The 35 Greatest American Female Marathoners of All Time
The U.S. has produced numerous top women’s marathoners during the past five decades. Our list reflects the fastest runners, top performers at national and international events, and pioneers who made an impact on the sport.
Some have made great social strides in breaking barriers that halted women from participating in any running event; others have turned heads with record-breaking performances in some of the sport’s most notable races. Whether it's a sub-2:30 performance, Olympic appearance, major win or impressive career résumé, we considered all these things when compiling this list of the top 35 greatest American female marathoners of all time.
Here are our guidelines:
• Olympic and world championship performances are highly considered but not necessarily put above major victories (i.e. Boston, New York City, Chicago, etc.)
• U.S. national championship and U.S. Olympic Trials performances are also weighed heavily, as well as podium results at major marathons in the U.S. and international locations.
• World records, American records and PR performances are considered against the era in which they competed. For example, a slower time that won a race or set a record 40 years ago is not necessarily ranked higher than a sub-2:30 performance run in 2014.
• Performances in other running distances are listed for perspective, but not considered in our rankings.
• References to the all-time U.S. list refers to the ranking of top runners based on their PR, not based on numerous results by individual runners.
• Runners with doping convictions have been excluded, regardless of their results or résumé.
• Contributions made to the sport outside of racing are important but do not precede athletic accomplishments.
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Runners are listed with their marathon PR and their biggest marathon highlight.
See Also: The Greatest American Female Marathoners: Honorable Mentions
35. Serena Burla, 2:28:01; 2nd place, 2011 Amsterdam Marathon
This cancer survivor and mother turned in the fastest U.S. time on a record-eligible course in 2013 with her 2:28:01 effort (tied for No. 15 on the all-time U.S. list) in Amsterdam. She also ran 2:28:27 for third place at the Seoul Marathon in 2012, placed 18th in Boston in 2014 and won the 2014 U.S. half marathon championships. Photo: PhotoRun.net
34. Kathrine Switzer, 2:51:37, 1st Place, 1974 NYC Marathon
In 1967, five years before women were even allowed to officially compete in the Boston Marathon, Kathrine Switzer broke the rules and ran it as a registered runner under the name K.V. Switzer. Race official Jock Semple attempted to pull Switzer off the course mid-race but failed, allowing Switzer to finish in 4:20, nearly an hour after the first official female finisher, Bobbi Gibb. As a result, Switzer was banned from the AAU until 1972, when women were finally welcomed to run in the Boston Marathon officially. Since then Switzer has ran eight Boston Marathons, setting her 2:51:37 PR in 1975 while finished second. She also completed the NYC Marathon four times, including 1974, where she won by 27 minutes—the biggest margin in history. She plans to run the Boston Marathon in 2017 at the age of 70. In addition to being a marathon runner, TV commentator and an author of several running books for women, Switzer was also instrumental in creating more opportunities for women marathoners, most notably as one of the founding organizers of the Avon International Running Circuit and a key advocate behind the inaugural women's Olympic marathon in 1984. Photo: Distance Running Hall of Fame
33. Sara Mae Berman, 3:05:07, Three-time Boston Marathon winner, 1969-1971
Following in the footsteps of fellow pioneers Bobbi Gibb and Kathrine Switzer, Sara Mae Berman ran her first Boston Marathon in 1969, three years before the Boston Athletic Association officially allowed women into the race. That was the first of three consecutive wins and five straight top-five finishes for Berman, who’s 1970 time of 3:05:07 was the fastest women’s time on the course until Miki Gorman broke it in 1974. Photo: PhotoRun.net
32. Bobbi Gibb, 3:21:40, Three-time Boston Marathon winner, 1966–1968
Bobbi Gibb is the first woman to have run the Boston Marathon, doing so in 1966 at age 23 at a time when stereotypes prevented women from officially entering marathons and other road races. Wearing her brother’s shorts and a hooded sweatshirt over a black swimsuit, she hid in the bushes near the start and then jumped into the race after the starting gun sounded. Gibb is recognized with being the women’s winner of the race in 1966 (3:21:40), 1967 (3:27:17) and 1968 (3:30:00), even though women weren’t officially allowed to enter until 1972.
31. Maria Trujillo, 2:28:53, 14th place, 1991 IAAF World Championships
After becoming a U.S. citizen in the early 1990s, she won the 1991 U.S. marathon championships at the Long Beach Marathon and went on to place 14th at the 1991 world championships in Tokyo (2:39:28). She also won the marathon at the 1995 Pan American Games in Mar del Plata, Argentina (2:43:56). She placed third in Boston in 1990 in 2:28:53 (No. 20 on the all-time U.S. list). Photo: fasttwitchpro.com
30. Margaret Groos Sloan, 2:29:50, 1st Place, 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon
After placing fifth at the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon (2:33:38) in Olympia, Washington (pictured), Margaret Groos Sloan battled injuries and other challenges during the prime of her career. But she rebounded magnificently by capturing the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials title at the Pittsburgh Marathon in a personal best 2:29:50, which stood as the U.S. Olympic Trials record until it was broken in 2004. She clocked 2:40:59 at the 1988 games in Seoul, finishing 39th. She returned to Pittsburgh the following year to win again (2:32:39).
29. Nina Kusick, 2:50:00, First Official Boston Marathon Female Champion, 1972
Nina Kusick bandited the 1969 Boston Marathon, her first marathon, before women were officially allowed to participate. Along with Kathrine Switzer, Bobbi Gibb and Sara Mae Berman, she’s considered one of the pioneers of women’s marathon running. She was quick, becoming the first official female champion of the Boston Marathon in 1972, then winning back-to-back New York City Marathon titles in 1972 and 1973. In addition to her victory in Boston, she also had four runner-up finishes and a third-place effort between 1969 and 1974. She ran 80 marathons over the course of her career, with a PR best of 2:50:00. Photo: Distance Running Hall of Fame
28. Cheryl (Bridges) Treworgy, 2:49:40, Marathon World Record-Holder, 1971-1973
Cheryl Treworgy (pictured here, in Naturite top), the mother of elite U.S. marathoner Shalane Flanagan, paved the way for her daughter’s success with her own competitive career. She set the world marathon record in her first attempt at the distance, clocking 2:49:40 to win the 1971 Culver City Marathon. She also had U.S. records at 3 miles and 5,000 meters. She was also the first American female athlete to receive an athletic scholarship to a public university (Indiana State) in 1966.
27. Olga Appell, 2:27:59, Two-Time Twin Cities Marathon Winner
A native of Mexico, Olga Appell (pictured at left) is best known for winning the women’s marathon at the 1991 Pan-Am Games in Havana, Cuba. She began competing for the U.S. in 1994 at the age of 30 and promptly ran a 2:28:12 at the 1994 Los Angeles Marathon. She won the Hokkaido Marathon for a second time in 1995 and the Twin Cities Marathon in 1996 in a PR of 2:27:59, which, at the time, put her as No. 6 in U.S. history and still ranks her at No. 14 on the all-time U.S. list. (She also ran in the 10,000-meter run at the 1996 Olympics for the U.S.) Photo: Sean Hartnett/University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
26. Amy Hastings, 2:27:03, 4th Place, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon
Amy Hastings ran her first marathon at the 2011 LA Marathon, placing second with a PR of 2:27.03. That time, which she tied at the 2014 Chicago Marathon, make her the ninth-fastest American marathoner of all time. In 2012, Hastings finished fourth place in the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon. (However, she beat Shalane Flanagan and Natosha Rogers in the 10,000 meters at the 2012 Olympic Trials, solidifying her spot on Team USA. She went on to place 11th in the 10,000-meter race at the London Olympics.) Photo: PhotoRun.net
25. Jen Rhines, 2:29:32, 3rd Place, 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon
A five-time NCAA champion while attending Villanova University, Jen Rhines had already been a 2000 Olympian in the 10,000-meter run on the track when she finished third at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon and placed 34th at the games in Athens. In 2006, she clocked her marathon PR (2:29.32) and finished fourth at the Rome Marathon. She reverted to shorter distances in 2008, qualifying for her third U.S. Olympic team in the 5,000 meters after finishing second at the trials. Rhines took another stab at the Olympic marathon in 2012 but failed to make the team, finishing in 43rd place at the trials. Photo: PhotoRun.net
24. Marla Runyan, 2:27:10, 1st Place, 2006 U.S. Marathon Championships
Marla Runyan became the first legally blind runner to run in the Olympics in 2000 when she placed eighth in the 1,500-meter run at the Sydney Olympics. But she also made her mark as a marathoner, running her PR of 2:27:10 at the 2002 New York City Marathon. At the time, that was the second-fastest debut time ever by an American woman—and it’s a time that still ranks her as the No. 10 on the all-time U.S. list. Her biggest marathon highlight came at age 37 in 2006, when she won the U.S. marathon championship (2:32:17) at the Twin Cities Marathon. She also placed fourth in the 2003 Boston Marathon (2:30:28) and seventh at the 2004 Chicago Marathon (2:28:33). Photo: PhotoRun.net
23. Magdalena Lewy-Boulet, 2:26:22, 2nd Place, 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon
Born in Poland, Magdalena Lewy-Boulet became a U.S. citizen in September 2001 and won the San Francisco Marathon the following year. She placed fifth in the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials (2:30:50) and then led most of the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon before finishing second behind Kastor in 2:30:19. The next year, she placed sixth at the New York City Marathon (2:32:17), crossing the line first for the American women. In 2010, she ran her PR (2:26.22) while finishing second at the Rotterdam Marathon and later that year placed finished seventh at the Chicago Marathon (2:28:44). She recorded a third straight top-10 finish at the 1992 U.S. Olympic Trials (10th place, 2:33:42) in Houston. Although she’s moved on to trail running and ultrarunning, she’s still the sixth-fastest marathoner on the all-time U.S. list. Photo: PhotoRun.net
22. Jenny Spangler, 2:29:54, 1st Place, 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon
One of the most improbable victories in women’s marathon history was Jenny Spangler's win in the 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon. Spangler’s marathon career started in college at the University of Iowa, where she set an American junior record of 2:33:52. She then competed in the inaugural 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon but suffered a stress fracture. After a poor marathon season in 1988, Spangler stopped competing until her 1996 win, where she beat the likes of Linda Somers Smith and Joan Samuelson. (Her qualifying time for the Olympic Trials during the 1994 Chicago Marathon was a modest 2:43:02.) Spangler continued her success as a masters runner, winning back-to-back Chicago Marathon masters titles in 2003 (2:32:38) and 2004 (2:33:36) and placing ninth in the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials (2:36:30) at the age of 41. Photo: PhotoRun.net
21. Christine Clark, 2:31:15, 19th place, 2000 Olympic Games, Sydney, Australia
Christine Clark turned in one of the biggest surprise moments in U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon history by winning the 2000 race in warm conditions of Columbia, S.C. A native of Montana who was living in Anchorage, Alaska, the 37-year-old Clark was shooting for top 20 but wound up running the race of her life and winning by more than 2 minutes. Clark was the only U.S. woman to qualify for the Olympic team because no one ran faster than the Olympic “A” standard (2:33:00 at the time). She went on to place 19th and set a new PR at the Olympics. Photo: PhotoRun.net
20. Sue Marchiano, 2:30:48; 1st place, 1989 IAAF World Marathon Cup
Although she never won a U.S. championship, Sue Marchiano won the 1989 IAAF World Marathon Cup race in Milan, Italy, at the age of 34, and led the U.S. to the team silver medal. What’s more amazing is the fact that she won the race by almost 4 and a half minutes over a field that included a young Uta Pippig. Marchiano also placed 10th in the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials (2:34:26) in Pittsburgh.
19. Anne-Marie Letko, 2:30:19, 10th place, 1996 Olympic Marathon
Anne-Marie Letko was one of the top American distance runners from 1990 to 2000, qualifying for two Olympic teams and winning the 10,000-meter run at the 1991 World University Games in Sheffield, England. As a marathoner, she dropped out of her debut race in 1993 but then finished third in New York in 1994 (2:30:19). She followed that up with a third-place showing (2:31:18) at the 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials and then placed 10th (2:31:30) in the Olympics. She again placed third in the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in 2000, but she didn’t qualify for the Olympics—the U.S. was only able to send one runner due to a lack of Olympic “A” standard qualifying times.
18. Janis Klecker, 2:30:12, 1st Place, 1992 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon
Janis Klecker won six marathons during her career, including two U.S. championship races. She won her first national title in 1987 with a 2:36:12 effort at Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn. After winning the 1992 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, she finished a respectable 21st place at the games in Barcelona. A two-time Twin Cities Marathon winner (1991, 1992), Klecker also won the San Francisco Marathon twice (1983, 1990), as well as the Houston Marathon (1992), where she ran her personal best time of 2:30:12. She and her husband, Barney Klecker, have both held American records for 50K.
17. Nancy Ditz, 2:31:36, 7th place 1991 IAAF World Championships
Nancy Ditz was one of those rare runners who won the first marathon she ever entered, taking first at the 1982 San Francisco Marathon in 2:44:44. She continued improving with a seventh-place showing (2:33:52) at the inaugural U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in 1984. She followed that with a victory at the 1985 Cal International Marathon (2:31:36), which earned her the U.S. championship, and back-to-back victories in the Los Angeles Marathon in 1986 (2:36:27) and 1987 (2:35:24). She finished a close second in the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon (2:30:14) in Pittsburgh, earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team that competed in Seoul, South Korea. Her biggest two results were her 17th-place finish at the 1988 Olympics (2:33:42) and her seventh-place finish at the 1991 world championships (2:34:54) in Tokyo.
16. Linda Somers Smith, 2:32:12, Seven-Time U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon Runner
Linda Somers Smith has enjoyed one of the longest, most successful careers of any American female distance runner. A record-setting seven-time U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier (and four top-20 finishes), Somers Smith made the Olympic team in 1996, finishing 31st at the Games in Atlanta. The biggest highlight of her career was her seventh-place finish (2:37:12) at the 1995 IAAF World Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden. She won the 1992 Chicago Marathon (2:37:41) and the 1993 California International Marathon (2:34:11), and has set multiple age-group records, including the since-broken U.S. 45–49 mark of 2:38:49 after placing 17th at the 2008 Boston Marathon. At the 2012 trials in Houston, Somers Smith finished 28th in 2:37:36, another age-group record at the age of 50. Photo: PhotoRun.net
15. Francie Larrieu Smith, 2:27:35, 12th Place, 1992 Olympic Marathon
What’s amazing about Francie Larrieu Smith is her range, having competed at the highest level in both the 800 meters on the track all the way up to the marathon. Smith (pictured at right) is the only woman on this list to make five Olympic teams over the course of her career, competing in the 1,500 meters at the 1972 and 1976 games, the 10,000 meters at the 1988 games and the marathon at the 1992 games in Barcelona, where she finished 12th in 2:40:09. Larrieu Smith also made the 1980 U.S. team that did not compete due to U.S. boycott of the Moscow Olympics. On the roads, she set her personal best of 2:27:35 (No. 12 on the all-time U.S. list) while finishing second at the 1991 World Cup, was runner-up at the 1990 London Marathon and third at the 1992 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston. Photo: Bill Leung
14. Colleen De Reuck, 2:28:01, 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials Champion
A native South African who ran in the 1992, 1996 and 2000 Olympics, Colleen De Reuck became an American citizen in 2000. (She would rank higher on this list, but her 2:26:35 PR, several wins and her ninth-place finish at the 1992 Olympics all occurred before she was a U.S. citizen.) De Reuck ran her last Olympic marathon in Athens in 2004 for the U.S. team with a 39th-place finish. Earlier that year, she won the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in St. Louis in a trials record of 2:28:25, despite near-freezing temperatures. At age 39, De Reuck ran a 2:28:01— her best time as a U.S. citizen, which ties her for No. 15 on the all-time U.S. list—en route to a seventh-place showing at the 2003 Chicago Marathon. Some of De Reuck’s most impressive efforts occurred later in her 40s, including her fourth-place finish at the 2009 Chicago Marathon, in which she set a U.S. 40–44 age-group record of 2:28:40, and her victory at the 2010 Copenhagen Marathon, where she ran 2:30:51 at age 46 and set a U.S. 45–49 age group record. Photo: PhotoRun.net
13. Julie Brown, 2:26:26, 2nd place, 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon
Julie Brown (pictured, in the lead) was a runner ahead of her time. A standout middle-distance track runner in high school and college, Brown was the surprise winner at the 1975 World Cross Country Championships in Rabat, Morocco. She also won the 1976 Western Hemisphere Marathon in Culver City, Calif., in 2:45:33. After missing the 1980 Olympics in Moscow due to the U.S. boycott, she moved up to the marathon for good and won the 1983 Avon International Marathon in her PR of 2:26:26 (which ranks No. 7 on the all-time U.S. list). Her biggest highlight was her runner-up finish in the inaugural women’s U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in 1984, earning her a spot in the first women’s Olympic marathon later that summer in Los Angeles, where she finished 36th. Photo: Bill Leung
12. Cathy O'Brien, 2:29:38, 10th place, 1992 Olympic Marathon, Barcelona, Spain
Cathy O'Brien set the still-standing high school national record when she placed ninth in the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon (2:34:24). She went to the trials twice after: in 1988, when she placed third, and in 1992, when she placed second, qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Team on each of those occasions. She placed 40th in 2:41:04 in 1988, and then ran to a 10th-place finish in the 1992 Olympics, in 2:39:42. In 1989, she took second in the Paris Marathon (2:31:14), nabbed third at the Chicago Marathon (2:31:19) and won the Crim 10-Miler in the same year, setting a then-world record of 51:47. O'Brien also won the 1991 Los Angeles Marathon, running her PR of 2:29:38, which bested Great Britain's Priscilla Webb by more than 10 minutes. In 2008, O'Brien broke 3 hours in the Boston Marathon (pictured above) at age 40. Photo: PhotoRun.net
11. Marianne Dickerson, 2:31:09, 2nd Place, 1983 IAAF World Championships
Marianne Dickerson is one of those athletes who rose to the occasion in the biggest race of her career. At the 1983 world championships in Helsinki, Finland—the world’s first major international marathon race for women—Dickerson, then a senior at the University of Illinois, passed Raisa Smekhnova of the Soviet Union in the final 300 meters of the race on the track inside the 1952 Olympic Stadium to nab a second-place spot in history. She beat several of the world’s top runners, including Portugal’s Rosa Mota, Canada’s Jacqueline Gareau and Italy’s Laura Fogli. Injuries and a busy career as an engineer kept her from running the 1984 and 1998 U.S. Olympic Trials races, but she won the 1988 Baltimore Marathon in 2:41:05. Photo: University of Illinois
10. Kim Jones, 2:26:40, 8th place, 1993 IAAF World Championships
Although she never made an Olympic team and won only one U.S. championship (1986), Kim Jones earned her position among the top 10 marathoners in U.S. history with some very fast running. Not only did she run five sub-2:30 races in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and deliver 12 other performances under 2:33, she also won the Twin Cities Marathon twice (1986, 1989) and was the twice the runner-up at the Boston Marathon (1991, 1993) among her six top-10 performances in Beantown. Her She narrowly finished second at the 1990 New York City Marathon (just 5 seconds behind winner Wanda Panfil), and second at the Berlin Marathon in 1991 in 2:26:40, which ranked as the third-fastest time in the world that year. Although she was troubled by injuries and had bad luck at several U.S. Olympic Trials races—her highest finish was fifth in 1988—she did manage an eighth-place finish at the 1993 world championships in Stuttgart, Germany in her PR of 2:26:40 (which still ranks her as the eighth-fastest woman in U.S. history). Of the 26 marathons she ran between 1984 and 1998, she finished in the top 10 in all but just two races and was a top-three podium finisher 14 times. Her 2012 autobiography, Dandelion Growing Wild, revealed the horrors of a childhood with a mentally ill and morphine-addicted father. Photo: Jon Sinclair
9. Desiree Linden, 2:22:38, 2nd Place, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon
Desiree Linden placed 13th in 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon with a time of 2:37.50. Later that year, Linden finished fifth at the Chicago Marathon (2:31.33). In 2009, Linden was the quickest American woman at the IAAF World Championships, finishing 11th overall. She surprised at the 2011 Boston Marathon, placing second in 2:22:38, the then-fastest American time ever in Boston (until Shalane Flanagan's 2014 performance), as well as fifth fastest overall female time ever in Boston. (It ranks her No. 4 on the all-time U.S. list.) Linden made it to the 2012 Olympics in the marathon, qualifying alongside Flanagan and Goucher, with her second-place finish at the trials. After dropping out of the Olympic Marathon because of a stress fracture, Linden returned to racing and nabbed fifth place and her age-group title at the 2013 Berlin Marathon. She placed 10th at the 2014 Boston Marathon (2:23:54), crossing the line second among American women behind Flanagan. Most recently, she finished fifth at the 2014 New York City Marathon. Photo: PhotoRun.net
8. Kara Goucher, 2:24:52, 3rd Place, 2008 New York City Marathon
Before becoming a marathoner, two-time Olympian Kara Goucher was a 10,000-meter bronze medalist at the 2007 world championships. The next year, she made her marathon debut at the New York City Marathon, placing third with 2:25:53, the fastest debut time by an American woman—and the first American to podium since 1994. Goucher also made the 2008 U.S. Olympic team in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters, placing first and second in the trials, respectively. Goucher placed third at the Boston Marathon in 2009, as well as 10th at the world championships later that year. Less than a year following the birth of her son, Colt, Goucher ran to a PR of 2:24:52 at the 2011 Boston Marathon, placing fifth and ranking her No. 5 on the all-time U.S. list. Together with Flanagan and Linden, she made the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, coming in third at the trials and 11th at the London Olympics. Photo: PhotoRun.net
7. Patti Catalano Dillon, 2:27:52, 2nd Place, Boston Marathon, 1979-1981
Patti Dillon was the first American woman to break 2:30 in the marathon, with a 2:29:33 at the 1980 New York City Marathon to finish runner-up behind the legendary Grete Waitz. She set her personal best of 2:27:52—which still ranks her at No. 13 on the all-time U.S. list—at the 1981 Boston Marathon. Dillon was one of the most dominating American female road racers of any era, having held U.S. records in the marathon, half marathon, 30K, 15K, 10-mile and 5-mile distances, as well as world records at 5 miles, 10K, 20K, half marathon and 30K at various points of her career in the late 1970s and early 1980s. At the Montreal Marathon in 1980, she won in 2:30:57, breaking Joan Benoit's American record of 2:31:23. Although her career peaked before the rise of international marathon racing for women, Dillon was the runner-up in Boston from 1979-1981, won the Honolulu Marathon from 1978 to 1981 and won five of the first six editions of the Ocean State Marathon in Rhode Island. She placed 16th (2:36:13) in the inaugural U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in 1984 and also won the Rio de Janeiro Marathon in 1985. Photo: Tufts Health Plan 10K for Women
6. Lisa Rainsberger, 2:28:15, 1985 Boston Marathon Champion
For the past 29 years, Lisa Rainsberger’s legend has continued to grow as the last American woman to win the Boston Marathon. But that’s not all she accomplished over a remarkably successful career on the roads. In 1984, Rainsberger (née Lisa Larsen Weidenbach) narrowly missed making the U.S. Olympic team, finishing fourth in the first U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon for women in Olympia, Wash. Later that year, she won the Montreal Marathon; she also has back-to-back Chicago Marathon titles (1988, 1989) to her credit. In addition, she won the Hokkaido Marathon in Sapporo, Japan (1990) and earned a victory at the 1993 Twin Cities Marathon. Rainsberger ran under 2:30 twice during her career and set her PR of 2:28.15 (No. 17 on the all-time U.S. list) during her 1989 Chicago victory. At the University of Michigan, she garnered All-American honors in swimming, cross-country and track and field. In the late 1990s, Rainsberger turned her attention to triathlon, and retired in 1998 to launch her coaching career. Photo: PhotoRun.net
5. Shalane Flanagan, 2:21:14, 1st Place, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon
Shalane Flanagan made her marathon debut at the 2010 New York City Marathon, finishing second in 2:28.40, the best American finish at that race in 20 years. In 2012, Flanagan won the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, setting a new event record with her 2:25.38 time. She finished 10th at the games, crossing the line first for American women. Flanagan placed seventh at the 2014 Boston Marathon, running an impressive 2:22.02—the fastest American female time ever run in Boston, as well as the third-fastest marathon time run by an American woman ever (behind Samuelson and Kastor). Although she's never won an Olympic medal in the marathon, Flanagan captured bronze at the 2008 Olympics in the 10,000 meters, running a 30:22.22 to break her own American record time and becoming only the second U.S. woman to medal at that distance. In September 2014, Flanagan ran a 2:21:14 PR at the Berlin Marathon, narrowly missing Kastor's American marathon record but capturing the U.S. 25K record along the way. Photo: PhotoRun.net
4. Michiko "Miki" Suwa Gorman, 2:39:11, Two-Time Boston and New York City Marathon Winner
3. Jacqueline Hansen, 2:38:10, Marathon World-Record Holder, 1974, 1975
Jacqueline Hansen set a world-best mark in 1974 with her 2:43:55 performance at the Western Hemisphere Marathon, then recaptured it from Germany's Christa Vahlensieck in October 1975 with a 2:38:19 at the Oregon Track Club Marathon in Eugene—becoming the first woman to go sub-2:40 in the marathon. These two performances earned her the title of best female marathoner in the world in 1974 and 1975. Hansen also won 12 of her first 15 marathons—including the Boston Marathon in 1973, the Honolulu Marathon in 1975 (breaking the course record), and the Avenue of the Giants Marathon in 1976. Hansen is also a three-time winner of the Western Hemisphere Marathon (1972, 1974, 1977) and the Catalina Marathon (1979, 1981, 1982). Her book, A Long Time Coming, chronicles the history of women's efforts to make a splash on the long-distance running and marathon stage. Photo: Doug Schwab
2. Deena (Drossin) Kastor, 2:19:36, 2004 Olympic Bronze Medalist
Deena Kastor is the current American record holder in the marathon, breaking Samuelson's longstanding record at the 2006 London Marathon. She owns 10 sub-2:30 marathon efforts and three of the five fastest times in American history. She won the bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics—the first Olympic medal by an American in the marathon since Samuelson's win 20 years earlier—and won the Chicago Marathon a year later. After winning the 2006 London Marathon, Track & Field News ranked her as the top female marathoner in the world. Two years later, she won the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon after chasing leader Magdelena Lewy Boulet from mile 10 on, passing her with 3 miles to go for the win. In 2013, Kastor made a last-minute announcement to run the LA Marathon, placing third with a 2:32:39 at age 40, and later that summer she placed ninth (2:36:12) at the IAAF World Championships amid steamy hot conditions in Moscow. Along with the marathon, Kastor also holds the American record for the half marathon, 15K, 8K and 5K distances on the road. In September 2014, Kastor broke the masters world record in the half marathon with a 1:09:36 effort. At the 2014 New York City Marathon, Kastor placed 11th in 2:33:18. Photo: PhotoRun.net
1. Joan (Benoit) Samuelson, 2:21:21, 1984 Olympic Marathon Champion
Is there any doubt that Joan Benoit Samuelson is No. 1 on this list? Although her three world-best times have long since been broken and her American record finally fell in 2006, Samuelson's legacy with two Boston titles and Olympic gold in 1984 keep her on top of this list. She won the Boston Marathon in 1979 and again in 1983, finishing in 2:22:43 in the latter one to break the then-world record. In 1984, Samuelson ran—and won—the first-ever women's U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon (2:31:04, just 17 days after having knee surgery) and the first-ever Olympic Marathon (2:24:52) later the same year. A year later, she won the Chicago Marathon with a PR of 2:21:21, which stood as the American record for 18 years and keeps her at No. 3 on the all-time U.S. list. In 2008, she competed in her seventh U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, finishing in sub-2:50 at the age of 50, and, in 2010, she celebrated the 25th anniversary of her American record (since broken by Deena Kastor) by finishing the Chicago Marathon in 2:47:50, the fastest-ever performance by a women over 52; she only missed qualifying for her eighth U.S. Olympic team by 1 minute, 50 seconds. Samuelson still holds four of the top 11 U.S. marathon times to date. Photo: Nike