IN THIS ARTICLE
In addition to Pheidippides, below is just a brief list of some of the most influential runners of all time.
George Sheehan, MD
Dr. Sheehan is my running hero. He was a cardiologist, who, in the 1970s, at the age of 45, decided to turn his health and his life around. He caught the running bug and started to train, compete, and run marathons. He quickly became an expert on the subject and started writing weekly fitness columns in local newspapers. He was medical editor for Runner's World magazine for 25 years, he counseled his patients on the virtues of exercise, and he lectured internationally. He wrote eight books about running and fitness and health, and he played a key role in promoting the running boom of the '70s. He was philosophical about winning, losing, suffering, meditation, training, and working through pain, and he would quote the likes of William James for inspiration. Running & Being was his classic book. He wrote it more than 25 years ago and it still sells internationally.
In 1986, Dr. Sheehan was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Unfortunately, the cancer had spread to his bones by the time he was diagnosed. He hung on courageously for seven more years, running and competing up until the end of his life. He died four days short of his 75th birthday on Nov. 1, 1993. Dr. Sheehan had a zest for life.
Benoit-Samuelson is one of the pioneers of women's running. She is the American record holder for the marathon and half marathon, and she's the only American woman to win the gold medal in the Olympics for the marathon. In 1985, she won the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States, and according to Runner's World magazine, Benoit-Samuelson is the greatest American marathoner in history.
Grete Waitz is another pioneer of women's running. She won nine New York City Marathons, the silver medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, and a gold medal at the 1983 World Championships. In her home country of Norway, she is a legend. There's an annual race named after her and a statue of her outside the Bislett Stadium in Oslo. She has also been featured on a set of stamps.
"Pre," as he was known, is regarded by many authorities as the best middle-long distance runner in the history of the United States. Unfortunately, he was tragically killed in a car accident in 1975 at the age of 25, but during his brief career, he held every American running record from 2,000 meters to 10,000 meters. He was favored to win the 5,000-meter run at the 1976 Montreal Olympics before his death. He was well-known for his courage, charisma, determination, and his love of running. Be sure to check out the movies about his life: Prefontaine and Without Limits.
The first man to break the four-minute mile, he ran 3:59.4 on May 6, 1954, at a meet in Oxford, England. You can read about it in the book The Four-Minute Mile by Roger Bannister.
Rodgers was a great personality for running during his career. He won both the Boston Marathon and the New York City Marathon four times each, breaking the record twice at Boston with a time of 2:09:55 in 1975 and a 2:09:27 in 1979 (28 of the 59 marathons he ran in his career were run under 2:15). In 1978, he won 27 of the 30 races he entered, including the Pepsi 10,000-meter nationals with a new world record (28:36.3). Track & Field News ranked Rodgers number one in the world in the marathon in 1975, 1977, and 1979 (he won 22 marathons in his career). He is in the National Track & Field Hall of Fame in Indianapolis, Indiana, and the National Distance Running Hall of Fame in Utica, New York.
Shorter's list of victories is not short! He won the 1969 NCAA 10,000-meter, 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter national titles in 1970 and was U.S. national champion in the 10,000 meters in 1971, 1974, 1975, and 1977. He won the U.S. national cross-country championships four times (1970-1973), the U.S. Olympic Trials Champion in both the 10,000 meter and the marathon in 1972 and 1976, and the 10,000 meter and the marathon at the 1971 Pan American Games. He was a four-time winner of the Fukuoka Marathon (1971-1974) and also won the Peachtree Road Race in 1977 and the Falmouth Road Race in 1975 and 1976. His greatest achievement though is winning the gold medal in the marathon at the 1972 Olympics. He was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1984, the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1989, and the National Distance Running Hall of Fame in 1998.
More Famous Runners
Keino may be most famous as the first champion runner from Kenya who paved the way for many of his countrymen to also pursue dreams of world championship running. Keino set the 3,000-meter world record by over six seconds at his first attempt at the distance and won two gold medals in the 1,500 and 5,000 meters at the All-Africa Games in 1965. Later that year, he broke the 5,000-meter world record, and at the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica, he won both the mile and three-mile runs. He won the 1,500-meter gold medal at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City (defeating American Jim Ryun in a memorable race), and four years later, he won the 3,000-meter steeplechase and 1,500-meter silver medal at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany. In 1987, he was one of seven recipients of Sports Illustrated magazine's "Sportsmen and Sportswomen of the Year" to honor their achievements as "Athletes Who Care" (for his work with orphans), and in 1996, he was inducted into the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame.
Although not as accomplished as the previous runners, Jim Fixx, along with George Sheehan, was one of the athletes who put running, fitness, and health, on the map in the 1970s. Like Dr. Sheehan, he turned his life around with running. Before he started running in 1967, he weighed 214 pounds and smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. Ten years later and 60 pounds lighter, he wrote the classic book, "The Complete Book of Running," which sold more than 1 million copies. His books (he wrote seven) and his appearances on television talk shows extolling the virtues of exercise inspired millions of Americans to take up running and fitness for their health. Regrettably, his most dubious honor is that he died of a massive heart attack shortly after a run at the age of 52. The autopsy determined that he had significant narrowing of some of the major arteries in his heart, and it was reported that his father had also died of a heart attack at age 42. There were some who argued as the result of his death that running was dangerous, while others suggested that running added years to his life. But no matter what, he is legendary for putting running on the map and inspiring millions to take it up.
Hit the Road!
According to Drs. Bramble and Lieberman, the researchers who studied running in ancient hunter-gatherers, we all have the genes for running (Bruce Springsteen thinks so too!); it's just a matter of tapping into them. The first step can be the toughest, but you can do it. And you don't need to be a superstar Olympian like the athletes I mentioned, but let their stories inspire you! Running is healthy and rewarding for just about everyone. Go ahead and give it a try!
Medically reviewed by Avrom Simon, MD; Board Certified Preventative Medicine with Subspecialty in Occupational Medicine
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/22/2016
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