Joan Benoit Samuelson took her day job as Boston University’s women’s track coach seriously. So, two days before racing in the 1983 Boston Marathon, she found herself at a track meet in western Massachusetts. It was a gray, raw New England day. The meet included BU and the female distance runners Samuelson coached at the school.
‘’I was excited for my athletes, but I said, ‘Who in their right mind would be standing out on a day like this right before a marathon?’’’ said Samuelson. ‘’But we fed off each other. The team fed off my passion and ability in the sport and I fed off their love for the sport and their PRs [personal records].’’
At the track meet, little Little did Samuelson know she would set a PR of her own in the 1983 Boston Marathon. And a world record when she crossed the finish line in 2:22:42.
The only other woman with a recognized world record on the course was West German Liane Winter, a Volkswagen accountant who won the 1975 race in 2:42:24. Winter beat Katherine Switzer by almost 10 minutes and promptly asked for a beer after finishing.
Not quite a decade later, Samuelson became the fastest women’s marathoner in history with a mark 45 seconds per mile faster than the one set by Winter.
‘’In ‘83, I remember looking at the pace chart the night before the race and thinking maybe I could run close to 2:25,’’ said Samuelson. ‘’But I was totally wigged out by the pace that I would have to sustain in order to run that time. Again, I just went out and ran how I felt that day. I knew was in good shape. But never in my wildest dreams thought I’d run a 2:22. On paper, it was impossible for me to think that I could do that.’’
On her way to the record, Samuelson remembers passing the 10-mile mark in 51:38. She was all alone in the women’s race before she reached the half-marathon mark in 1:08:23, 39 seconds faster than her own American record. The next moment she vividly recalls is passing the BU track team.
Dressed in red and white, the team was perched on the roof of a T station in Brookline. Not long after, there was the voice of finish announcer Tom Grilk.
‘’I heard his voice before I saw the finish line,’’ said Samuelson. ‘’He was just saying, ‘This is ridiculous.’ Then, I realized he was talking about my run. And so that sort of sparked whatever energy I had left to really make the last hard effort for the finish line.’’
The next day, she returned to her coaching job at BU. And to her great surprise, then-BU basketball coach Rick Pitino talked to her.
‘’Rick Pitino lifted up his head in the hallway and actually said, ‘Good job,’’’ said Samuelson. ‘’It’s the first time he ever said a word to me.’’
Maybe she shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, Samuelson ran the kind of race that caught everyone’s attention.