To commemorate International Women's Day (Wednesday 8th March) and celebrate the finest female athletes the world has to offer, we bring you our hall of fame of inspirational female runners!
Compiling our hot list turned out to be a mammoth task and we struggled to fit all the speedy ladies in. If you think we missed an important runner out, we’d love to hear from you. Tweet us @RunnersworldUK and share your favourite female athletes.
Born 5th January 1947
All hail Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston marathon. She paved the way for women runners by entering the 1967 race using just her initials, five years before women were allowed to compete. After evading attempts to have her removed from the course (and proving that your ovaries don’t in fact fall out when you run the same distance as the boys) Switzer went on to run 35 marathons and win the 1974 New York City marathon.
Born 27th August 1992
Fighting against the social conventions of her country, Attar become the first Saudi Arabian woman to compete in the Olympic track and field at the London 2012 Olympics. Sarah, we salute you!
Born 23rd June 1940 – Died 12th November 1994
The first American woman to win three gold medals in one Olympics, Rudolph was known as ‘the fastest woman in the world’ following the 1960s Olympics in Rome. A track and field champion, she played a pivotal role in elevating women's running in the United States.
Born 15th April 1957
A five-time Olympian, Ashford was the first woman to run 100 metres in under 11 seconds in 1984 and went on to prove this a further 30 times. In 1992 the US runner also became the oldest woman in history to win an Olympic gold medal in track and field.
Born 23rd January 1970
Proving that age needn't be a barrier, Diţă is the oldest runner - male or female – to ever win an Olympic marathon and arguably one of the most successful Romanian athletes of all time.
Allyson Michelle Felix
Born 18th November 1985
At just 18 years old, Felix represented the US in the 2004 Summer Olympic in Athens, earning her first silver medal. In 2005, she became the youngest champion to compete at the World Championships, and two years later, she became only the second female to win three gold medals at a single World Championships. Her three gold medals at the 2012 Summer Olympics are the most a female track athlete has won since 1988. An avid supporter of the US Anti-Doping Agency's 'Project Believe' program, Felix is regularly tested to prove that her body is free of performance-enhancing drugs.
Born 26th May 1966
A middle and long distance runner, the mighty Zola Budd was racing barefoot long before the hipsters got wind of it. She competed at the 1984 Olympic Games for Great Britain and the 1992 Olympic Games for South Africa, both times in the 3000 metres. In 1984 and 1985, Zola broke the world record in the women's 5000 metres and was also a two-time winner at the World Cross Country Championships. If she can achieve all that barefoot, who knows what would happen if she got her hands on some Ultra Boosts.
Born 14th March 1979
A two-time 100K World Champion, British ultramarathoner Greenwood holds numerous course records for running distances that defy all logic, including the Western States 100, the Canadian Death Race, the JFK 50 Mile Run and the Knee Knackering North Shore Trail Run. She is the also the first British woman to win the 90K Comrades Marathon in South Africa. Greenwood, we are not worthy.
Born 26th April 1918 – Died 25th January 2004
Nicknamed 'the Flying Housewife', Blankers-Koen played a vital role in elevating women in sport, by winning no less than four gold medals at the 1948 Summer Olympics in London during a time when many disregarded women's athletics. A 30-year-old Dutch mother of two, she also 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 to become captain of the Dutch female track and field team.
Born 10th May 1960
Having represented Jamaica in the 1979 Pan American Games and showing no signs of slowing down nearly four decades later, track athlete Ottey has had the longest career as a top level international sprinter. Since 2002 Ottey has represented Slovenia, where she now lives. Nicknamed the Queen of the Track, Ottey is a nine-time Olympic medallist and holds the record for the most Olympic appearances of any track and field athlete and the largest number of World Championships medals to boot.
Born July 21st 1972
Since her marathon debut in 1998, Kenya’s Catherine Ndereba won the Boston Marathon four times and broke the women's world marathon record in Chicago in 2001 with a time of 02:18:47. The frequency and consistency of her performances earned her the moniker Catherine the Great and frankly, we are not worthy.
Born 19th April 1970
Double Olympic GB champ Dame Kelly Holmes, DBE, MBE, won gold medals for both the 800 metres and 1500 metres at the 2004 Olympics. She set British records in numerous events and still holds the records over the 600, 800, 1000, and 1500 metres distances. A regular pundit on sports telly, Holmes is also the founder of the DKH Legacy Trust, a charity supporting young athletes.
Born 16th May 1957
The first-ever women's Olympic marathon champion, Joan Benoit earned her place in the hall of fame by winning the first women's marathon at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 at the age of 27. Since retiring she has penned running books, opened a clinic, coached athletes and been an important figurehead for elevating women in sport. Hoorah for Benoit!
Born 10th March 1976
Alongside running really, really long distances, Hawker also finds time to be an oceanographer with a PhD and lead Antarctic expeditions for the British Antarctic Survey. Winner of the 2005 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc and national champion in the 2006 100K road race, we basically want to be Lizzy.
Born 8th July 1970
Scottish champion hill runner and skyrunner, Mudge didn't take to athletics until discovering a love of the hills as a postgraduate student in Scotland in the mid-1990s. She went on to win the Scottish Hill Running Championships three times, the British Fell Running Championship five times and holds the women's record on more than thirteen courses in Scotland alone. On the international stage she won the Women's World Mountain Running Trophy in 2000, the World Masters Mountain Running Championship in 2005, and the Buff Skyrunner World Series in 2006 and 2007. Mudge you are magnificent.
Born 1st June 1985
Proving that you should never judge a book by its cover, Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba, AKA the Baby Faced Destroyer, holds the outdoor 5000 metre world record and the world and Olympic 10,000 metre record. Her equally rosy-cheeked little sister Genzebe has also been cleaning up as world champion on the indoor track.
Born 20th September 1973
The people’s champion, four-time Olympian, Pavey won the 10,000m gold medal at the 2014 European Championships in Zürich just ten months after giving birth to her second child, becoming the oldest female European champion in history at the age of 40. She’s also the nicest athlete you will ever meet.
Born 27th December 1986
The second female sprinter to hold both World and Olympic 100 m titles simultaneously, Jamaica-born Fraser-Pryce ascended to prominence in the 2008 Olympic Games when at 21 years old, she became the first Caribbean woman to win 100 m gold at the Olympics. In 2012, she successfully defended her 100m title, becoming the third woman to win two consecutive 100m events at the Olympics. Nicknamed the Pocket Rocket, she is ranked fourth on the list of the fastest 100 m female sprinters of all time with a 10.70 PB. She also has a smile that could light up a stadium.
Born 9th May 1968
The first sprinter to win consecutive Olympic gold medals in the 400-metre dash, including nabbing the 1996 400 metres title in an Olympic record time of 48.25 seconds, Pérec is the third fastest woman of all time. Nicknamed the Diva or the Black Gazelle, the charismatic French athlete has a reputation for being a little off the wall. She famously barricaded herself in a hotel room convinced her French fries contained hidden NBC micro-chips, and pulled out of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney several days before they were due to begin, claiming the Australian press had been trying to sabotage her chances of winning. But with records like that, who cares. We think she's fabulous.
Born 6th May 1972
The first woman in history to break the 2 hour 20 minute marathon barrier, Takahashi still holds the 7th best time and the 3rd best Japanese marathon performance of all. She famously credited drinking hornet's juice as the secret to her success.
Born 21st March 1972
An Ethiopian long distance track, road and marathon athlete, Derartu grew up tending cattle in the same village as Kenenisa Bekele. She rose to fame and Olympic history after winning the women’s 10000 metres race in the Barcelona Olympics in 1992; the first gold-medal win ever by an African woman. She went on to win 35 gold, 12 silver and 15 bronze medals and she's still going strong.
Maria de Lurdes Mutola
Born 27th October 1972
The only athlete ever to hold Olympic, World, World Indoor, Commonwealth, Continental Games and Continental Championships titles in the same event, Mutola is a force to be reckoned with. A three-time world champion and a one-time Olympic champion, she is the fourth athlete to compete at six Olympic Games.
Born 30th August 1960
Running crazy distances long before it became cool, US Ultrarunner Trason has broken twenty world records during her career. She started running ultras in 1985 at the American River 50 Miler at the age of 24 and set a course record in the process. She went on to win the Western States 14 times and held the women's division course record for 18 years. In both 1996 and 1997 Trason performed the 'double', winning the Western States 100 just 12 days after winning the 56-mile Comrades Marathon in South Africa.
Born 21st March 1956
Originally an elite nordic skier from Norway, Kristiansen was the first athlete to win world titles in all three running disciplines of track, road and cross-country, and holds world records in the 5000 metres, 10,000 metres and the marathon. Known for her love of the treadmill and her tendency to laugh hysterically before a big race, Kristiansen's running career really took off after having kids and she is definitely one of the finest and fiercest female long-distance runners of all time.
Born 17th December 1973
The world record holder for the women's marathon with an amazing nine other world records and world bests under her belt including the 10K and half marathon, Paula is the queen of women’s running and we love her.