The 25 Greatest American Male Marathoners of All Time
The U.S. has produced numerous top men's marathoners during the past century. Our list reflects the fastest runners, top performers at national and international events, and pioneers who made an impact on the sport.
From sub-2:10 performances to Olympic appearances, major wins or impressive overall bodies of work, we considered all these things when compiling this list of the top 25 greatest American male marathoners of all time.
We solicited input from numerous running coaches, administrators, journalists and current and former athletes. 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-2:10 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.
Have differing opinions about the order of our list? If so please share your thoughts and comments with us on Facebook and Twitter!
Runners are listed with their marathon PR and their biggest marathon highlight.
This is not a discussion of the fastest American marathoners of all-time, but runners with times among the top 25 fastest on the all-time U.S. list are represented throughout our list and honorable mention.
RELATED: America's Top Male Marathoners: Honorable Mention
25. Ed Eyestone, 2:10:59, 1988, 1992 U.S. Olympic Trials Runner-Up
Although he never won a big marathon, Eyestone was one of the best American marathoners from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. He was ranked among the top 10 runners in the country for nine years. The highlights of his career were a pair of runner-up finishes at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1988 and 1992. He would go on to place 29th at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul and 13th at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. He set his PR of 2:10:59 (No. 33 on the all-time U.S. list) with a solid race at the 1990 Chicago Marathon, placed 8th at the 1990 London Marathon (2:12:00), won the 1993 U.S. championship at the Twin Cities Marathon (2:14:34) and placed 21st at the 1995 World Championships in Gothenberg, Sweden. Photo: Brigham Young University
24. Ted Corbitt, 2:46:14, 1st place, 1954 U.S. Championships
An elite runner in the 1950s and pioneer among road race organizers and race course measurers, Corbitt has been called “the father of long distance running” in the U.S. He was a 1952 U.S. Olympian (44th at Helsinki) and won the 1954 U.S. championships at the Yonkers Marathon (2:46:14). He also won the Philadelphia Marathon four times and competed in numerous ultra-distance races, including a fourth-place showing at the 54-mile London-to-Brighton Road Race in 1962. (Photo courtesy of Gary Corbitt.)
23. Bob Kempainen, 2:08:47, 7th place, 1994 Boston Marathon
Kempanien was the one of the most consistent U.S. runners in big races in the 1990s and his PR of 2:08:47 makes him the fifth-fastest American ever behind Khalid Khannouchi, Ryan Hall, Dathan Ritzenhein and Meb Keflezighi. He won the 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon (2:12:45) in Charlotte, N.C., and went on to place 31st at the Atlanta Olympics (2:18:38). He ran even better in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona (17th, 2:15:53) after placing third in the U.S. Olympic Trials that year. Aside from a strong effort at Boston in 1994, he also finished second at the 1991 Twin Cities Marathon (2:11:03), the 1993 New York City Marathon (2:11:03) and 1995 Los Angeles Marathon (2:11:59). (Photo: Dartmouth University)
22. Benji Durden, 2:09:57, 1st place, 1982 Houston Marathon
A relentless workhorse of a marathoner, Durden (right) ran 25 sub-2:20 marathons in less than a decade in the 1980s. He was ranked among the top 10 in the U.S. six times and was the No. 7 runner in the world in 1982 (when he won the Houston Marathon in 2:11:12). One of his biggest highlights was his runner-up finish at the 1980 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, a race run after the U.S. had already announced its intention to boycott the 1980 Olympics. He placed third in the 1983 Boston Marathon (2:09:57) and 39th at the inaugural IAAF World Championships (2:20:38) later that year. His PR of 2:09:57 still ranks No. 16 on the all-time U.S. list. (Photo Courtesy of Colorado Running Hall of Fame.)
21. Tony Sandoval, 2:10:20, 4th place, 1976 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon
Sandoval’s career was marked by close finishes and near misses, but he remains among America’s top marathoners. He placed fourth at the 1976 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in 2:14:58 (missing the final Olympic berth by about a minute), won the 1980 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon (after the U.S. had already announced it would be boycotting the 1980 Olympics in Moscow) and then took sixth at the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon (missing an Olympic berth by 51 seconds). He also placed 27th at the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon and started the 1992 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon before dropping out with an injury. Among his other accomplishments, Sandoval tied for the win at the Nike/Oregon Track Club Marathon in 1979 (2:10:20), placed 15th at the 1979 Boston Marathon (2:15:23) and placed sixth at the 1981 New York City Marathon (2:12:12).
20. Don Kardong, 2:11:15, 4th place, 1976 Olympic Marathon
After placing sixth in the 1972 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, Kardong returned in 1976 to place third (behind Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers) to earn a spot on the 1976 U.S. Olympic squad. He wound up fourth place (2:11:15) in the Olympics in Montreal, missing the bronze medal by just 3 seconds. He later won the Honolulu Marathon before becoming a race director, writer and president of the Road Runners Club of America. (Photo: PhotoRun.net)
19. Alan Culpepper, 2:09:41, 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials Champion
While Culpepper earned a living on the track, the roads and the cross country course, he was certainly one of the best marathoners of his era. He tied Alberto Salazar for the fastest debut marathon in American history (since broken by Ryan Hall), twice placed in the top five at the Boston Marathon and finished 12th in the 2004 Olympic marathon in Athens, Greece. His PR ranks him No. 15 on the U.S. list. (Photo: PhotoRun.net)
18. Pat Petersen, 2:10:04, 3rd place, 1985 New York City Marathon
Pat Petersen, who passed away on May 31, was known as one of the most tenacious runners of his time, someone who always raced to his fitness or beyond. Although largely unsung in American running annals because he never made an Olympic team, Petersen cranked out some very strong efforts at the New York City Marathon in the 1980s. In fact, he placed among the top 4 in the five-borough race three times—4th in 1984 (2:16:35), 3rd in 1985 (2:12:59) and 4th in 1987 (2:12:03). The only other Americans to pull off that feat are Bill Rodgers, Alberto Salazar and Meb Keflezighi. Although he dropped out of the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in New Jersey, Petersen was remarkably consistent as a marathoner. In addition to his success in New York, he was equally impressive at the London Marathon, placing 6th (1985, 2:11:23), 4th (1986, 2:12:56) and 7th (1989, 2:10:04)—the latter of which was considered the U.S. best time for a record-legal course until Jerry Lawson broke it with a 2:09:35 at the Chicago Marathon in 1997. Petersen's PR still ranks him at No. 17 on the all-time U.S. list.
"He was just plain tough. He chased people. He had a higher pain tolerance than anyone else," said Tracy Sundlun, co-founder of the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series and Senior Vice President of Events at Competitor Group who coached Petersen during the 1980s in New York City. "He put himself into a well in every marathon. He went that far into it every race, unlike almost any runner ever did. He got everything out of his body every time he ran a race." (Photo: Manhattan College)
17. Kenny Moore, 2:13:28, 4th Place, 1972 Olympic Marathon
Although Moore had a bigger influence as an activist, a journalist and a writer, he was nonetheless one of America’s top marathoners between the late 1960s and early 1970s. He placed second in the inaugural U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in Alamosa, Colo., in 1968 and placed 14th in the marathon at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. He lowered the American record to 2:13:29 in 1969 and also took second at the 1970 Fukuoka Marathon (2:11:36), which was considered the de facto world championship race at the time. Then he famously tied for the win at the 1972 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon with Frank Shorter in Eugene (pictured here). Although lost in the glow of Shorter’s gold-medal performance, Moore placed fourth in the 1972 Games. Moore also won the 1971 U.S. marathon championship in Eugene, Ore., beating Shorter to win in 2:16:49. Moore would go on to write for Sports Illustrated for 25 years, take up the case of falsely imprisoned Ethiopian runner Mamo Wolde and help push for the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 that created national governing bodies for Olympic sports in the U.S. (Photo courtesy of Kenny Moore)
16. Dick Beardsley, 2:08:54, 2nd Place, 1982 Boston Marathon
Although he is most famous for coming up just short in his epic battle with Alberto Salazar at the 1982 Boston Marathon (Salazar won in a course-record 2:08:52, while Beardsley was second in 2:08:54 amid a sweltering day in Boston), Beardsley also has two Grandma’s Marathon titles to his credit (1981, 2:09:37; 1982, 2:14:50) and won the 1981 London Marathon (2:11:48). Beardsley lowered his PR in the marathon in 13 consecutive races at one point and his 1981 course record at Grandma’s Marathon stood until 2014. His PR puts ranks him as the No. 7 runner on the all-time U.S. list. (Photo: Zap Fitness)
15. Steve Spence, 2:12:17, 1991 World Championships Bronze Medalist
A two-time U.S. marathon champion (1990, 1992), Spence earned a bronze medal at the 1991 IAAF World Championships with a 2:15:36 effort on a scorching hot day in Tokyo. He also won the 1992 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in Columbus, Ohio (2:12:43), en route to placing 12th in the 1992 Olympics (2:15:21) in Barcelona. He also placed ninth in the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in Jersey City, N.J. (Photo: PhotoRun.net)
14. Mark Plaatjes, 2:13:57*, 1993 World Champion Marathoner
Although much of his running career was squelched by the oppression of apartheid while growing up in South Africa—including being barred from competing in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics—Plaatjes moved to Boulder, Colo., in 1988 and thrived. He won the 1991 Los Angeles Marathon in 2:10:29 and, after applying for U.S. citizenship, placed sixth in the 1993 Boston Marathon. Receiving his citizenship just three weeks before the IAAF World Championships in Stuttgart, Plaatjes passed Nambian runner Luketz Swartbooi in the final minutes of the race to win in 2:13:57, becoming the first American runner to win gold in a distance running event at the world championships. Although that was his only marathon as a U.S. citizen, it goes down as one of the great moments of American running.
*Fastest time as a U.S. citizen. His PR was 2:08:58 from the Port Elizabeth Marathon in 1985. (Photo: Glen Delman)
13. Pete Pfitzinger, 2:11:43, 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials Champion
Although he won the 1983 U.S. championship at the San Francisco Marathon, Pfitzinger was still a relatively unheralded runner when he ran his way into American running lore with a stunning win at the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in Buffalo, N.Y. He broke away just past the halfway point and built a 150-meter lead. He was passed by John Tuttle and then Alberto Salazar in the final mile, but retook both in the final 400 to win the race in 2:11:43. He went on to place 11th at the Los Angeles Olympics, finishing as the top American in 2:13:53. He earned another Olympic berth in 1988, placing third in the trials (2:13:09) and 14th in the Olympics (2:14:44) in Seoul, South Korea. Amazingly consistent, Pfitzinger ran 13 marathons in his career and finished between 2:11:43 and 2:15:21 in all of them. He won five of those races and placed in the top three in nine of them.
12. Dathan Ritzenhein, 2:07:47, 9th place, 2008 Olympic Marathon
Ritzenhein is one of the most accomplished runners in American history—ranging from an American record in the 5,000 (12:56.27), a bronze medal at the 2009 World Half Marathon Championships (in a 1:00:00 PR) and a ninth-place 2:07:47 PR effort at the 2012 Chicago Marathon—he’s also been bitten by the injury bug more times than he cares to remember. That effort in Chicago made him only the third U.S. runner to break 2:08 (after Khalid Khannouchi and Ryan Hall) and he’s one of just five Americans to have run 2:10:00 or faster three times. He also turned in a solid, fifth-place 2:09:45 showing at Chicago in 2013 and a seventh-place 2:11:20 effort in Boston this year. Ritzenhein placed second in the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon (2:11:07) and went on to finish ninth (as the top American) at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. He finished a tough-luck fourth place at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, but earned his third U.S. Olympic team berth that year in the 10,000-meter run on the track. (Photo: PhotoRun.net)
11. Leonard “Buddy” Edelen, 2:14:28, 6th place, 1964 Olympic Marathon
Edelen was arguably the first U.S. runner to become a world-class marathoner in the modern era. Not only was he the first American to break 2:20 (running 2:18:57 while placing fourth in Fukuoka in 1962), he was also the world’s first runner to break 2:15—doing so when he ran 2:14:28 at the Polytechnic Marathon in England. He remains the last American-born runner to hold the world record in the marathon and the only American runner other than Moroccan-born Khalid Khannouchi to hold the world record since 1925. In 1963, Edelen became the only American (before or since) to win the historic Kosice Peach Marathon in Slovakia (2:15:09). In 1964, Edelen, who lived in England during the prime of his career, won what was then a precursor to the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon by nearly 20 minutes and went on to place sixth (2:18:12) at the Olympics in Tokyo. Edelen was immortalized in Frank Murphy’s 2000 book, “A Cold Clear Day.” (Photo: South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame)
10. Johnny A. Kelley, 2:30, 1935, 1945 Boston Marathon Champion
A two-time U.S. Olympian (18th place in 1936, 21st in 1948), Kelley earned legendary status through the years by finishing the Boston Marathon a record 58 times. He won the race twice (1935, 1945), finished second a record seven times and placed in the top five an amazing 15 times over 17 years between 1934-1950. In 1936, Kelley was at the center of a race that is considered the origin of the term "Heartbreak Hill." Thinking leader Ellison "Tarzan" Brown had exhausted himself by the last of the four Newton hills, Kelley patted Brown on the back as he passed him to take the lead. Incensed by this gesture, Brown soon regained the lead and went on to win. Kelley, heartbroken, faded to fifth. In 1957, he surprised everyone by placing ninth at age 50, but Kelley's amazing running career would continue for another 35 years, missing just one start in 1968 after a hernia operation. Two of his more amazing efforts came later in his life, including his 2:55:00, 59th-place finish when he was 59 in 1966 and his 3:35:21 finish at the age of 73 in 1980. Amazingly, Kelley won three U.S. marathon championships (then held at the Yonkers Marathon) between the ages of 39 and 43 in 1946, 1948 and 1950. (Photo Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.)
9. Clarence DeMar, 2:29:40, 1924 Olympic Bronze Medalist
If it weren’t for the fact that he won the Boston Marathon a record seven times during his career, the most amazing thing about Clarence DeMar’s marathon career would be his longevity. Consider that he ran his first Boston Marathon in 1910 at the age of 21 and placed second and 20 years later won the last of his titles at the age of 41. In between, he won his first Boston Marathon title (1911) and was member of the 1912 U.S. Olympic team in (finishing a disappointing 12th in Stockholm) before taking a five-year hiatus from the marathon, then returned to place third in Boston in 1917. He then took another break from the marathon when he was drafted into the Army, but then returned to six more Boston Marathon titles between 1922 and 1930 and competed in two more Olympic marathons (bronze medal in 1924 in Paris; 27th place in Amsterdam). He was also credited with winning four straight U.S. titles from 1926-1929. He placed fifth at Boston in 1931 at the age of 42 (2:55:46) and ran his final Boston Marathon in 1958 at the age of 69. (Photo Courtesy of ClarenceDeMar.com)
8. Greg Meyer, 2:09:00, 1983 Boston Marathon Champion
When Greg Meyer won the 1983 Boston Marathon it was a big deal. Winning Boston always is. But when he won Boston that year, he was the second consecutive American to win and the eighth in the previous 11 years. No one would have predicted a U.S. drought would have extended for 31 years until Meb Keflezighi’s win in 2014, but it only made Meyer’s win more profound. That 1983 race—in which 84 runners broke 2:20—remains one of the fastest and deepest in Boston history. Meyer also placed 11th in the 1981 Boston Marathon the day that Japan’s Toshihiko Seko set a new course record, but most people forget that Meyer also won the 1982 Chicago Marathon (2:10:59) and set a course record (2:13:07) to win the 1980 Detroit Marathon. He was twice a top-10 finisher at the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon (7th in 1984; 8th in 1988). Meyer’s PR of 2:09:00 still ranks No. 9 on the all-time U.S. list. Photo: PhotoRun.net
7. Johnny J. Kelley, 2:20:14, Eight-time U.S. Championships Winner
Johnny J. Kelley was America’s most dominant marathoner of the late 1950s and early 1960s, winning eight straight U.S. titles at the Yonkers Marathon, the 1957 Boston Marathon (2:20:05), a 19th-place finish in the 1956 Olympics and a 21st-place showing in the 1960 Olympics. He also lowered the American record three times in less than four years, including his 2:20:14 in 1960. He also had 10 top-10 efforts in Boston in an 11-year span, including five runner-up showings. But some of his strongest Boston races came later in life, including his 2:58:35 at the age of 53. As a coach, Kelley guided Amby Burfoot to the 1968 Boston Marathon title and also coached Julia Chase, the first woman to successfully challenge the gender barrier of the Amateur Athletic Union. “The entire American running boom traces a straight line to him, and the road he explored,” Burfoot said upon Kelley’s death. (Photo Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.)
6. Ryan Hall, 2:06:17, 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon Champion, 10th place, 2008 Olympic Marathon
Hall will always be remembered for his blazing 2:04:58 effort en route to a fourth-place at the 2011 Boston Marathon in one of the fastest marathons ever run. Yes, there was a tailwind that day, but consider that Hall’s effort was 3:40 faster than Meb Keflezighi’s winning time three years later. Hall’s best time on a record-legal course is the 2:06:17 he ran at the 2008 London Marathon, an effort that makes him the second-fastest marathoner in U.S. history behind Khalid Khannouchi and well-head of Dathan Ritizenhein (2:07:47) in third place. Hall has a win and a runner-up showing at his first two U.S. Olympic Trials Marathons, five top-5 (or better) performances at World Marathon Majors, as well as a 10th-place finish in the 2008 Olympic Marathon in Beijing. What will his legacy be as marathoner? Time will tell, and perhaps sooner than later. He’s broken 2:10 on five occasions, but he’s only finished one marathon since placing second at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon. (Photo: Scott Draper)
5. Alberto Salazar, 2:08:52, New York City Marathon Champion, 1980-1982, Boston Marathon Champion, 1982
Although his marathon career burned brightly, it also burned out fairly quickly. But between 1980 and 1983, Salazar was the best in the world, with three wins in New York and his epic battle with Dick Beardsley at Boston in 1982. He lost what could have been a world record in 1981 (2:08:13), when it was later discovered the New York course was 148 meters short. He didn’t lose for the first time in the marathon until his fifth race in (1982 Rotterdam Marathon, fifth place, 2:10:08) and then had a possible American record nullified when he ran 2:09:21 while placing fifth at Fukuoka in 1982. (Although it was never credited as a record because of a paperwork problem, no American ran faster on a record-legal course until 2000 and he still ranks No. 6 on the all-time U.S. list as of 2015.) Salazar rebounded to place second in the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon (2:11:44) and placed a disappointing 15th in scorching hot conditions at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles (2:14:19). Although he attempted a comeback for the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, he never again ran a competitive marathon. (Photo: PhotoRun.net)
4. Khalid Khannouchi, 2:05:38, London Marathon Champion, 2002, Chicago Marathon Champion, 2000-2002
The Moroccan-born Khannouchi is by far the fastest marathoner in American history, both in terms of his 2:05:38 that’s lasted more than 12 years and the fact that he broke 2:06 twice on record-legal courses (the first runner in history to do so). Khannouchi moved to New York at age 21 but didn’t become a U.S. citizen until 2000, after he broke the world record for the first time (2:05:42, 1999 Chicago Marathon). He won Chicago two more times while he was a U.S. citizen and broke his own world record (2:05:38) while winning London in 2002. Although he shined in the Chicago Marathon (four wins, one runner-up finish) during his career, the closest he came to making an Olympic team was in November 2007, when he placed a distant fourth (2:12:34) in the U.S. Olympic Trials in New York City. (Photo: PhotoRun.net)
3. Bill Rodgers, 2:09:27, Boston Marathon Champion, 1975, 1978-1980, New York City Marathon Champion, 1977-1980
From 1975 to 1980, Rodgers was the world’s most dominant marathoner, winning the Boston Marathon and New York City Marathon four times apiece—a feat that still hasn’t been matched—and also winning races in Japan, Canada and the Netherlands. During his career, he twice lowered the American record in Boston—2:09:55 in 1975 and a 2:09:27 in 1979—won 21 marathons and was ranked the No. 1 marathoner in the world three times. Of the 59 marathons Rodgers ran, 28 were run under 2:15. Perhaps most remarkably, “Boston Billy” ran 2:20 or faster in Boston from 1974-1990 and placed as high as fourth (2:13:26) in 1986 at the age of 38. Rodgers also placed second at the 1976 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon—2:11:58, seven seconds behind winner Frank Shorter—and 8th at the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials in Buffalo, N.Y. His PR still ranks him No. 10 on the all-time U.S. list. (Photo: PhotoRun.net)
2. Meb Keflezighi, 2:08:37, 2004 Olympic Silver Medalist, 2009 New York City Marathon, 2014 Boston Marathon Champion
We know Meb is the only runner in history to have won the New York City Marathon, Boston Marathon and also earned an Olympic medal. And that rare feat—and the fact that he did it in the uber-competitive 21st century —is what boosted him to No. 2 on our all-time list of American marathoners. Keep in mind he nearly medaled in the 2012 Olympic marathon (fourth), won the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in record time and owns a several other top-10 finishes in Boston, New York and Chicago. His 2:08:37 PR puts him at No. 4 on the all-time U.S. list behind Khalid Khannouchi, Ryan Hall and Dathan Ritzenhein. Perhaps the most amazing thing about Meb is his longevity. He’s run faster than 2:10 seven times, covering a span from 2004-2014 Can he make the 2016 U.S. Olympic team at age 40 in February 2016? We’ll find out next February in Los Angeles. (Photo: PhotoRun.net)
1. Frank Shorter, 2:10:30, 1972 Olympic Gold Medalist, 1976 Olympic Silver Medalist
No matter how you slice it, Frank Shorter is still tops on the all-time list of American marathoners. Winning Olympic gold and nearly repeating it four years later (not to mention winning two U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon titles) is a body of work that has not been matched by another American, before or since. That he also earned a gold medal at the 1971 Pan Am Games, won the Fukuoka Marathon in Japan four straight times from 1971-1974 (at a time when that race was considered the most prestigious in the world) and was ranked as the country’s No. 1 marathoner five times only add to his status. Although he won numerous other road races and several national titles on the track, Shorter never did win any big city marathon titles in the U.S. However, he did lower the U.S. record to 2:10:30 at Fukuoka in 1972 and held it for more than three years. (Photo: PhotoRun.net)