The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Athletes

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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Inside the Mind of an Ironman

Can inspirational quotes make you a champion? It worked for six-time Hawaii Ironman champion Mark Allen—and he wants to share his moral support with us mere mortals.

The legendary triathlete's new book, The Art of Competition, combines scenic photographs with Allen's own spiritual thoughts. The finished product reads in bit like a series of inspirational posters, but also as a serious reflection on healthy competition.  

We talked to Allen about the book, triathlons, and the spiritual work he does with Shaman Brant Secunda.

OUTSIDE: What made you decide to write a book of inspirational quotes?
ALLEN
: For years, people asked me, 'What did you think about during races? How did you hold it together?' I always felt I was falling short of explaining the essence of what I was doing.

How did you begin to compile the quotes?
I was on a retreat with Brant Secunda in Japan. I was lying down and these quotes just started coming to me, out of thin air. It was like a faucet. By the next day, I’d written down 35 to 40 quotes. I thought, these are pretty cool, but I didn’t have a vision for what to with them. Five years later, I decided that I needed to pair them with photographs from nature.

Why is nature such an important part of the book?
We are hard wired to feel good in nature, and the quotes have everything to do with us feeling good in life. That is how I raced best; when I felt good about life. I trained in San Diego in the winter and Boulder in the summer and I just loved those environments. You’re running by the ocean and then riding in the foothills of the Rockies. It doesn’t get any better. Nature has always been a huge part of my training. When you go outside and immerse yourself in nature, you inherently feel better.

Did you write this book for triathletes?
I wrote this book for everybody. There’s not one photo of an athlete in it. There are no numbers or formulas. It’s meant to test people on a deeper level. Obviously, there’s a sport slant to a lot of it, but it applies to personal challenges in any arena.

Should someone read this book straight through? Or take their time with a few quotes at a time?
When I had put everything together for the book, I sent out a PDF to people to get feedback. One of the guys I sent it to I thought was as far at the end of the spectrum of people who might like it as possible. He finally called me, and told me he’d at last finished reading the book. He’d started reading quotes and flipping through the pages, and then realized he could only look at two or three quotes each day because he would start thinking about each one. I think a lot of people will read a little bit at a time and go reflect on it.

The book contains positive quotes, but it also addresses problems such as being stuck, jealous, or grappling with self-pity. Do you deal with all of those?
I’ve had to overcome all of those things. I didn’t want to make the book just about fluffy positive things. I was feeling sorry for myself all those years I didn’t win races. I could be in the lead at hours five, six, or seven, but I couldn’t be in the lead at the finish line. I had jealousy and self-pity when Dave Scott kept winning and I couldn’t. We all have to find a way to move beyond those things.

Your best known race is the 1989 Ironman Hawaii battle with Dave Scott. What did that win mean to you?
It was an amazing race because we were side by side for eight hours. It had never happened before, and it hasn’t happened since. It was a defining moment for me. I made the switch to finally having the race I wanted to have. It was the first time I really integrated the soul-body concept. I really embraced how the internal space dictates what is going on outside of you.

What happened mentally with you in that race that enabled you to push through to the finish line?
Dave was surging at the half marathon point. I remember looking around at the black lava surrounding us, and thinking that it was the most amazing creation nature could make. It was like a cloud had lifted. I stopped thinking about everything and became a vehicle for performance to take place. I think almost all great athletic performances happen when you are in that space.

What was the tougher race: The duel with Dave Scott or your final Ironman Hawaii victory in 1995, when you had to make up 13 and a half minutes in the marathon over race leader Thomas Hellriegel?
I would say the final victory was the hardest. When I was racing with Dave, we were side by side the whole time. There was zero doubt about how he was feeling. With Hellriegel, I was racing a guy who’d passed me on the bike and I didn’t see again for hours. It was very hard mentally to keep going and say this is something that could turn around.

How did you keep going when you were that far back?
I knew I had to make up 30 seconds per mile in the marathon. It seemed so impossible. I threw off my heart rate monitor. It would tell me if I was running out of gas, and I didn’t want to know that.

What made you a great triathlete?
Tons of guys have the same genetics as me. I’m not a freak of nature genetically. There are a lot of guys with better numbers. But the numbers in the logbook don’t necessarily tell what you will do in competition. I discovered how to persevere in difficult moments. When you just want to quit, you have to surrender to the moment, and find a calm.

What did you love about Ironman Hawaii?
I loved that Ironman is such a complex puzzle to figure out. The wind, the heat, the energy of the Big Island. Everyone willing to give 100 percent. I really loved that.

Have you been surprised by the enormous growth in the sport of Ironman?
When I started in 1982, there were 1,000 people in the race in Kona. You didn’t have to qualify. There were very few Ironman races to enter. Now, there are races everywhere. I think people do this sport because of the community of people, and because you test yourself and challenge yourself.

What do you do in the retreats you host with Shaman Brant Secunda?
We teach retreats all over the world. We’ve been doing it since 1998. The Art of Competition is a teaser of what you can get if you develop your mind and body, which is what we work on at our retreats. We get a huge range of people at our retreats. Everyone from world class athletes to inactive, overweight individuals. The way we set up the workshops is so there’s something for everybody.

Do you also work with triathletes?
I do training camps periodically. I’ll be in Boulder in August. I talk about both the physical and mental because there’s a lot of misinformation about training. I believe in getting fit in a way that is healthy instead of burning yourself out. I tell a lot of Ironman stories because it brings to life that even champions struggle.

Do you still do triathlons?
My day-to-day exercise now is surfing. I live in Santa Cruz and absolutely love it. I get out on the water most days. It’s my cardio, my strength, my stretching, and my nature fix. I also run and lift weights.

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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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Do Siblings Share Athletic Potential?

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