Meet 10 of the Best Female Runners on Earth

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“Best of” lists can be difficult to compile. There always has to be some ruling criteria, but which criteria to choose? A best of runners list could cover the most inspirational, most influential, best of all time, best of modern day; by gender, by country, by category; by speed, most medals or world records won… and so on. In this article, we’ll cover the best ten international modern-day female runners, by most medals and world records won, all categories. Bear in mind there are so many incredible female athletes that in reality, comprehensively covering all of the “best” runners would never fit in a shortlist, and also that world records or gold medals don’t even begin to cover the talent out there. So with that said, here goes! We’ll be covering other categories in future blog posts (starting with 10 Best Male Runners next week), so stay tuned.

Erba Tiki Gelana, marathon. As the winner of the 2012 London Olympics marathon gold medal with a new Olympic record-breaking time of 2:23:07, Erba or “Tiki” Gelana starts off our list. The 30-year-old Ethiopian was born in a town called Bekoji, famous for producing many famous Ethiopian athletes and runners. Tiki also won the 2011 Amsterdam Marathon, the 2012 Rotterdam Marathon, and her personal best of 2:18:58 hours holds the Ethiopian record for the marathon event.

Erik van Leeuwen [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Sanya Richards-Ross, track, and field. Jamaican-American Sanya Richards-Ross is the fastest 400-meter runner in the United States, Canada, Central America, and the Caribbean. Sanya has won so many gold medals that it’s time consuming to list them all! Competing for the United States, the 33 year old track and field athlete won: gold in the 400 meters and 4×400 meters at 2012 Summer Olympics, gold in the 4×400 meters at 2008 Summer Olympics, gold in the 4×400 meters at 2004 Summer Olympics, and gold at the World Championships in Athletics in 2003, 2007, 2009 (x2), and 2011. Not only is she one of the world’s top athletes, but Sanya is also a voice for athlete’s rights in the Olympic Games and an active youth leader through her WE TV reality show, a sports clinic focused on youth empowerment, and social media.

By Citizen59 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
Paula Radcliffe, marathon. Hailing from Britain, Paula Jane Radcliffe has held the marathon Women’s World Record with a time of 2:15:25 since 2003. This 44 year old powerhouse is not only a marathon world record holder but a six-time world champion, and has won titles at several of the biggest marathons around the world: London Marathon (2002, 2003, 2005), New York Marathon (2004, 2007, 2008), and Chicago Marathon (2002). With a time of 2:23:10, she still holds the world record for the New York City Marathon (2004). In 2010, Paula was inducted into the England Athletics Hall of Fame.

By Paula_Radciffe_NYC_Marathon_2008.jpg: fergie lancealotderivative work: Hydrox (Paula_Radciffe_NYC_Marathon_2008.jpg) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Allyson Felix, track and field. American champion Allyson Felix has been racking up gold medals for years. She won gold in the 4×400 meter and 200 meters at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, dominated the 2012 London Olympics sprinting events with gold medals in the 200 meter, 4×100 meter (her team broke a world record that still stands), and 4×400 meter relay. The 32-year-old went on to win gold in the 400 meters at the 2015 Olympics, where she ran the fastest split of all time by an American woman. She is the only female athlete to have won six Olympic track and field gold medals.

By Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil [CC BY 3.0 bar (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/br/deed.en) or CC-BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Almaz Ayana Eba, long distance. 26-year-old Ethiopian athlete Almaz Ayana Eba burst onto the world stage by breaking a 23-year old Olympics world record in the 10,000 meters category in 2016. Her time was 29:17:45, surpassing the previous world record by an astonishing fourteen seconds. Named one of the top runners of the year by International Association of Athletics Federations, Almaz won the gold medal for the 10,000-meter at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and again at the 2017 World Championships in London. Almaz is from the Benishangul-Gumuz Region in Ethiopia.

Erik van Leeuwen [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Constantina Diță, long distance. Romanian long-distance runner Constantina Diță-Tomescu won the marathon gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. At 38 years old, she made world history that day as the oldest Olympic marathon champion (previously, the oldest woman to win an Olympic marathon was 30 years old, and the oldest man was 37 years old). Diță also won the women’s marathon at the 2008 Summer Olympics with a time of 2:26:44, and won the 2004 Chicago Marathon.

By Aurelien Guichard from London, United Kingdom (OlympicsUploaded by Dudek1337) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Lindsay Webster-Atkins, obstacle course racing. As a pro obstacle course racing champion and arguably one of the toughest women in the United States, Canadian Lindsay Webster is a force to be reckoned with. The 28-year-old from Caledon, Ontario has won the Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) World Championship three times in a row (2016, 2017, 2018).  Lindsay is a pro athlete for both Tough Mudder and Humann.

Amelia Boone, obstacle course racing. Born in Chicago, 32-year-old Amelia Boone is one of the most accomplished obstacle course racing athletes in the world. Amelia won the coveted Spartan Race World Championship in 2013 and the World’s Toughest Mudder title in 2012, 2014, and 2015… and she won the 2014 WTM race after just eight weeks of recovering from a major knee surgery.

Mary Jepkosgei Keitany, long distance. With a time of 2:17:01 in the 2017 London Marathon, 36-year-old Mary Jepkosgei Keitany currently holds the world record in a women-only marathon. She has held multiple world records in recent years, too. In marathon history, she broke the record for the half marathon (1:05:50). And in road races, she broke the records for 10 miles (50:05), 20 kilometers (1:02:36), and 25 kilometers (1:19:53).  Mary was born in Baringo County, Kenya.

By Acrb (photo previously published: personal collection) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Ellie Greenwood, ultramarathon. At 39 years old, British running sensation Ellie Greenwood holds multiple course records for ultramarathons around the world including the Canadian Death Race, Western States 100, and the 90km Comrades Marathon in South Africa – she was the first British woman to win the South African ultramarathon. Ellie won the 100km World Champion titles in 2010 and 2014. 

By Ben Zengerink [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
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