Q&A with Joan Benoit Samuelson

Joan Benoit Samuelson, 1984 Olympic marathon champion, at her home

Joan Benoit Samuelson, 1984 Olympic marathon champion, at her home.

The Shelter Island Run, now in its 37th year, attracts athletes of all skill levels for a 5- or 10-K race around the heart of Shelter Island. This year, they hope to attract a few foodies, too. The official after party, Revelry on the Rock, will feature barbecue, food trucks, live music and, you don’t have to be a runner to take part in the festivities.

Considering the fuel it takes to finish a long race, it makes sense that a number of runners would also be foodies, and that’s certainly the case for one of this year’s most famous Shelter Island Run participants, Olympic gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson. In fact, when we called her to chat about the race, she was in her garden, pulling weeds and snacking on kale shoots.

You’ve spent decades competing in races all over the country, what drew you to the Shelter Island Run?
Shelter Island is a wonderful community, and I’ve made some really good friends there. It is a little like going back in time, especially in early summer. It is a race I’ve been wanting to return to; I think this will be my fourth time.

I think it is great they are going to have a food wagon this year. Anything that’s local I like to try out. This is a destination race for a lot of people, and it is nice to try the local food and products.

Are there any Long Island foods you look forward to eating every time you visit?
I like going to the farmers market they have there. Long Island’s growing season is usually a little ahead of where I live, so strawberries will be out, and they’ll have more greens. I really like almost anything that grows in the garden.

The annual Shelter Island Run is June 18 and starts at 5:30 p.m. Register here.

Since you travel so much, you must have a few favorite food cities.
I live near Portland, Maine, so we have a pretty good food city right here. I also like Portland, Oregon; Chicago; Boston and the Southwest. You can find a pretty good restaurant anywhere you go, you just have to know what you are looking for, and then speak to the locals.

I’ve read that you garden. Who takes care of your plants when you have to be away for a race or running event?
Actually, you caught me out in my garden between meetings—there are never enough hours. For me, gardening is a therapeutic activity. I enjoy feeding my family, a lot of neighbors, and the local food pantry. I live a very busy, public life, and I like to come home and feel the good earth. It’s a natural garden, so sometimes it suffers while I’m away, and sometimes it is maintained pretty well. Occasionally I’ll have someone come by, but for the most past I just hope that it can survive while I’m away.

What do you like to eat on race days, and how has your eating routine shifted over the years?
It hasn’t shifted all that much. I eat a pretty healthy diet. I eat locally and organically as much as I can. I do eat fish and red meat and chicken; I prefer free range and wild caught whenever possible. Before races, I like a leafy green salad, and I prefer fish or chicken. I eat a fair amount of bread and pasta. I love a good piece of bread. I tend to eat more protein in recovery, so I might have a hamburger.

I think food is very important to a runner. You are what you eat, so to speak, so you want to eat as nutritiously as you can. It needs to taste good and replenish the tank. I think runners are probably more discerning than other athletes when it comes to food.

The annual Shelter Island Run is June 18 and starts at 5:30 p.m. Register here. Revelry on the Rock after party starts at 7pm, all welcome! Tickets here.