One of the most, if not the most amazing thing about marathon legends is their incredible ability to push their limits, which is the very ability that we need to learn in these trying times.
Far from being demigods, they are humans like us, but the question you might be asking right now is, why are they achieving such feats that are unattainable for most of us?
The answer? Because they are willing to do the things that most people are afraid of doing: facing one’s fear, pushing one’s limits, smashing one’s comfort zone, believing in oneself, going against the current, and thirst for more challenges.
When most people are too afraid and shivering to pay the price of greatness, these incredible legends in our list today have been more than willing to pay the price.
Brace yourself as we enter into the halls of the greatest marathon legends in history, and discover their long-held secrets of how they achieved their legendary feats.
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Let the legendary countdown begin!
At Number 7, Eliud Kipchoge
In the marathon world, finishing a marathon under 2 hours is like dreaming of stepping into the moon, reaching the peak of Mt. Everest or even reaching the Mariana Trench, the deepest spot in the ocean — it was once humanly impossible — until great legends have reached it finally.
One determined marathon runner dares to follow their achievement by trying to achieve what is still impossible in every marathon race, to finish it in under 2 hours.
This brave man is Eliud Kipchoge, a Kenyan marathon runner who has achieved a lot of impressive feats throughout his career such as winning the 12 of the 13 marathons he’s entered during his running career, including the Rio 2016 Olympic Games marathon and four London marathons.
But Kipchoge knows that even with all the glittering medals he has clinched on various global competitions, there is still one thing that he needs to achieve: to break the then impossible feat of finishing a marathon under 2 hours.
And Kipchoge wasted no time and ran his way to achieve this once impossible dream.
His first attempt was in 2017 in a Nike organized event in Monza, Italy in which he impressively finished in 2 hours and 25 seconds.
It was a great feat, but Kipchoge was determined to achieve that elusive dream of achieving a less than 2-hour record.
His next attempt was in 2018 in Berlin where he achieved a record of 2 hrs, 1 minute and 39 seconds.
Next was in April 2019 in London where he finished the marathon in 2 hrs, 2 minutes and 37 seconds.
In everyone’s eyes, especially in Kipchoge’s vision, it was only a matter of time before he could grab with his both hands the impossible feat he has always wanted to achieve.
And that day came on October 12, 2019, in Vienna, Austria, where he, at last, finished the marathon in 1 hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds, a record that would forever change the face of marathon history.
That feat was a highly-charged and highly emotional moment where Kipchoge proudly said after achieving the feat: “I want to inspire many people that no human is limited”.
But even with this BIG achievement and the celebratory spirit surrounding this feat, one surprising news has emerged: Kipchoge’s achievement wouldn’t be recognized as a world-record.
This announcement was released by the International Athletics Federation or the IAAF, the worldwide governing body for professional-level athletics and track and field.
All of you would certainly raise an argument about IAAF’s decision, but according to them, the event was specifically designed and highly-controlled to make sure that Kipchoge can achieve the record-breaking feat of finishing a marathon under two hours.
The ‘INEOS 1:59 Challenge’ event that handled Kipchoge’s marathon race was organized by petrochemical company INEOS and was the idea of its billionaire founder Jim Ratcliffe.
IAAF’s decision not to recognize Kipchoge’s record-breaking achievement is because the event has clear advantages over the marathons supervised by the IAAF.
First, the event offers no competitors for Kipchoge.
Second, there are pacesetters in the track that reduced Kipchoge’s wind resistance.
Third, is the presence of a pace electric car that uses laser beams to indicate the best running paths for pacesetters to take.
And 4th, a race course that was essentially flat.
With the IAAF’s decision, Kipchoge’s achievement would remain open for arguments for the coming years, but removing the event aside, Kipchoge’s amazing records in the world of marathon is already legendary itself, that would not only be emulated by his fellow Kenyans but aspiring marathon runners as well.
Time to sprint faster as we go down to our number six to meet our next marathon legend.
At Number 6 Meb Keflezighi
Unknown to many, Meb Keflezighi’s first taste of run was not on marathon tracks in the U.S, but on his Eritrea hometown in Africa, and it was not a run for competition, but a run out of desperation to escape the brutal war between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
Meb and his family found a haven in the U.S in 1987 and settled in San Diego. Since then, Meb’s spirit and feet have hungered to reach more miles of victories. He became a U.S citizen and a running star at UCLA and joined the Olympic team for the first time in 2000.
But one of the first great challenges he experienced in his career was when he joined the marathon competition in New York in 2002 (which was his first marathon in the city).
Even with his determination to win, he experienced unexpected setbacks in the middle of the race and eventually slowed, making the marathon victory slip out of his hands.
It was a very painful marathon lost for him that he had contemplated to quit on the sport for good.
With that lost, his feet unexpectedly led him to return to Eritrea, and it was his first time to see his hometown again since his family escaped from this once war-torn place.
Now, a serene and peaceful place, Eritrea is now filled with hope and progress that helped him gain a new perspective in life and encouraged him to return on marathon tracks again.
Returning to the game again, Keflezighi won his Olympic medal in 2004, finishing second in Athens in the marathon.
After ups and downs along the way, including injuries he has to deal with, he was faced again with a BIG challenge.
While he was in Boston and dealing with his injury, a tragic incident suddenly shocked him — and the rest of the world: a bomb suddenly exploded near the finish line of the marathon being held there, killing three people and injuring more than 260 others.
Keflezighi was so devastated with what happened, not just because of the senseless attack, but also because it was done right inside a peaceful competition he dearly loves.
On that fateful day, barely feeling his injuries, he was determined to bring justice on the Boston bombing victims — by doing what he does best — to run.
He had set his sights on the Boston 2014 to win for the victims of the bombings and provide a spirit of cheer on their grieving families.
The Boston 2014 Marathon was a very challenging competition, but for Keflezighi, the weight of the marathon is simply a challenge to test him if he could keep his promise.
And he did.
The marathon ended hailing Keflezighi as the first American to win the Boston Marathon in 31 years.
It wasn’t merely a win for himself; but a win for the victims of the Boston bombings and the families they have left.
What more winning and inspiring stories can other legends share with us today? Let us find out with our next legend on the list.
Number 5 Dennis Kimetto
One of the most interesting things about legendary marathon runners, aside from their record-breaking feats, are their former lives before achieving their fame.
Just take a look at the legendary marathon runner Dennis Kimetto, who, before breaking records at various marathon competitions in different parts of the world, started as a farmer in Kenya growing maize and watching after cows.
But destiny knows that his feet would need to leave the farm soil soon and land it on the smooth yet very challenging paths of marathon tracks.
One favorite hobby that he loves to do is to casually run for four miles every day. This everyday activity was Kimetto’s only outlet for his love of running. It’s a hobby (or rather a talent) that manifested in his youth as he was always seen joining in his school races.
One day, on a chance encounter, while casually doing his daily four-mile run, he unintentionally passed on Geoffrey Mutai, a New York and Boston Marathon runner.
Seeing the hidden potential of this unassuming man, Mutai invited Kimetto to join in his training group which includes marathon top players such as Wilson Kipsang (a London 20102 bronze medalist) and Mutai himself.
It was also his first step towards upcoming victories in the world of marathon running.
He slowly but surely built up his name by achieving significant places in various marathon competitions in different parts of the world, until he set his sights, not only to gain places but to break records as well.
The pinnacle of his record-breaking goals was achieved at the Berlin Marathon when he finished the race on a jaw-dropping record: 2 hours, 2 minutes and 57 seconds, while Mutai (the one who discovered him) followed by finishing 2 hours, 3 minutes, and 13 seconds.
For Kimetto, this victory is not for him alone, but also for the place where he nurtured his dreams, his beloved country, Kenya.
His victory is proof that wherever we came from, we all can make a big mark in history, a mark that will eventually inspire future generations.
Now that we’ve seen the inspiring mark that Kimetto left in the world of marathon, let’s see what other marathon players have made to follow his jaw-dropping records.
At Number 4 Paula Radcliffe
For a 23-time medal winner, eight-time marathon winner and three-time World Record breaker Paula Radcliffe, it’s unbelievable or rather funny to think that in her first major race when she was 11 years old, at a national cross country championship — the young future legend finished as 299th!
That was Paula Radcliffe’s first bittersweet moment on what it feels like to be in a major race.
For in the coming years, she would make up for that disappointing finish by slowly but surely establishing herself as one of the most competitive marathon runners in the world — in which she successfully did.
Aside from her feats — one more fascinating thing about Paula Radcliffe, which might make her unique out of the thousands of other female marathon runners is her unique head movement.
Sports scientists have closely watched Radcliffe’s unique head movement and suggested that the up and down effect might be helping Radcliffe with her balance and breathing.
It’s a secret only known to Radcliffe all these years.
But it appears that fascinating things about Radcliffe don’t end there.
Sports scientists are also fascinated at how Radcliffe was still able to train even during her pregnancy.
During her first five months of pregnancy, Radcliffe ran twice a day, 75 minutes in the morning and 30 to 45 minutes in the evening.
Then she eventually cut back, running an hour in the morning and riding a stationary bike at night. She even decided to make additional activities like “hill repeats” which is done by repeatedly running up hills to build strength and endurance.
All these training she did while in pregnancy was closely monitored by her doctor to ensure the safety of her baby while helping her maintain the condition she needed for her next competition,
From 2002-2015, Radcliffe has experienced the ups and downs of marathon running, but with every setback that falls on her way, it was an opportunity for her to double her determination to get up, not just to continue her marathon career, but to continue her sprint in life.
It’s a great lesson that everyone should learn from her.
She officially retired in 2015 with her last run at the 2015 London Marathon and was more than happy to leave an inspiring life testimony that present and future generations can emulate.
Would there be more inspiring stories that the marathon world can share aside from her? Let us see with our next legendary runner. Hint: It’s a Flower Power again for the world of marathons.
For our number 3 Joan Benoit Samuelson
A true athlete survives and even thrives in the most UNideal situations, just like in a time where Joan Benoit Samuelson grew up.
During her childhood, there were very few women athletes who ventured into the world of marathon running, which, at that time, was a male-dominated arena.
But for Samuelson, who has a natural love and talent in sports, was unfazed by this discouraging situation. After all, she has an athletic spirit living inside her, and being discouraged is a feeling she’s not too familiar with.
She initially liked skiing, but after breaking her leg during a slalom race at age 15, she was advised to include running on her daily activity to help in her recovery.
And the young Samuelson quickly fell in love with running.
With athletic opportunities gradually opening for U.S public students at that time, she wasted no time and joined on her high school’s newly formed girls track team.
But even with her natural talent for running, the sight of a woman marathon runner at that time was still an unusual sight, which shook her confidence on herself — the first time she felt such feeling.
But thanks to her college friend who trains openly in the road for a marathon competition– unashamed, her confidence grew back and started to do the same.
She started training seriously for the Boston Marathon (with little outside coaching assistance). On top of her intensive training, she added several runs of 20 or more miles into her weekly regime and logged as many as 200 miles a week while at the height of her training.
And her gruelling and intensive training had paid off.
She finished the Boston Marathon with an impressive record of 2 hours, 35 minutes and 15 seconds, which caught everyone’s eyes, and whisked this shy girl on the glaring lights of popularity.
While she was advancing in her career and clinching places, medals and records here and there, she finally earned her right to qualify for an Olympic marathon.
Even with the unexpected setback because of her right knee injury and immediate surgery, she rose from these two roadblocks and showed to the world that nothing could separate her from the Olympic race. At that time, it was everybody’s expectation that she won’t make it to the race as all odds are against her, but being ashamed of training on the road would be the last time she would entertain discouragement in her life. There would be no next time.
As she successfully entered in the Olympics competition, Samuelson, as if having a set of wings strapped on her feet, blazed through the racetrack and ended in first place in the U.S Women’s Olympic Marathon.
Samuelson’s passion and determination on her abilities not only made her a surprising winner in that competition. That victory led her on more feats later in her career, including new records and recognitions that further cemented her position as a legend in the world of marathon.
How about our other legends? On what paths did their determination and perseverance led them? It will surely be another inspiring story. Let’s find out!
For our number 2, Haile Gebrselassie
Haile’s first taste of training in sprinting didn’t take place on the smooth surface of a racetrack. He didn’t even have prior experience in having a coach to guide him along the way.
It all started near a farm, where his school is located. The young Haile had to travel 10 kilometres every day– on barefoot –just to attend his everyday classes.
But he didn’t travel every day through walking; he travels in a manner he loves the most — by running!
But even with the long distance that he has to travel just to go to school, the young Haile wasn’t seen by his teachers and classmates complaining about his situation; instead, he always does the second thing he loves the most: Smiling!
Why? Because Haile knows that his inconvenient life is just an “unofficial” training ground for him to prepare for the worlds (or rather, racetracks) that he will conquer in the future.
He’s confident that it will all happen.
His smile says it all.
His first taste of marathon victory was a 1,500 meter run village competition where he won and received five birr, or almost half a euro.
And after that victory, his young legs became more emboldened to sprint farther than his village, and emboss a hundred-thousand footsteps on major marathon competitions throughout the world.
And history proved that it wasn’t wishful thinking after all.
Throughout his career, he infused a jolt on everyone by clinching 2 Olympic medals, four world championships, and not just one, but more than a dozen world records.
Nobody has ever thought that a lowly and sleepy farm in Ethiopia could be a springboard for a world marathon legend, that we now know as Haile Gebrselassie.
Today, he is still active in making milestones in the world of marathons. Even after his retirement, it’s evident that his legs can’t stop from sprinting, but this time, it would not be sprinting on marathon tracks, but on various causes that would lead his fellow Ethiopians and athletes on a better life.
One of the new roles he took after his retirement was becoming a Unicef ambassador and accepted a post in 2016 as the president of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation.
These new “sprints” prove to be tougher than what he was doing inside the tracks, but the service he is now extending to his fellow Ethiopians, and his fellow athletes are way more fulfilling for him than the achievements and record-breaking feats he has done in the past.
Oh, and one more thing.
As if everything he is doing is not yet enough, he is aiming for one more achievement, and that is to be like his personal hero: Nelson Mandela, who influenced countless people all over the world to fight for their rights and be a voice of freedom.
This goal, whether he achieves it or not, is something that the world is yet to see.
And now, for our top legend for this countdown, a man who inherited such a prophetic surname that it has now become his destiny, to be as bright and as fast as a … ‘Lightning Bolt’
For our Number 1 Usain Bolt
Other athletes might have to thank their lucky stars for the victories they had. But for Usain Bolt, he certainly has to thank his bolt — his ‘lightning bolt’– in whisking him on various record-breaking feats.
Whether destiny has something to do with his surname, which is highly symbolic for the sport he chose, and in the manner of how he clinched Gold medals here and there, one thing’s for sure, he has been a living’ lightning bolt’ in every race that he joined, impressing everyone (including his competitors) in every run.
When he was young, Usain Bolt’s first love was cricket and sprinting, and seeing the immense potential of his speed, his coaches advised him to focus solely on sprinting.
From that day, Bolt’s thoughts, attention and energy flowed on sprinting alone, and it was an initial preparation for his feet to conquer various racetracks in various parts of the world.
There were early marathon victories for Bolt, but his first taste of global victory was at the 2002 World Junior Championships in Kingston, Jamaica where he won the 200-meter dash, making him the youngest world-junior gold medalist ever.
After that competition, he joined in various global competitions such as the 2004 Athens Olympics and World Championships in Osaka, Japan that further honed his strength in running that prepared him, not just for bigger events, but for bigger achievement as well.
In 2012 London Summer Olympic Games, Bolt didn’t just win, but has established a record of being the first man in history to set three world records in a single — we repeat, in a single– Olympic Games Competition.
Having achieved so much in his marathon career doesn’t mean that the world’s fastest man is immune from painful setbacks.
Along way on his already established career, he was faced with problems regarding injuries that has directly affected his participation and performance in various marathon races and in August 2017, he announced his retirement from professional marathons, leaving behind him impressive track records that challenges the future generation (or even the present generation) to break it.
After his retirement, he pursued his various passions like playing soccer, establishing a foundation, the Usain Bolt Foundation, publishing a book, and the most special of all, starting a new family.
It’s unusual but inspiring to see that a world champion like him has set his sights far outside the marathon race track. He knows that there is a life to live outside the marathon fields and that his influence and achievements must go beyond there.
Establishing a foundation and starting a family are ventures that are too far from his marathon career, but Bolt knows that this is the destined next phase of his life.
He just follows where his feet want to go.
We hope that you learned a lot from our top marathon legends this day.
As they have trumped the most painful setbacks in their lives, it’s a clear message that you too, have the ability to survive the current challenges in your life.
Just like our legends on our countdown today, they all know that it’s only a matter of decision.
They have made their decision to triumph. The question is, have you made yours?
From our top 7 list of marathon legends, who do you think is the most inspiring marathon player for you?
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