Biggest Running Icons of All Time

While everyone has his or her own personal running heroes, whether they're Olympic champions or local coaches, there are a handful of individuals who have earned iconic status in the sport.

To be a running icon, you don't necessarily need to be the fastest or the strongest, but rather supremely influential. Here are some of the top difference-makers in the history of the sport.

Kathrine Switzer

The first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon, Switzer entered and finished the race in 1967 as K.V. Switzer, five years before women could officially compete. She subsequently became an important voice in convincing the Boston Athletic Association to welcome women to run the race.

She helped found the Avon International Running Circuit, which organized a series of women's road races that reached over a million women in 27 countries, later helping to rally support to allow women to compete in the marathon at the Olympic Games. She won the 1974 New York City Marathon. A year later, she ran a personal best of 2:51 at Boston.

Bill Bowerman

The co-founder of Nike known for making outsoles with his wife's kitchen waffle iron, Bowerman was an important figure on both the competitive and recreational running scenes.

During the 24 years he coached track and field at the University of Oregon, Bowerman worked with 31 Olympians and 51 All-Americans, including one of the most highly-touted running legends of all time, Steve Prefontaine.

In 1966, he co-wrote the book, Jogging, which sold more than a million copies and helped launch the first running boom in the U.S. He was also one of the top officials that called for the formation of the United States Track and Field Federation, which was the precursor to the sport's current governing body.

Nina Kuscsik

After running the Boston Marathon unofficially in 1969, Kuscsik went on to run New York City in 1971, finishing second behind Beth Bonner, both of whom were the first women to ever run a recorded sub-3:00 marathon. The next year, she became the first official female winner of the New York City Marathon and the Boston Marathon; she won New York City again in 1973. She famously rallied for changes to the AAU rules that banned women from running the marathon distance with men by staging a sit-in at the start line of the 1972 New York City Marathon.

She also was a leading advocate for inclusion of the women's marathon in the Olympic Games, as well as helping to organize the 6-mile "Mini-Marathon" (New York Mini 10K) with Fred Lebow and Kathrine Switzer.

More: Running for Women: 6 Ways Running Impacts the Female Body

Bill Rodgers

The former American record holder in the marathon won the Boston Marathon and New York City Marathon four times each between 1975 and 1980. After winning the 1975 Boston Marathon, he was known as "Boston Billy," inspiring a boom in marathon participation. In his career, he won 22 total marathons and ran 28 under 2:15. Known to be an affable presence on the elite scene, Rodgers is credited with helping to make running popular in the 1970s and 1980s. He continues to compete in his 60s, showing that running is a lifetime endeavor.

Frank Shorter

Along with Bill Rodgers' accomplishments, Frank Shorter's gold medal-winning run in the marathon at the 1972 Summer Olympics helped inspire an entire generation of Americans to pick up the sport. He also won the U.S. Cross Country Championships four years in a row from 1970 to 1973 and was the winner of both the 10,000 meters and marathon at the 1972 and 1976 U.S. Olympic Trials. Additionally, he won the heralded Fukuoka Marathon every year from 1971 to 1974 and took the silver medal in the marathon at the 1976 Summer Olympics.

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About the Author

Mackenzie Lobby Havey

Mackenzie Lobby Havey is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and photographer with a Master's in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota. She has run 10 marathons and is a USATF certified coach. When she's not writing, she's out swimming, biking, and running the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes. Check out her website at mackenzielobby.com.

Mackenzie Lobby Havey is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and photographer with a Master's in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota. She has run 10 marathons and is a USATF certified coach. When she's not writing, she's out swimming, biking, and running the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes. Check out her website at mackenzielobby.com.

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