2016 New York City Marathon

The Stories Behind The 10 Best American Female Marathon Debuts

The Stories Behind The 10 Best American Female Marathon Debuts

Molly Huddle's marathon debut in New York City lands her the No. 6 fastest debut made by an American woman. How does her performance stack up against other marathon greats?

Nov 9, 2016 by Taylor Dutch
The Stories Behind The 10 Best American Female Marathon Debuts
On Sunday, Molly Huddle made her marathon debut and after a "long grind" placed third in a time of 2:28:13 at the New York City Marathon. Compared to other marathon greats, Huddle's performance ranks No. 6 on the list of the fastest marathon debuts by American women. 

Rank Athlete Time Place/Year
1 Kara Goucher 2:25:53 New York 2008
2 Deena Kastor 2:26:58 New York 2001
3 Amy Hastings Cragg 2:27:03 Los Angeles 2011
4 Marla Runyan 2:27:10 New York 2002
5 Renee Metivier-Baillie 2:27:17 Chicago 2012
6 Molly Huddle 2:28:13 New York 2016
7 Laura Thweatt 2:28:23 New York 2015
8 Kellyn Taylor 2:28:40 Houston 2015
9 Shalane Flanagan 2:28:40 New York 2010
10 Clara Grandt Santucci 2:29:54 Boston 2011

Huddle's performance ends a year in which the distance star won the 5K and 10K at the Olympic Trials and finished sixth in the 10K at the Olympic Games in Rio. In the same exciting race where Ethiopia's Almaz Ayana broke the world record to win gold, Huddle ran an American record of 30:13.17, which shattered Shalane Flanagan's previous mark. Huddle's race results from the year help tell the short story of how she accomplished her best Olympic result, an American record, and a podium finish in her first marathon. (All results courtesy of Tilastopaja).

Molly Huddle Finish Event Site Date
3000 m
9:00.82     SB (43)
1 Millrose New York NY 20 Feb
5000 m
14:57.31i     ​PB (2)
2 Millrose New York NY 20 Feb
14:48.14     ​SB (22)
11 Pre Eugene OR 27 May
15:26.33 1h2 NC Eugene OR 7 Jul
15:05.01 1 NC Eugene OR 10 Jul
10000 m
31:41.62     SB 1 NC Eugene OR 2 Jul
30:13.17   AR  PB (6) 6 OG Río de Janeiro 12 Aug
5 km
15:14     SB 1 BAA Boston MA 16 Apr
Half Marathon
67:41     PB (13) 1 New York NY 20 Mar

Every year leading up to a marathon debut tells a specific story. For all of the women on the all-time debut list, their yearly race results helped lead to historic moments in the marathon distance. 

1. Kara Goucher

Kara Goucher ran her debut at the 2008 New York City Marathon in a third-place finish of 2:25:53--the fastest marathon debut by an American woman. The result was first of many impressive 26.2 performances for Goucher, including three top-six Boston Marathon finishes, ninth place at the 2009 world championships, 10th at the 2012 Olympic Games, and fourth at the 2016 Olympic Trials. Prior to her debut, Goucher finished ninth in the 5K and 10K at the Olympic Games in Beijing. She went on to finish on the podium in New York City--the city where she was born and the site of a turning point in her career. 

Watch: Kara Goucher DRIVEN Trailer:

"It totally changed my life. Running the marathon exposed me to a whole new fan base. I was able to relate to thousands more people. I entered into this community that I didn't really even know existed, even though I had already been running professionally for so many years. It gave me more notoriety in the sport. It opened a lot of doors," Goucher told Runner's World ahead of Sunday's race. 

2008 Race Results:

Kara Goucher Finish Event Site Date
1500 m
4:06.17     SB (34) 1r1 Jerome Burnaby 21 Jun
One Mile
4:36.03i     PB (20) 1 Millrose New York NY 1 Feb
3000 m
8:57.53i     PB (26) 6 Norw Union Birmingham 16 Feb
9:00.53     SB (54) 4 Adidas Carson CA 18 May
5000 m
15:33.25     SB 1r2 OregonR Eugene OR 25 Apr
14:58.10     SB (22) 3 Pre Eugene OR 8 Jun
15:32.22 1h2 NC Eugene OR 30 Jun
15:01.02 1 NC Eugene OR 4 Jul
15:00.98 7h2 OG Beijing 19 Aug
15:49.39 9 OG Beijing 22 Aug
10000 m
31:26.48     SB 1 Border Duel Portland OR 31 May
31:37.72 2 NC Eugene OR 27 Jun
30:55.16     PB (12) 9 OG Beijing 15 Aug
10 miles
53:16     PB 1 NC St. Paul MN 5 Oct
2:25:53     PB (27) 3 ING New York NY 3 Nov

2. Deena Kastor 

Deena Kastor made her marathon debut in 2001, one year after competing in her first of three Olympic Games. During the summer of 2001, Kastor finished 11th in the 10K at the world championships and ended her season with a seventh-place finish of 2:26:58 in her debut at the New York City Marathon. 

Kastor's performance proved to be a breakthrough moment in her career as she went on to earn bronze at the 2004 Olympic Games, claim 10 top-10 finishes at World Marathon Major races, and set the American record with a 2:19:36 victory at the 2006 London Marathon. 

2001 Race Results: 

Deena Kastor Finish Event Site Date
2000 m
5:42.76     PB (5) 4 NA Heusden 14 Jul
3000 m
8:45.77      (30) 9 Herc Monaco 20 Jul
5000 m
15:08.02      (28) 5 DNG Stockholm 17 Jul
10000 m
32:05.14      (47) 1 NC Eugene OR 23 Jun
32:18.65 11 WC Edmonton 7 Aug
Half Marathon
70:08     PB (34) 1 Virginia Beach VA 2 Sep
2:26:58     PB (38) 7 New York NY 4 Nov

3. Amy Hastings Cragg

Amy Hastings Cragg made her marathon debut at the Los Angeles Marathon in March 2011. She finished second in her first 26.2 attempt in 2:27:03, which still stands as her personal best in the event. That same year, Cragg made her first world championship team on the track when she finished second in the 5K at the USATF Outdoor Championships. She went on to place 14th in Daegu, South Korea, in September. 

In the following years, Cragg continued to grow as one of the top marathoners in the United States. She finished a heartbreaking fourth at the 2012 Olympic Trials but was able to return and make the Olympic team on the track in the 10K. In 2013, Cragg competed in the 10K at the world championships in Moscow where she placed 14th. In 2014, Cragg tied her marathon personal best when she finished fourth at the Chicago Marathon. 

2016 proved to be a breakthrough year for Cragg when she joined the Bowerman Track Club and began training with Shalane Flanagan. Together, the training partners qualified for the Olympic Games when Cragg won the Olympic Trials and returned to hug Flanagan as she crossed the line in third, exhausted from the heat. 

2011 Race Results: 

Amy Cragg Finish Event Site Date
5000 m
15:19.61     PB 1 Portland OR 11 Jun
15:14.31     PB (40) 2 NC Eugene OR 24 Jun
15:15.30 10 Areva Saint-Denis 8 Jul
15:15.56 5 KBC-Nacht Heusden 16 Jul
15:29.84 3 Lignano 19 Jul
15:17.22 7 Aviva London 6 Aug
15:29.49 6h1 WC Daegu 30 Aug
15:56.06 14 WC Daegu 2 Sep
5 km
16:34     SB 5 BAA Boston MA 17 Apr
16:07     PB (45) 6 New York NY 5 Nov
10 km
34:20A     SB (370) 4 Dick's Boulder CO 30 May
Half Marathon
74:07     SB 8 NC Houston TX 29 Jan
71:22     SB (107) 2 Zappos.com Las Vegas NV 4 Dec
2:27:03     PB (84) 2 Honda Los Angeles CA 20 Mar
12 km
40:54     PB 10 Bloomsday Spokane WA 1 May

4. Marla Runyan 

Marla Runyan, a legally blind Olympian who finished eighth in the 1500m at the 2000 Olympic Games, made her marathon debut two years later at the 2002 New York City Marathon with a fifth-place finish in 2:27:10. In the same year, Runyan ran a 1500m personal best of 4:02 at the Rome Diamond League meeting, a 8:39 3K PR at the Prefontaine Classic and won the 5K at the USATF Outdoor Championships. 

After her debut, Runyan went on to place fifth at the 2003 Boston Marathon, seventh at the 2004 Chicago Marathon, and ninth in the 5K semifinal of the 2004 Athens Olympics, her second and final Games. 

2002 Race Results: 

Marla Runyan Finish Event Site Date
1500 m
4:07.86     SB 9 Gaz Saint-Denis 5 Jul
4:02.95     PB (19) 6 GGala Roma 12 Jul
3000 m
8:39.36     PB (14) 1 Pre Eugene OR 26 May
8:46.67 2 Norw Union Sheffield 30 Jun
5000 m
15:13.96     SB 2 Adidas Portland OR 18 May
15:07.19     SB (28) 1 NC Stanford CA 22 Jun
15:18.36 4 NA Heusden 20 Jul
10 miles
53:37     PB 5 Washington DC 7 Apr
5 km
15:27     PB (16) 1 Albany NY 1 Jun
10 km
31:46     PB (22) 1 NC Boston MA 14 Oct
Half Marathon
71:19     PB (74) 2 Philadelphia PA 15 Sep
2:27:10     PB (47) 5 New York NY 3 Nov

5. Renee Metivier Baillie

Renee Metivier Baillie catapulted onto the all-time list when she finished sixth at the 2012 Chicago Marathon in 2:27:17. A known cross country talent, Baillie has competed on five world cross country teams. In the same year, she won the USATF 20K championships and placed fourth at the USATF Cross Country Championships. Unfortunately, Baillie suffered an Achilles injury and underwent surgery in 2013 to repair it. She returned to the competitive racing scene in 2014 when she placed fourth at the California International Marathon. She hasn't competed in a marathon since. 

2012 Race Results: 

Renee Baillie Finish Event Site Date
3000 m
8:59.39     PB (56) 10 Pre Eugene OR 2 Jun
5000 m
16:04.51 OTi     SB (31) 2 Wash Inv Seattle WA 27 Jan
15:28.56     SB (82) 1 Track Fest Portland OR 9 Jun
16:01.47 9h1 OT Eugene OR 25 Jun
10 km
32:31     PB (62) 5 Cape Elizabeth ME 4 Aug
20 km
67:08     PB 1 NC New Haven CT 3 Sep
2:27:17     PB (77) 6 Bank of Am Chicago IL 7 Oct
Cross Country 8.0 km
27:22.4h 4 NC St. Louis MO 11 Feb
7 miles
37:43     PB 8 Falmouth MA 12 Aug

7. Laura Thweatt

Laura Thweatt shocked the world when she made her debut at the 2015 New York City Marathon with a seventh-place finish in 2:28:23. The performance marked a happy end to a tumultuous year

Prior to New York, the cross country talent captured the USATF championship title and finished 29th at the world championships despite suffering from a stress reaction in her foot. After the world championships, Thweatt injured her knee as a result of a car accident and was forced to sit out for the majority of the 2015 track season. She regained her health throughout the summer and started to build her fitness with road races leading up to New York, highlighted by a half-marathon victory in Virginia Beach. 

In 2016, Thweatt returned to the track where she claimed a then world leading and 10K personal best of 31:52 at the Stanford Invitational. She went on to place fifth in the 10K at the Olympic Trials. 

2015 Race Results: 

Laura Thweatt Finish Event Site Date
10 miles
53:14     PB 4 NC Minneapolis MN 4 Oct
10 km
33:19     SB (172) 7 Cape Elizabeth ME 1 Aug
15 km
50:50     PB 2 Jacksonville FL 15 Mar
Half Marathon
72:59     SB (293) 1 Virginia Beach VA 6 Sep
2:28:23     PB (106) 7 TCS New York NY 1 Nov
Cross Country 6.0 km
19:52 2 Club Ch San Francisco CA 12 Dec
Cross Country 8.0 km
27:42A 1 NC Boulder CO 7 Feb
28:49 29 WC Qingzhen 28 Mar

8. Kellyn Taylor

The NAZ Elite stunner only has two marathon races to her name, but she has been consistent in both. Taylor made her marathon debut with a sixth-place finish in 2:28:40 at the 2015 Houston Marathon. Her second marathon took place at the 2016 Olympic Trials when she finished sixth in 2:32:49, battling hot conditions on the Los Angeles course.

The year of Taylor's first marathon began with an attempt at the 26.2-mile distance and started a series of breakthroughs. After January's race, Taylor went on to set a 10K PR of 32:29, finish seventh in the 5K at the USATF Outdoor Championships, and claim a half-marathon personal best of 71:01. 

2015 Race Results: 

Kellyn Taylor Finish Event Site Date
5000 m
15:42.24     SB 1 Shoreline WA 27 May
15:32.04     SB (94) 7 NC Eugene OR 28 Jun
15:52.78 3 PAG Toronto 21 Jul
16:24.86A 1 NACAC San José 9 Aug
10000 m
32:29.88     PB (98) 22 Jordan Stanford CA 2 May
10 miles
54:37     SB 7 NC Minneapolis MN 4 Oct
10 km
33:21     SB 1 Richmond VA 28 Mar
33:50 3 Green Bay WI 13 Jun
34:15 4 Northport NY 19 Sep
33:14     SB (160) 11 Tufts Boston MA 12 Oct
15 km
52:20     SB 10 Jacksonville FL 15 Mar
Half Marathon
71:46     PB 4 San Diego CA 31 May
71:01     PB (112) 4 Philadelphia PA 31 Oct
73:20 5 San Antonio TX 6 Dec
2:28:40     PB (113) 6 Aramco Houston TX 18 Jan
Cross Country 6.0 km
21:33 2 Barranquilla 22 Feb
Cross Country 8.0 km
28:40A 8 NC Boulder CO 7 Feb

9. Shalane Flanagan

Prior to making her marathon debut in 2010, Shalane Flanagan competed in two Olympic Games, highlighted by an Olympic bronze medal and then-American record in the 10K at the 2008 Games in Beijing. By 2010, Flanagan was ready for a new challenge in the form of 26.2 miles. 

"When I expressed that I maybe wanted to leave the track behind and take the marathon more seriously, people said I was crazy, because I had just won a bronze medal," Flanagan told Runner's World. "But I thought, 'How am I going to top that? I just set a personal best, an American record, and won a medal. I can't top that. I'd be chasing a unicorn.' The marathon seemed like a great challenge. I felt deep down I was meant to be a marathoner more so than a track runner."

Watch: Shalane Flanagan DRIVEN Series Trailer:

In her first marathon, Flanagan placed second in 2:28:40 on the streets of New York City. It was the first of many historic runs for the four-time Olympian. In 2012, Flanagan placed ninth at the Olympic Games. From 2013 to 2015, she clocked three top-10 finishes at the Boston Marathon. In 2014, she hit a personal best of 2:21:14 on her way to finishing third in Berlin. Most recently, she finished sixth at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. 

2010 Race Results: 

Shalane Flanagan Finish Event Site Date
1500 m
4:10.24     SB 3 High Perf Eagle Rock CA 22 May
4:08.03     SB 2 Eugene OR 29 May
4:06.44     SB (41) 9 adidas New York NY 12 Jun
4:11.94 2h1 NC Des Moines IA 24 Jun
4:19.56 11 NC Des Moines IA 26 Jun
5000 m
15:04.23     SB 2 Jordan Stanford CA 1 May
14:49.08     SB (19) 2 Pre Eugene OR 3 Jul
Half Marathon
69:41     PB 1 NC Houston TX 17 Jan
68:37     PB (18) 4 ING Philadelphia PA 19 Sep
2:28:40     PB (80) 2 ING New York NY 7 Nov
Cross Country 8.0 km
25:10 1 NC Spokane WA 13 Feb
25:20 12 WC Bydgoszcz 28 Mar

10. Clara Grandt Santucci

Clara Grandt Santucci ran her first marathon at the 2011 Boston Marathon where she placed 16th in 2:29:54. Santucci's run took place just one year after she graduated as an All-American from West Virginia. It was a performance that eventually led to a seventh-place finish at the 2012 Olympic Trials and two top-seven finishes at the Chicago Marathon.

2011 Race Results: 

Clara Santucci Finish Event Site Date
5000 m
16:25.19i     SB (63) 1 SFG Morgantown WV 22 Jan
10000 m
33:27.04     SB (183) 2 Bloomington IN 29 Oct
15 km
50:34     PB 4 NC Jacksonville FL 12 Mar
20 km
69:05     SB 2 NC New Haven CT 5 Sep
Half Marathon
73:13     PB (239) 6 NC Houston TX 29 Jan
2:29:54     PB (131) 16 BAA Boston MA 18 Apr
7 miles
39:36     PB 8 Davenport IA 30 Jul
38:18     PB 10 Falmouth MA 14 Aug