8 Famous Distance Runners To Inspire You

The world is full of famous distance runners — people who go the distance. According to Wiki, long-distance running occurs when you continuously run for more than 3 km or 1.9 miles. However, many people consider long-distance running part of the track and field venue with races such as the 10,000 and 5,000 meter.

A 5,000 meter dash is 5K long. There are 1.61km in a mile and 26 miles in a marathon.

If you’ve done a 5K marathon, you’ve been a long-distance runner. If you’ve run a 5,000 meter race, you’ve done distance running.  Here’s our list of famous distance runners, what they won, and why they are famous. 

Many of the athletes on this list are from times past. They are remarkable people who found distance running fame before modern influences impacted the sport. There were no fancy gyms or special diet food or sports trainers. It was just a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other mentality that allowed these genuinely gifted people to move quickly across great distances.

We’ve focused on athletes who found success through natural talent. There is always a little bit of luck in winning, but most of the work to get there is just one step at a time. 

8 Famous Distance Runners To Inspire You

1. Salvatore Antibo

A famous Italian distance runner who won a silver medal in the 1988 Olympics and holds 33 international caps, and has competed in the 1984, 1988, and 1992 Olympics. In 1990, he ran a 5,000 meter race in just 13:05.59 minutes.

2. Paula Radcliffe

A world record holder turning in a 2:15.25 full marathon victory, and a half marathon world champion. She hailed from the UK and was born in 1973. 

3. Tirunesh Dibaba

Olympic champion who won both the 10,000 meter and 5,000 meter races. She is the first woman to win this double event and one of two women to break the 30 minute barrier. The other is Wang Junxia, who lost her medals for admitting to being part of a Chinese State Doping Group. 

4. Ingrid Kristiansen – Of Norway

A 1987, 10,000 meter world champion with five world records in track. She continues to inspire women distance runners today and started running at 12. She was the first person to hold both the world records for Marathon, 10,000 meter, and 5,000 meter races at the same time. 

5. Alain Mimoun

A French distance runner in high-level track events, including cross-country and marathon racing. An Olympic gold medalist in 1956 for Marathon. He holds three silver medals for track, including two medals for the 10,000 meter and one for the 5,000 meter. He holds more athletic medals for French Athletes. Alain comes from a time where the enhancement of natural ability through science and chemistry did not occur. 

6. Paavo Nurmi

A Finnish Distance Runner – Has won nine gold medals and held several world records for the 20km and 1,500 meters. He is one of the most decorated distance runners, including his medals for track and field events in the Olympics. He did all of these things in the 1930s when the science around performance exercise did not exist. His world was not a gym; instead, it was an open road. Steroids did not exist as we know them, and personal trainers were unknown. 

Learn more in our what is considered long distance running guide.

7. Henry Rono – Kenyan

He broke world records in the 5,000 meter race in 1978 and 1981. He is a frontrunner for many African athletes and an inspiration. His path has not always been positive despite sheer natural talent and hard work. 

8. Catherine Ndereba – Kenyan

She has won the Boston Marathon four times, holds silver medals for marathons in the Olympics, and is a woman who has won twice at the world-level of marathon races. One of her achievements was when she broke the marathon world record in 2001 as she won the Chicago Marathon. It is not uncommon to hear Catherine called the greatest marathon runner of all time. 

Famous Distance Runners: The Final Word

The final word on famous distance runners is all about natural talent. These athletes did not have fancy shoes nor fancy uniforms. They did not have social media. It was all about skill, and these fantastic people showed the world how distance running was done.