you started running marathons in the late ’70s? 
Technology and fabric have changed the most. I used to wear these cotton T-shirts, and now apparel really breathes and works with the athlete’s body. Also, the colors are more bold; you feel fast, you feel like an athlete when you wear the color schemes.

With the evolution of apparel and shoes, running is an active lifestyle that people are beginning to accept and really aspire to. I used to not wear capris very often, and now I wear capris a lot because they’re accepted socially, whether I’m at the grocery story, an appointment, or whatever. 

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What about the evolution of running shoes? 
In the early ’80s, I wore the Nike Daybreak, but then Nike discontinued it. I was freaking out because I was so used to that shoe. I’d just come off a knee injury, and I was worried about trying something new. But I came home one day and there was a big box on my stairs, and it was a case of Daybreaks that they’d located in Brazil and had flown in for me.

Now I’m wearing the Air Pegasus. I usually find a shoe that works for me, and I stick with it as long as I can. The technology changes, but I stockpile enough shoes so I can introduce a new shoe and alternate that shoe with the shoe I’m comfortable with. If you wear down a pair of training shoes and then introduce a brand-new shoe, there’s a significant difference, and that sometimes leads to injury. If you introduce a shoe or a new technology gradually by trading it out with a pair of shoes that are tried and true, then you minimize the risk of injury.

And technology?
I am a subscriber with Nike+. I call it the tool of the devil. I can’t run with it, and I can’t run without it. I’m always trying to keep my pace below a certain number. Or, if I’m running 9.7 miles, why am I not running 10 miles? Or if I’m running 12, why am I not running a half marathon? That technology was never around when I was first starting.

You’re as competitive today as you were three decades ago. What’s your next race?
This weekend is the Beach to Beacon 10K, which I founded 17 years ago in my hometown. It’s going to feature Shalane Flanagan and Meb Keflezighi and several other top Americans, which I’m delighted about.

I have no plans for a fall marathon at this time, but I will run the Nike Women’s Half in San Francisco in October. I haven’t missed one yet, and it’s going to be a sad day when I do. I have a streak going. 

I never thought I’d be in the game as long as I have been to date. Nike ran a campaign with me in 1990 entitled “There is no finish line.” I didn’t really understand what that tagline meant at the time, but I went along with it. Now I finally figured out what it means—because I have not found that finish line. 

Joan Benoit Samuelson’s Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/joan-benoit-cookies.jpg","size":"large"}%}

6 cups ground oatmeal
3 cups unbleached and/or whole-wheat flour
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup softened or melted butter
1 cup safflower or sunflower oil
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup nuts and/or raisins (optional)

Mix all of the ingredients together.

Bake in small dollops at 325 to 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 to 12 minutes.

Makes approximately 5 dozen cookies.

Enjoy!

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This Camera Will Make Cycling Cool Again

Television footage of this year’s Tour de France was a reminder of just how poor a spectator sport cycling can be.

Sure, the race lacked drama because two major protagonists, Alberto Contador and Chris Froome, crashed out early. But even on a good year, I bet most viewers cue up the DVR and skip ahead to the last 10 or 15 minutes—or, best-case scenario, the final climb.

This year, however, saw a development that could finally add some intrigue: on-bike cameras. For the first time in history, Tour de France organizer ASO permitted video cameras to be mounted onto riders’ bicycles. 

The move followed the very first use of video cameras in the pro peloton earlier this spring. Footage from the Tour de Suisse in June, especially a video of the sprint finish on Stage 5, captured the hectic nature of the final few kilometers of a professional race. Likewise, a video shot by Giant-Shimano sprinter John Degenkolb on the first stage of the Tour of California gave a sense of what it takes to win at this level—well, almost win as Degenkolb took a razor thin second place on the stage to sprinter Mark Cavendish.

At the Tour, Shimano outfitted eight of its sponsored teams, including BMC, Giant-Shimano, Orica-GreenEdge, and Sky, with the company’s new Shimano CM-1000 camera. The resulting footage appeared on both the team’s pages as well as on the official Tour de France website.

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Several Garmin-Sharp riders were also equipped with its sponsor’s new VIRB Action Camera, which resulted in a series of first-person videos on the team website. The capture from Stage 7 is especially interesting as it overlays rider metrics like speed, heart rate, distance, and power collected by the VIRB via ANT+.

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The most unconventional first-person footage came from Europecar’s Kevin Reza. After a Lotto-Bellisol racer collided with a fan on the side of the road, Reza scooped up the spectator’s helmet cam, which had tumbled into the road, and filmed several minutes of the race before passing it to his team car.

The use of cameras in the peloton is partly a reflection of just how advanced the technology has become. At 180g, the Garmin VIRB isn’t smallest camera out there, but it captures 1080p HD video as well as GPS data and cycle-specific data such as heart rate and power. The Shimano CM-1000 captures similar high-quality footage and data and weighs just 86 grams. Given these units’ diminutive size, they can be mounted on the bars or below the saddle without much effect or impediment to a racer.

However the video these cameras capture provides arguably the most interesting way to watch pro cycling. They convey the fury and treacherousness of bike racing in a way that traditional footage shot from a motorcycle or helicopter cannot.

You see riders touching and bumping one another, get a feeling for just how tight and fast they are racing, and, thanks to the sound of yelling, heaving breathing, and camera shake while sprinting, register how difficult it must be. The recap from Stage 1 of the Tour conveys just how tough it was to stay upright in the final few kilometers of the race.

As good as the footage is, however, what’s now missing is the ability to stream live during a race. Watching firsthand footage after the fact is great, but it would be even better if television could cut back and forth between top view from a helicopter, front view from a motorcycle, and footage captured within the peloton while it happens.

“There are challenges, circling primarily around weight and battery life, that have to be resolved,” before live streaming is a reality, says Dustin Brady, marketing manager at Shimano America.

He explains that while the cameras are tiny now, it will take some time before batteries will be both small enough and have a long enough life to last the duration of an entire stage. The addition of a radio transmitter will also add weight and bulk. “We are talking about professional cyclist needing to climb the Col du Galibier or Col du Tourmalet or ride for five hours in pouring rain. Additional weight matters.”

That might sound discouraging, but the fact is the technology is only in its infancy: Both the VIRB and the CM-1000 were launched this year. Meanwhile, the decision to allow on-bike video at the Tour was even more recent. “We only found out after the Tour had started that the team could use action cameras,” says Amy Johnson, the media relations associate at Garmin, “So I think it was fairly sporadic this year.”

In a sport that tends to be resistant to change, the fact that these cameras have been adopted as quickly as they have is heartening. Hopefully governing bodies will move forward with similar programs, and manufacturers will fast track development. If not, television coverage of pro cycling may live—and perhaps die—by the DVR.

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CrossFit, Your Insecurity Is Showing

You do not cross CrossFit. As many in the media have learned, the company behind the fitness craze is not afraid to retaliate—through its enforcers in "informational weaponry," Russell Greene and Russell Berger; its massive social-media following; or, if all else fails, the courts. I knew because I'd read about it and had seen their work on Outside's Facebook wall. But it wasn't real to me. It is now.

Outside has been a focus of CrossFit's wrath since we began reporting on the injured-participant-led backlash in 2013. But I first became Greene's target when I reported on a story about CrossFit's new rival, the NPFL (now known as the NPGL). In the story, NPGL founder Tony Budding said he wanted to create an event that was more spectator-friendly than CrossFit's flagship competition, the CrossFit Games.

Greene took offense to that line. "Tony's statement that the CrossFit Games aren't a spectator-friendly sport is completely false, and deserves critical analysis," Greene wrote. Fair enough. We'd pointed out that "some would argue that the CrossFit Games have been a huge success, selling out tickets, drawing a half-million viewers on ESPN, and winning title sponsorship from Reebok." The story wasn't about taking sides, but about informing readers of the NPGL's existence and what it planned to do.

I suppose I should've remembered that encounter when I applied for a press pass to this year's CrossFit Games. Held annually since 2007, the Games are what makes CrossFit a sport rather than a training regimen. To get to the finals at the StubHub arena in Carson, California, individual CrossFit athletes and teams must make it past open and regional competitions. About 100 men and 100 women face off in a three-day strongman-style competition (think: overhead squats, burpees, and rowing), where CrossFit dubs the winners "Fittest on Earth" and hands them a check for $275,000.

I'd spent the past two-and-a-half years reporting on obstacle racing, a sport whose meteoric growth was greatly fueled by CrossFitters looking for a place to test their strength. I wanted to see what a straight-up CrossFit competition was like. Instead, my press pass was denied.

"Outside Online has published headlines and articles about CrossFit and the CrossFit Games that lead us to question Outside Magazine and Outside Online's editorial intentions," said the email from CrossFit Press, which arrived after we reached out to Greene. The email listed four Outside articles to which CrossFit had taken offense: a report on a Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study that suggested CrossFit has a 16 percent injury rate, a report on the subsequent lawsuit between CrossFit and the journal (published by the National Strength and Conditioning Association), the NPFL story, and another story digging deeper into injury statistics.

No mention was made, however, of the stories we've published trumpeting CrossFit's stars like four-time CrossFit Games champion Rich Froning, pointing readers to the regimen's best boxes, or even promoting CrossFit-inspired training plans. Outside has covered all aspects of the fitness trend since it began.

With that in mind, we asked CrossFit to reevaluate its decision. CrossFit is important to us and to many of our readers. We were eager to cover the games. Again, we were rejected. This time, our email didn't even elicit a response.

Denying our press pass is like the NFL writing, "Dear ESPN, We can't let you cover the Super Bowl, because you covered the traumatic-brain-injury concerns of NFL players." By CrossFit's logic, every major media outlet in the United States should be blackballed, from the New York Times to USA Today, because we've all covered CrossFit injuries. Deadspin must certainly be on CrossFit's s*** list after publishing this gem about the NSCA debacle:

It exposes the fitness company far more effectively than the NSCA study ever did. In the lawsuit, all of CrossFit's neuroses emerge, as does its inner asshole.

The press-pass rejection not only made CrossFit look thin-skinned, it also made it look like the company has something to hide. And barring journalists from something is about the best way to ensure they'll pursue a story. On Thursday evening, I bought a $50 pass to Friday's CrossFit Games and went to see the competition for myself.

StubHub Center, where the event is held, is composed of several venues. There are soccer, tennis, and track stadiums, as well as a tent village where vendors like Badass WOD Wear and nonprofits like Barbells for Boobs hawk their goods.

When spectators walked into the soccer stadium on Friday morning, their eyes lit up. They actually said, "Wow!" The place had been transformed into the world's biggest box, with THE 2014 REEBOK CROSSFIT GAMES printed across end zones and 15 metal trusses cutting the field in half.

I took photos of at least 10 people against that backdrop. They came from all over—Pittsburgh, Florida, Atlanta, Minnesota, Mexico. Most of them seemed to follow a dress code. Booty shorts for the ladies, nylon board shorts for the men, T-shirts repping their respective boxes, and minimalist Reebok CrossFit shoes. The stadium floor was empty, although the Jumbotrons showed a competition taking place: a relay run with competitors tethered together.

Perhaps Greene feared we'd find the games weren’t spectator-friendly. That's because they aren't. Not even to avid CrossFitters. Friday's first two events—the relay run and an erg-jump rope-run combo—were held in the driveway outside the soccer stadium, where few people could tell what was going on.

Some spectators even considered climbing the palm trees lining the road to improve their vantage point over the thousands of others trying to get a glimpse of their friends and favorite athletes. "I'm a huge Rich Froning fan," a 28-year-old CrossFitter from San Diego told me when I asked why he came to the games. "He said this might be his last year as an individual" competitor. It was tough to catch a glimpse of his hero, though, behind two solid rows of standing people.  

"Why didn't they do it in the stadium where people can actually see? I paid $200 to see nothing!" said an athlete from Utah as she stood on an empty Pelican case used to house the camera filming the event. She wasn't mad about it, though; she came for the experience and to support friends who were competing. In that way, she was like everybody else there.

{%{"quote":The rabid attacks on media outlets and researchers suggest that CrossFit is insecure with itself."}%}

{%{"quote":"The rabid attacks on media outlets and researchers suggest that CrossFit is insecure with itself."}%}

The CrossFit Games are like a religious gathering cum high-school track meet, where everyone in the stands (or on the street) is either a zealot or knows a competitor. "This is like a Mecca for CrossFitters," a Canadian CrossFitter told me.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with being at a religious gathering/high-school track meet. In fact, that's what makes the CrossFit Games—and CrossFit itself—special. It brings people of diverse backgrounds together to celebrate health and fitness. I met three generations of people at the games who might as well have been wearing kettlebell halos; they were the nicest sports spectators I've ever encountered, happy to talk about the event and the people close to them who were competing. Just like my mom at my high-school swim meets.

CrossFit should embrace its special community. The rabid attacks on media outlets and researchers suggest that CrossFit is insecure with itself. New competition like the NPGL should energize CrossFit rather than scare the organization into harassing reporters who introduce its rivals. As for that NSCA lawsuit, CrossFit should take a page out of its own book and relearn the art of the spin.

Back in 2005, CrossFit founder Greg Glassman knew how to handle a press that questioned his methods. Just before Christmas, the New York Times published an article about CrossFit's propensity to induce injuries, including rhabdomyolysis, a serious condition that can lead to kidney damage. Glassman’s response: Embrace the danger.

CrossFit had already rolled out a mascot named Uncle Rhabdo, a clown "whose kidneys have spilled onto the floor presumably due to rhabdomyolysis," the Times reported. Glassman also wrote an article titled "CrossFit-Induced Rhabdo," in which he "soberly explained the circumstances of the six CrossFit-related cases he knew about, outlined ways affiliates could lower the likelihood of injury, and announced he would add a rhabdomyolysis discussion to his weekend seminars and to the website," Inc. reported. PR crisis met head-on. Crisis averted.

Sometime over the past nine years, CrossFit, the sport of strength, got weak.

The tiniest amount of criticism sets its enforcers off on a rampage, and it's affecting CrossFit's most devout adherents. You've got a great thing going, CrossFit, with amazing people in your ranks. Bring back the old CrossFit that faced controversy with honesty and humor. Even better: Heed one of your own favorite sayings and HTFU.

Outside's CrossFit Coverage (The Good and Bad)

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