The marathon, a race of 42.195 kilometers (26 miles 385 yards), stands as the ultimate test of endurance and human limits. Marathon running is a sport that requires dedication, hard work, and determination. It takes years of practice and training to become a successful marathon runner. Over the years, countless athletes have pushed their bodies to the brink, many have achieved significant accomplishments in the sport, but only a select few have risen to the pinnacle of marathon greatness and have their names etched into the annals of history.
Here are the top 10 greatest marathon runners in history.
1. Eliud Kipchoge
Eliud Kipchoge, known as the “Marathon King”, is a Kenyan long-distance runner widely regarded as one of the best marathon runners in the world. Kipchoge won the Olympic gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics and successfully defended his title at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Kipchoge set the men’s world record in Berlin on September 16, 2018. He completed the race in a stunning time of 2 hours, 1 minute, and 39 seconds, shattering the previous record. Kenya’s best marathon runner has displayed remarkable consistency throughout his marathon career. In a historic event on October 12, 2019, Kipchoge ran a marathon distance in under 2 hours as part of the INEOS 1:59 Challenge.
2. Wilson Kipsang
Wilson Kipsang has set multiple records and achieved great success throughout his career. Notably, at the Berlin Marathon on September 29, 2013, Kipsang set a new men’s world record. He crossed the finish line in a fantastic time of 2 hours, 3 minutes, and 23 seconds, breaking the previous record held by Patrick Makau. This record-breaking performance showcased Kipsang’s exceptional speed, endurance, and determination. In addition to his world record, Kipsang has won prestigious marathons, such as in London and New York City.
3. Meb Keflezighi
Meb Keflezighi, a renowned American long-distance runner, achieved a significant milestone in marathon running with his victory in 2014 in Boston. While his victory was historic, it is essential to note that he did not break the world record. On April 21, 2014, Meb Keflezighi became the first American man in 31 years to win in Boston. He completed the race with a time of 2 hours, 8 minutes, and 37 seconds. This victory was particularly significant as it occurred the year after the tragic bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
4. Dennis Kimetto
On September 28, 2014, Dennis Kimetto set a new men’s world record in Berlin. He completed the race in 2 hours, 2 minutes, and 57 seconds, becoming the first person to break the 2:03 barrier. This record-breaking performance surpassed the previous record set by Wilson Kipsang in 2013. At the Berlin race in 2012, he finished second with a time of 2 hours, 4 minutes, and 16 seconds. This performance set the record for the fastest debut time at that point. Kimetto holds the course records for several races. He also set records in Tokyo and the Boston race.
5. Paula Radcliffe
Paula Radcliffe, a legendary long-distance runner from the United Kingdom, holds the women’s world record. Her record-breaking performance in London in 2003 is widely regarded as one of the most remarkable achievements in the sport’s history. On April 13, 2003, Radcliffe competed in London on a fast and flat course. She displayed extraordinary strength and endurance, crossing the finish line with a phenomenal time of 2 hours, 15 minutes, and 25 seconds. She won the London race thrice (2002, 2003, 2005) and was a three-time New York City champion (2004, 2007, 2008).
6. Haile Gebrselassie
Haile Gebrselassie, hailing from Ethiopia, is regarded as one of the best runners in history. Gebrselassie boasts an impressive track record of accomplishments. He won two Olympic gold medals in the 10,000 meters (1996, 2000) and set numerous world records across various distances throughout his career. He successfully leapt longer distances and achieved great success. His ability to maintain high performance over 42.195 kilometres showcased his endurance and mental toughness. Gebrselassie set several world records in athletics during his career.
7. Khalid Khannouchi
On April 14, 2002, Khalid Khannouchi set the world record for the men’s marathon in London. He completed the race in a great time of 2 hours, 5 minutes, and 38 seconds. Before that, on October 24, 1999, Khannouchi set the world record for the men’s marathon in Chicago. He finished the race in an impressive time of 2 hours, 5 minutes, and 42 seconds. Khannouchi also set the world record for the men’s half. On September 30, 2001, in Lisbon Half Marathon, he completed the distance in 58 minutes and 35 seconds, becoming the first man to break the 59-minute barrier.
8. Robert Cheruiyot
Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, a Kenyan long-distance runner, is renowned for his impressive record-breaking performances. One of his most notable achievements came in Boston in 2006, where he displayed exceptional strength and speed. Cheruiyot dominated the race, crossing the finish line with a remarkable time of 2 hours, 7 minutes, and 14 seconds. This incredible feat secured his victory in Boston and set a new course record, surpassing the previous record by a minute.
9. Ryan Hall
Ryan Hall, an American long-distance runner, is known for his achievements in the marathon. His fastest running time and personal record are 2 hours, 4 minutes, and 58 seconds. Hall achieved this remarkable feat in Boston in 2011, finishing fourth overall. At the time, Hall’s 2:04:58 was the fastest marathon ever run by an American. Although it was a significant accomplishment, it is essential to note that it was not recognised as an official American record because the Boston course does not qualify for record purposes because of its point-to-point nature and net downhill elevation profile.
10. Steve Jones
On October 21, 1984, Steve Jones won the Chicago Marathon with a time of 2 hours, 8 minutes, and 5 seconds. This incredible feat shattered the previous world record by almost a minute, making him the first British runner to hold the world record. His record stood for over eight years before being broken in 1993. Aside from his world record, Jones achieved numerous notable victories and top finishes worldwide. He won the London (1985 and 1986) and Toronto (1988) marathons. His exceptional endurance and speed marked his career, and he remains one of the most celebrated British runners ever.
The greatest marathoners have indelibly shaped the sport, redefining the boundaries of human endurance. Each athlete’s journey is a testament to the pursuit of greatness in the face of physical and mental challenges. As marathon running continues to evolve, these names will forever shine brightly in the marathon’s storied history, inspiring future generations of runners to chase their own records and dreams.