On International Women’s Day: 5 Female Runners who Inspire Me

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is “Be Bold for Change” and this sense of boldness is particularly evident among some of the female runners currently taking the ultra running world by storm. There are very few sports where women compete directly against men, and even elite marathon fields are generally kept separate; however in ultra running women not only stand on the same start line as the men, but are often beating them too.

Strange to think that only 50 years ago it was thought that women were incapable of running a marathon, let alone further. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Kathrine Switzer’s historic first female entry in the Boston marathon (it was not until 1972 that women were officially allowed to compete).

At that time it was thought that any sort of distance running might cause a woman’s uterus to fall out or result in her growing hair on her chest. Thankfully these myths have been well and truly dispelled and female endurance athletes are achieving both superb race performances and incredible endurance adventures. Here are 5 female runners whose endeavours inspire me:

Jasmin Paris

Jasmin Paris
Jasmin during her Bob Graham Round (photo: inov-8)

Although she only started running in 2008 after leaving university, Jasmin Paris is now one of the stars of the fell and ultra running worlds. On rough and technical ground she has shown herself to be the equal of the top male fell runners, finishing 2nd overall in the 2015 Dragon’s Back Race. However, it was in 2016 that Jasmin really demonstrated her talent, completing all three of the big British fell running “rounds” with two women’s records and one overall fastest record. She smashed the women’s record for the Bob Graham Round finishing with a time of 15 hrs 24 minutes; the 6th fastest ever and within 90 minutes of Billy Bland’s astonishing record time. She then completed the Ramsay Round (in Scotland) in an overall fastest time of 16 hours 3 minutes, before breaking the women’s record for the Paddy Buckley Round (in Wales) with a time of 18 hours 33 minutes.

Why she inspires me…

  • Her powerful running and steely competitiveness
  • Her permanent smile and sense of joy at being able to run in the mountains

Nicky Spinks

Nicky Spinks (photo: inov-8)

Who could fail to be inspired by Nicky Spinks? She beat breast cancer to return to fell running and dominate the sport, taking the women’s records for the Bob Graham (2012 and 2015), Ramsay (2014) and Paddy Buckley (2013) Rounds, as well as winning numerous fell and ultra races. In 2016 she became the fastest person ever to complete a double Bob Graham round, finishing in 45 hours and 30 minutes. The BMC film of her 2015 Bob Graham record attempt is a lesson for all runners on how to push yourself to the edge in pursuit of your goals. Nicky has also been extremely open about her battle with cancer and has raised thousands of pounds for the charity Odyssey, which seeks to improve the quality of life of people with cancer.

Why she inspires me…

  • Her ability to push herself to her limits and get the best out of herself
  • Her humility, and insistence that if she can do these things anyone can

Shelli Gordon

Shelli Gordon (photo by the Ultra Runner Store)

North-east based Shelli Gordon has a long list of wins and course records to her name at distances from marathon to 160 miles. Instantly recognisable with her plaits and flower in her hair, she has not only notched up numerous female race wins, but also the overall win at the Lyke Wake Race (2012) and Hardmoors 160 (2015). I won’t forget seeing Shelli belting down a descent in the 60 mile Ultra Tour of the Peak District in 2015, while also finding the time to smile and encourage every one of the runners heading the other way (we were about 9 miles behind her at the time!).

Why she inspires me…

  • Her ability to glide through races looking as serene at mile 100 as she does at mile 1
  • Her encouragement to younger racers and those less talented than herself!

Mimi Anderson

Marvellous Mimi (photo from her website)

Marvellous Mimi started running at 36 following a long battle with anorexia. Since then she has accomplished not just superb race performances, but also some incredible feats of endurance. She specialises in running very long distances in extreme environments, from the deserts to the jungle, high mountains and the freezing Arctic. In 2007 Mimi was the outright winner of the 6633 Ultra (a 352 mile non-stop self-sufficient race in the Arctic), setting a course record that has not yet been beaten. In 2012, she became the fastest person to run the length of Ireland, averaging 100 miles a day to complete the 345 miles in just over 3 days. In 2014 she ran the length of South Africa, raising over £26,000 for a Save the Children project to support local young women. Not to mention her record breaking John O’Groats to Land’s End run, Double Badwater, Double Spartathlon or Double Grand Union Canal Race…

Why she inspires me…

  • Her honesty about her battles with anorexia and her use of running to focus on a strong and healthy body image
  • Her ability to endure and perform in some of the toughest environments in the world

Elise Downing

Elise running the coast (photo from her website)

Elise hopefully will not mind me saying that she is not an elite ultrarunner… She is however a living embodiment of what the average runner can achieve if we dare to have big dreams. From November 2015 to September 2016, Elise ran 5000 miles around the coast of Britain, carrying everything she needed in her rucksack and raising over £10,000 for the charities Young Minds and Beyond Food in the process. She also demonstrated that ordinary people can get out and have big adventures, and we don’t even need to leave the country to do so. Plus, she single-handedly showcased Britain’s best cakes along the way.

Why she inspires me…

  • Her bravery in taking that big leap out of the normal everyday world to undertake such an amazing adventure
  • Her desire to show the reality of adventure: the tears, injuries and hard graft, as well as the blue skies and amazing views


Female long distance running has come a long way in the 50 years since Kathrine Switzer’s historic run. It is inspiring to see the performances of those throughout the field at ultra races, as well as the elite female runners who are now taking on the men, and often winning!

An official tries to remove Kathrine Switzer from the 1967 Boston marathon (photo by the Boston Herald)











7 thoughts on “On International Women’s Day: 5 Female Runners who Inspire Me

  1. Great list! I met Nicki Spinks at the Kendal Mountain Festival and also listened to Jasmin Paris’ presentation of her film there. They are two amazing and very inspiring women. It was quite interesting that Jasmin Paris got a question about feminism in running and she basically said it doesn’t matter to her if she is a woman or a man, she is good and anyone can be if they put in the effort.


    1. That must have been really interesting. I think that they are both being interviewed at the Keswick Mountain Festival this year. Sadly don’t think I will be able to go but it would be great to hear them speak together as I suspect their perspectives are quite different.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the post . . . now I better go and check out all those links! I’ve only heard of Elise before (I’m not a runner), so it’ll be fun to learn more about the others.


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