Runs and Places

Who are the best runners?

Someone posted a question on Quora a while back asking who the best marathon runners are.  The context of the question was specifically related to marathon runners, so I answered it like this:

It depends on what you mean by “best”….

If you’re talking about fastest finishing times, Geoffrey Mutai currently holds the record for men and Paula Radcliffe holds the record for women (which she set in 2003 and still hasn’t been broken).  Haile Gebrselassie is a former record holder who still holds records in several other distances….

If you’re talking about overall skills as an endurance runner, someone else mentioned Cliff Young and Dean Karnazes ran 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days and has completed 200 and 350 mile runs.

If you’re talking about inspirational runners who have come back from major injuries or done something extraordinary related to running, Amy Palmiero-Winters or Fauja Singh would be near the top of that list.

If you’re looking for some of the most well known marathon runners of all time, check out Hal HigdonFrank ShorterAlberto SalazarBill Rodgers, and Steve Prefontaine

Some other notable runners who have done a lot to advance the sport in general over the last several years would be Kara GoucherShalane FlanaganJohn Bingham and Ryan Hall

Honestly though – one of the best things about running is that everyone has their own individual story about why they enjoy it, what inspires them, what their goals are, etc…. so in that sense anyone who wants to run a marathon can be the best marathon runner in their own way….

Bill Rodgers

So I started thinking more about running in general as opposed to specifically running marathons and what would make someone “the best runner”, and I think I nailed it with the last paragraph – the best thing about running is that everyone has their own individual story about why they enjoy it, what inspires them, and what their goals are.  Being the fastest and being the best are not the same thing and it’s important to distinguish between the two.  If I think back to all of the other runners that I’ve met and been fortunate enough to become friends with over the years, here’s just a small sample of some of the stories people have shared with me:

  • I’ve met at least two people who used running as a way to help them overcome addictions to drugs or alcohol.
  • I have a friend who became a runner after battling anorexia as a teenager because she made a decision that she wanted to beat her disease by learning how to eat right and make herself strong and healthy… and then use her own experiences to inspire others who were fighting the same battles she was.
  • I have a friend who started running marathons to raise money for cancer research after his son died from a brain tumor.
  • I’ve met people who have lost over 100 lbs by adjusting their diets and taking up running.
  • All of the people who I do the St. Jude Chicago to Peoria Relay with (or any of the other 33 St. Jude relays that are held during the same weekend) raise over $1250 per person every year for St. Jude to help find cures for cancer and other diseases and help save the lives of kids that they’ll probably never meet.
  • When I did the Mt. Kilimanjaro Marathon in Tanzania, I met a couple who had come over from the US to teach at a school in Burkina Faso, which is a very poor country in Western Africa.  They ran in various locations around the continent for inspiration.
  • I have a friend who spent some time in jail and used running as a way to help turn his life around after he got out.
  • I’ve met countless numbers of runners who have been more than happy to share training tips and healthy recipes, or talk about their favorite places to run or the best gear to wear to help other runners out.
  • I know parents who run because they want to make sure their kids know that there’s more to life than just sitting around and playing video games.
  • I know people who like to go running simply because it helps them to clear their minds and come up with creative new ideas.  A couple of them have started businesses from ideas they had while they were out running.

With a couple exceptions, most of the people I mentioned above have never won a race.  Some of them have never even entered a race and just like to run purely for the sake of running.  They all run at various paces and have different backgrounds, religions, nationalities, sexual orientations, shapes, sizes, you name it…. and every one of them is one of the best runners I’ve ever met.  And so are you if you’re a runner and you’re reading this right now.

It doesn’t matter if you’re fast or slow or how far you can run or how much experience you have – think about what inspires you and motivates you to keep running even when it’s hard or you don’t feel like doing it.  Think about how great it felt the first time you ran further than you had ever run before…. or the first time you got PR in a race…. and how you were able to keep building on those successes and eventually build up confidence in other areas of your life.  It’s things like this that make every one of us the best runner…. including you.

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