Joan Samuelson almost didn’t run.
“I didn’t know until I went to bed Saturday that I would go to the starting line,” said Samuelson, 56, in a telephone interview on Tuesday, still congested from a cold as she bustled around her Freeport, ME, kitchen preparing dinner. [But the illness] didn’t really bother me because I didn’t dig that deep. I can’t say I raced, but I ran. I knew I couldn’t dig any deeper than I was digging, because I didn’t want to get to where I had to drop out.”
In her 34-year marathon career, Samuelson has yet to drop out of a race.
Nonetheless, Samuelson’s time of 2:57:13 was not only good enough to win her age group in the 2013 ING New York City Marathon by more than 12 minutes, it also would have won the 50-54 and 45-49 age groups.
It was a fitting display for someone inducted last Thursday into the NYRR Hall of Fame in a ceremony at which Samuelson said of running in NYC: “I’ve gutted it out here numerous times.”
An injury to Samuelson’s daughter, Abby, scuttled their plans to run for fun together, so when Samuelson met Nina Ytterstad, a top Norwegian runner in the 50-54 age group, the morning of the race, her goal began to evolve.
When Samuelson began to catch up with Ytterstad, 50, on the Queensboro Bridge, she said she told herself, “All you want to do is break three hours; don’t worry about her.” It was all about getting from point A to point B, she reminded herself. But then Samuelson caught up with Ytterstad again at 20 miles, and passed her (Ytterstad finished in 2:59:09).
In April, Samuelson ran the Boston Marathon in 2:50:29 to win her age group in the fastest time ever run by a woman age 55-59.
“Once a competitor, always a competitor,” said Samuelson, of her instincts on Sunday. “It wasn’t the run that I anticipated, because I didn’t want to give up my title.”
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg