August 4, 2011

She's always on the run

Although running is a passion for Joan Benoit Samuelson, it's far from the only activity she champions.

By Glenn Jordan gjordan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH - Although she won't run her own race again until next summer's 15th edition, Joan Benoit Samuelson couldn't resist covering the 6.2 miles of the Beach to Beacon 10K with some friends Wednesday morning before doing a series of interviews for local media.

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Joan Benoit Samuelson seems to be constantly on the go, running in road races and tending to business and family responsibilities all over the world. But with September on the way, "Now I'm looking forward to spending one of my favorite months in this state," she says.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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THE BIG RACE

WHAT: The 14th Beach to Beacon 10K Road Race

WHEN: 8 a.m. Saturday

WHERE: Cape Elizabeth

START: Route 77 near Crescent Beach

FINISH: Fort Williams

After reaching the Portland Head Light, she turned around and ran the course once again, back to the starting line.

"The grass isn't growing under my feet," Samuelson said from inside Captain Strout Circle, two foghorns gently baying in the distance across Casco Bay, as workers erected orange fencing and white tents inside Fort Williams in preparation for Saturday's festive footrace.

No, this is not a woman who snoozes away her summer in a hammock.

Consider her calendar since the snow melted, or at least since she conquered the treacherous Haute Route, a six-day trek through the French and Swiss Alps that involved skis, ice axes, crampons, ropes and avalanche beepers.

First, she shrugged off a balky back and ran the Boston Marathon for the first time in 18 years, in part because it was the marathon debut for her daughter, Abby. Then came a weekend off, followed by a half-marathon in Oklahoma, a visit to Nike headquarters in Oregon and the Montana Women's Run in Billings.

She skipped a planned visit to Yellowstone National Park after receiving word of the death of her running colleague Grete Waitz, another ambassador of women's marathoning, and flew to Norway to pay her respects.

Upon returning to Maine, Samuelson had just enough time to do laundry and pack for an eight-day trip to Kenya to visit her son Anders on a semester off from Bowdoin College.

Back in the states, Samuelson ran in a 5K for women in Albany, N.Y.; a 10K in Green Bay, Wis.; a 10K in Shelter Island, N.Y.; the inaugural Boston Athletic Association 10K in late June; and, of course, the L.L. Bean 10K in Freeport on July 4. Oh, and last weekend she made her annual visit to Iowa for the Bix 7-miler.

"So it's been pretty wild," she said. "Now I'm looking forward to spending one of my favorite months in this state."

September in Maine, and the training that comes out of it, will determine whether she decides to run a fall marathon. The Olympic trials are scheduled for January in Houston and she is only 110 seconds away from a qualifying time.

Not that organizers require one from her. As the 1984 Olympic gold medalist, Samuelson automatically qualifies for all future Olympic trials in the women's marathon.

"But," she said, "I would only compete if I achieved the current qualifying time."

So, yes, she might achieve that 2:46 at the Philadelphia Marathon in late November, for example. Even so, she still may pass up running in Houston.

"Right now, I'm leaning on the side of going down there to watch the races," she said. "It will be the first time the men's and women's (trials) races will be conducted in the same city during the same weekend.

"That appeals to me more than finishing toward the back of the pack in another Olympic trial. It's going to be an exciting race on both sides."

Speaking of appeal, it would be hard to imagine anyone in Maine with more name recognition or higher approval ratings than Samuelson. Given her passionate environmental stance, her experience before microphones and large crowds, her ability to hobnob with the movers and shakers in the business world and her unquestioned work ethic and empathy for the underdog, might she ever be tempted to run for political office?

The buttons that say "Run, Joanie, Run" are already out there.

"No," she said quickly. "That's been suggested."

She paused.

"I don't think so."

When asked if she's ever toyed with the idea, she still wouldn't bite.

"I think I have some goals I would like to achieve," she said, "and I'm working on some projects now that I would hope might have a similar impact that this race has had on this state and this sport of ours."

Would she care to share those goals and projects?

"Not yet."

Having run the fifth Beach to Beacon with firefighters from New York City less than a year after the attacks on the World Trade Center, and the 10th Beach to Beacon with 1980 Boston Marathon winner Jacqueline Gareau (whose victory was overshadowed by the Rosie Ruiz scandal), Samuelson naturally is planning something special for the 15th B2B.

And that might be?

"My lips are sealed."

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

gjordan@pressherald.com

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH

 

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