June 13, 2011

Inspiring read: Joan Benoit's Running Tide

Running Tide (1987) by Joan Benoit, with Sally Baker, is the most recent book I read, and I highly recommend this 213-page book (published by Alfred A. Knopf). I borrowed this hardcover copy from the Vancouver Public Library.

Benoit [Samuelson], the first woman to become an Olympic marathon champion in 1984 in an upset victory over favourite, the late Grete Waitz, describes the journey to that moment, and the one that followed, to her 1985 Chicago Marathon victory in 2:21:21 (which stood as an American record until 2003).

Running Tide is a superb read and while it should come as no surprise that Benoit is tough as nails given her accomplishments (last year she ran a 2:47:50 at the Chicago marathon at the age of 53), I was still struck by her incredible determination and focus, along with her absolute passion for running.

Benoit grew up pursuing many sports: she was an avid skier as a child and teen, and a superb hockey player, and believes this diversity contributed to her success in running. It was the marathon distance in particular where she made her mark, first in a surprise victory at the 1979 Boston Marathon in 2:35:15, setting an American and course record for women.

Here are some of my favourite quotes:

"People ask how I can run with pain or keep working toward a goal that seems hopelessly distant ... If I want to run a marathon faster than I've run in the past, I have to cope with the discomfort that sometimes accompanies long-distance running. I know the end result will be worth the effort."

"People call me a natural athlete—and in some respects I suppose I am—but to say that is to dismiss a world of effort."

"I would squirm under compliments most of the time, not in false modesty, but because I had a voice inside that said, 'Watch it.' The voice kept me ever aware of the fact that I wasn't reaching my potential."

"If I start running for the awards, my career is over. I'm still running because I have a goal to reach, a time that has eluded me up to now." 

"Satisfying yourself is the key to any success, but especially in athletics. You have to know, deep inside, that you love what you are doing—not because the coach or your parents want it for you, but because you desire it for yourself."

"I've seen many people beat themselves. Talented people, blessed with health, education, and the love of their families, somehow find cause to give up."

"My body may fail me, but my mind never has. There's a switch I can throw that puts me into high concentration: I focus one hundred percent on the immediate goal; I forget that I have a body, I don't feel pain. It's a gift that took some nurturing."

Benoit details her marathon training from page 150, saying she'd start preparing 3 to 4 months ahead of time by running 20 miles once a week. Her weekly volume was about 120 miles when healthy.

Benoit says, "Mileage is my safety blanket; I feel I'm doing okay if I can put in enough miles. My mental condition, how I feel about my training, is as important as my physical endurance. If you have confidence in your training it will show in your races."

If you need inspiration for your running, this book will surely provide it. It definitely confirmed my determination in the sub-3:00 marathon quest.  

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