Running Legends – Be Inspired

Whether you are a newbie or have been at this a while I think it’s good to take stock of some of the epic runners out there.  Other sports ram their heroes down our throats. Footballers (this statement applies to both, neither are worth the money, hell I would do DISGUSTING things for half their weekly wage) are paid thousands per second and can be taken down by a blade of grass, so lets give our lads and lasses a cheer. I’m sure that you guys can probably add to this list but if you are new to this sport, here are just a few of the greats.


Emile Zatopek

Now us Brits were pretty impressed with Mo Farah when he won Gold in at London 2012 in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres. That’s pretty hench right? Well Emile Zatopek  had got the Gold and Silver in the 10,000 and 5,000 in London 1948, Golds for both in the 1950 Euros.  Two years later at Helsinki he picked up two more Golds in these events. Sitting in the changing rooms in Helsinki Emile was getting pretty bored; he thinks – why not enter the marathon as well, after all how hard can it be?

His strategy was simple, keep up with the record holder….because all of us who have made the jump from 10K to marathon know how easy that is, with NO TRAINING. And he came away with, you guessed it, an Olympic gold. The only man to get golds in all 3 distances.

Fancina ‘Fanny’ Blankers-Koen AKA The Flying Housewife


Won four gold medals at the 1948 Olympics in London for Holland. Apart from her four Olympic titles, she won five European Titles and 58 Dutch championships, and set or tied 12 world records – the last, pentathlon, in 1951 aged 33. She retired from athletics in 1955, after which she became captain of the Dutch female track and field team. In 1999, she was voted “Female Athlete of the Century” by the IAAF.

Fanny gave birth to her first child six weeks before the European Championships (her first major competition after WW2) and broke through the social barriers of mothers not being able to compete at the elite level.  Rumour has it, she even competed pregnant. Despite questions over her age and commitments at home she continued to win medals and break records into her mid 30s. A retiring age that elite athletes would be proud of even today.  Sod the Spice Girls, if you want true girl power, get a poster of Fanny on your wall!

Haile Gabrselassie

ImageHaile’s strange gait apparently comes from running to school with books under his arm. This Ethiopian has broken world records in EVERY distance from the 2,000 meters to the marathon indoors and outdoors. He’s got a Gold in International Competitions in 1,500, 2,000, 3,000, 5000,10,000, and 13.2 miles and the marathon. If he doesn’t have the bling for it, then chances are the event doesn’t exist.  In 2005 he was UNDEAFEATED in all of his road races. I could sit and list his world records, but that would make this a very long blog. If you look up the world hench in the dictionary there will be a picture of this man next to it. Apart from the amazeballs-ness of his running, he is also known as a consummate sportsman and a true ambassador for the sport. His personality has been described as ‘electrifying’ and yet he is just as graceful a loser as he is winner. If you pick this guy to worship from the list, you could do a lot worse.

Roger Bannister

Back in the 1950s people still believed that eating crusts would make your hair go curly, and that it wasn’t physically possible for the Imagehuman body to run faster than a 4 min mile. Otherwise our head would explode…..okay maybe not that last part.  The myth was created by informed observers and sports writers (the equivalent of bloggers) but since Bannister was a trainee doctor he pretty much knew this was bollocks.  He took a scientific approach to his training and with the use of comparatively advanced methods and some pacers smashed through this barrier on 6th May 1954. He held his record for just 46 days when the other runners realised it was all in their heads. Bannister was by no means the most talented runner of his generation, he didn’t even train full time. He was first and foremost a doctor and has made some great contributions to sports medicine. However back in the 1950s he was the CLEVEREST runner of his generation and did not allow  myths and psychology to beat him, and therefore achieved a monumental breakthrough.

Eddie Izzard

Yes, I’m aware he’s a comedian not an elite runner. But for me he’s a testament to what the normal person can do with a bit of crazy and a lot of will power. Eddie Izzard completed 43 Marathons in 50 days for charity with only 5 WEEKS TRAINING and NO PREVIOUS HISTORY OF RUNNING.  That I think, makes him deserving of a space here. If a only vaguely funny guy with a beer belly can run 43 marathons, then you can do one at least!


Abebe Bikila

This guy didn’t take up running until he was 24 and was added to the 1960 Ethiopian Olympic Team so last minute that the plane to ImageRome was literally about to leave the tarmac. The sponsor didn’t have any trainers his size so he ran barefoot  and came home with a gold medal in the marathon. When asked about his feet he said ‘I wanted the whole world to know that my country, Ethiopia, has always won with determination and heroism.” Awwwww bless.

In the 1964 Olympics he broke the world record, once again in bare feet ( Apparently they didn’t have Vibrams back then) and just over a month after collapsing from appendicitis. He was the first athlete in history to win the Olympic Marathon back to back.

Ingrid Kristiansen


The first women to win world titles on all three surfaces, (track, road and cross country). Actually make that FOUR surfaces as she was also an elite cross country skier. She had world records in the 5,000, 10,000 and the marathon.  As much as I hate treadmills they can’t be all that bad, as the Norweigan dominated distance racing during the 80s and reported to do most of her training on the old ‘dreadmill’.

Edwin Moses

Edwin was studying physics at University, but his campus didn’t have a track so spent 3 years hauling arse down to the local high school to train. As we all know, persistence pays dividends and the little boy from Dayton, Ohio ended up with 122 consecutive race wins, 3 world records,  three World Cup titles, a World Championship gold, and 2 Olympic Golds (and a bronze). Oh right and his degree.

He’s also revolutionised the sport, helping set up trust funds so athletes could offset training costs without making themselves Imageineligible for the Olympics by giving up their amateur status. He also participated in the development in a number of anti doping polices and procedures. Edwin is truly interested in protection of the integrity of sport and participation for all, no matter what their background or level. What a dude!

Tirunesh Dibaba

This lass has multiple golds in cross county, road and track. She was the youngest EVER athlete to win an individual gold at the World ImageChampionships at age 18 and 90 days. At the 2004 Olympics, she was third in the 5,000m, which made her at the time her country’s youngest Olympic medalist. She’s been pretty much unbeatable ever since. She’s won every medal, broken every record in the 5,000, and 10,000 and now rumour has it she’s upping her distance to the marathon. Her debut is rumoured to be the London Marathon 2014, watch out, this girl does NOT know how to lose. Oh and her sister isn’t bad either.


My Great Uncle Ken

My Great Uncle ran an Ultra Marathon at 70. Not a easy flat canal one either. I’m talking South African foothills (The Comrades) which makes him my own personal legend. Unfortunately I didn’t find out until after he died. (I didn’t know him very well regrettably) We Imagewere sorting through his things and I found all of this amazing running memorabilia. Up until then I had thought I was the only runner in the family, the only runs the rest of my rels get are the ones that happen after a dodgy donner kebab.  Finding this out pushed me to enter my first marathon. One day I’d like to make it to South Africa to do the Comrades like he did, it might take me a while though. He was pretty hench.

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10 Responses to Running Legends – Be Inspired

  1. Ruaca says:

    Thank you for sharing all that information and putting it together! 🙂 Very interesting.

  2. TartanJogger says:

    What a fantastic post!

  3. PaulSmuts says:

    I hope you make it over here to South Africa and run the comrades. I’ve been to watch it live the last two years and the atmosphere is AMAZING. It’s a dream of mine to one day also be lining up on the start line of this great race. All these runners are a great inspiration, thanks for sharing!

  4. Pingback: Liebster Award – Mark 2 | The Improbable Runner

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