British women have been very successful at the IAU 100km World Championships, taking seven gold medals, two silvers and six bronzes. They stand second in the medals table behind Russia who have won 19 medals. GB have won the team competition twice, placed second three times and third once.
When Ellie Greenwood took her second win in 2014, she was following in the footsteps of two other British women who had won the Championships twice: Eleanor Adams Robinson (1990 and 1991) and Carolyn Hunter-Rowe (1993 and 1998). The other British winner is Lizzie Hawker who was the 2006 champion.
International Association of Ultrarunners Championships
The International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) was established in 1984 as ultrarunning was beginning to gain in popularity in Europe and the USA.
Today, the IAU holds World Championship 100km, 50km, 24 Hours road races and a trail race of varying distances according to the course. The 100km is the longest-established of these championships, having been held most years since 1987. In the late eighties and early nineties there were attempts to get the distance included in the IAAF World Championships, the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics. None of these were successful but the IAAF did recognise the IAU’s 100km Championships from 1990. The IAU describes the 100km as ‘our “flagship” since the IAAF officially sanctions this distance and also ratifies 100 km world records.’
The IAU also organises area championships for some of the events. Many of the runners mentioned in this article have also competed at the IAU 100km European Championships which have been held since 1992.
The 30th IAU 100km World Championships were held in Croatia in 2018. Now a biennial event, the 2020 Championships were due to be held in Winschoten in the Netherlands in September but have been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
British Women’s 100km World Championship medals
Carolyn Hunter-Rowe’s time from 1993 remains the British 100km record. It’s not really possible to compare performances based on times only, as there has been a significant variation in the difficulty of the courses. The three fastest women’s times in the World Championships, all under 7 hours 9 minutes, have been set at Winschoten in the Netherlands which has a flat, traffic-free 10km loop. Doha in 2014 was a 5km loop with 35 feet of ascent. In contrast, the 100km Del Passatore race in Italy, which Eleanor Adams won in 1991, has over 1,000 metres of ascent, starting in Florence, crossing the Apennines, reaching 913m at the highest point, before descending to Faenza.
Eleanor Adams (b.1947) was the first British woman to compete at the 100km World Championships when she took Bronze in 1988 at Santander in Spain (8:07:38). By that point her reputation was already firmly established as one of the world’s top ultramarathoners. In 1990, when she won the World Championships for the first time, she held over 40 world bests. She is the only woman to have successfully defended the title, winning again in 1991, when Great Britain also won the team competition. Eleanor Adams remarried in December 1990 becoming Eleanor Robinson. She was selected to represent GB again in 1995, 1997 and 1998. After retiring from ultrarunning, she served as a team manager for British Athletics for 100km Championships. Read more about her performances here.
Hilary Walker (b.1953) is the British female athlete who has competed at the most 100km World Championships and over the longest period. After her Bronze medal at Rambouillet in 1989 (8:21:51), she competed a further ten times, in 1991-94, 1997-2000, 2002 and 2003. Her fastest time in the World Championships was 7:58:11 at Tourhout, Belgium in 1993, shortly before her 40th birthday. 1992-3 were her peak ultrarunning years and she ran her best 100km time in 1993, 7:50.09 at the IAU 100km European Championships. This performance still stands at tenth in the UK rankings. Hilary Walker is the General Secretary of the IAU.
Carolyn Hunter-Rowe (b.1964) impressed the ultrarunning community when she finished third at the 1992 100km World Championships in Palamos, Spain, in her debut at the distance. It was only her second year of ultrarunning. Her winning time, 7:27:19, at Tourhout in Belgium the following year remains the British record. Her second win at the 1998 World Championships in Japan was her best race experience, as she knew from the 90km mark that she had a good lead and was going to win the race. After retiring from ultrarunning, Carolyn Hunter-Rowe served as a team manager for British Athletics for 100km Championships.
Scottish runner Trudi Thomson (b.1959) competed at the 100km World Championships twice. In 1993, she finished 9th in 8:12:05. A year later she ran nearly 30 minutes faster, 7:42:17, at Lake Saroma, Japan to take Silver. This was a Scottish record and is still the 6th best performance in the UK rankings. It was her third and last 100km performance.
Lizzie Hawker (b.1976) is best known for mountain running but has also excelled at long-distance road and track events. She was selected for the GB 100km team after winning the Barry 40 Miles track race in 2005, her first track race since school. Her 2006 win at the World Championships in Misari, South Korea, was her 100km debut. Her time of 7:28:56 remains the second best British performance. Hawker took Bronze in 2010 when Ellie Greenwood won Gold. The women’s team won Gold that year.
Ellie Greenwood (b.1979) is a Scot who grew up in the UK but has spent most of her adult life in Canada. She races mainly in the USA and Canada. The 2010 World Championships in Gibraltar were Greenwood’s first road 100km race and her first time representing Great Britain. Despite experiencing hamstring problems from 55km, she rallied and went on to win the race. In 2011, Greenwood returned to defend her title, but was forced to withdraw at 90km due to sickness. Her race experience was much better in 2014 in Doha, Qatar, where she again took Gold. Eleanor Robinson was part of the GB management team for the event. The women’s team won Gold in 2010 and 2014.
Within a year of starting ultrarunning, Joasia Zakrzewski (b.1976) had been selected for the GB 100km team at the 2011 World Championships at Winschoten where she took Silver (7:41:06). In 2014, she took Bronze (7:41:55), helping to secure team Gold for the Great Britain. In 2015, at Winschoten again, she finished fifth in 7:31:33, her fastest time at a World Championships and a personal best by almost ten minutes. This race also hosted the European Championships in which she won Bronze. Zakrzewski’s fourth World Championships was 2016, at Los Alcazares in Spain. She was the sole British competitor that year, winning Bronze with a time of 7:41:48. It is notable that Zakrzewski’s time have been remarkably consistent over the four races. Joasia Zakrzewski was a team manager at the 2018 World Championships.
British team medals
In the early editions of the event there were no team medals. The team competition was introduced in 1990. That year Great Britain sent four men to the Championships and one woman, Eleanor Robinson. GB has not always fielded full teams. This may be because not enough runners met the qualifying standards. Sometimes injury prevented runners who had been selected from competing. There were several years where Britain did not have the three female women finishers required for a team.
There have been 13 occasions on which Great Britain has had three female finishers. British women have won team Gold three times, Silver twice and Bronze once.
1991, Faenza, Italy – Gold – Eleanor Adams, Susan Ashley, Hilary Walker
1992, Palamos, Spain – Silver – Carolyn Hunter-Rowe, Sylvia Watson, Hilary Walker
1993, Tourhout, Belgium – Silver – Carolyn Hunter-Rowe, Hilary Walker, Trudi Thomson
1994, Saroma, Japan – Bronze – Trudi Thomson, Carolyn Hunter-Rowe, Sylvia Watson
2010, Gibraltar – Gold – Ellie Greenwood, Lizzie Hawker, Emily Gelder
2014, Doha, Qatar – Gold – Ellie Greenwood, Joasia Zakrzewski, Jo Meek
Susan Ashley also competed in 1992 and 1993.
Sylvia Watson also competed in 1993 and 1998.
Emily Gelder also competed in 2012 and 2014.
Other British finishers
The other British women who have finished 100km World Championships races are:
Sharon Gayter (1996, 1997-2000, 2003)
Helen Diamantides (1997)
Danielle Sanderson (2001, 2003)
Heather Foundling-Hawker (2006, 2009)
Lucy Colquhuon, Emma Gooderham, Adela Salt (2008)
Sandra Bowers (2009)
Susan Harrison (2011, 2015, 2018)
Karen Rushton (2011, 2012)
Samantha Amend, Carla Molinaro (2018)
It may be that the high number of women meeting the selection criteria for the GB team is one of the factors that has contributed to the success of British women in this event. I will look into this in more depth in a subsequent article.
Read more about key races in Eleanor Robinson’s ultrarunning career:
International Association of Ultrarunners newsletters
Profile of Trudi Thomson, September 2015, Scottish Distance Running History website.
Women’s all-time 100km rankings, RunBritain rankings website.
Ultra Marathon Statistics, Deutsche Ultramarathon Vereinigung website.
British Athletics, Power of 10 website.
(For two of Joasia Zakrzewski’s races, DUV records two different times. I have used the time recorded on Power of 10.)
Results and medals tables, IAU 100km World Championships, Wikipedia.
Beyond the Marathon, an article by Carolyn Hunter-Rowe, December 2008, Dumfries Running Club website.
Interview with Lizzy Hawker, June 2013, Ian Corless’s website
Reports on 2010 and 2014 World Championship races, Ellie Greenwood’s blog.
Interviews with Ellie Greenwood: Running Stupid podcast, December 2010; Marathon Talk podcast May 2011 and May 2014.
Reports on 2014, 2015 and 2016 World Championships, Joasia Zakrzewski’s blog.
With thanks to Eleanor Robinson for lending me copies of the IAU Newsletters and to Adrian Stott, member of the British Athletics Ultrarunning Advisory Group for information on GB team selection.
Eleanor Robinson after her 1991 victory in Faenza from the cover of the IAU Newsletter, Summer 1991
Eleanor Robinson and Hilary Walker in 1997 from the cover of the IAU Newsletter, September 1997
Carolyn-Hunter Rowe on her victory in the 1998 Championships in Japan from the cover the IAU Newsletter, December 1998
Lizzie Hawker competing at the 2011 Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc, Pete Aylward https://www.flickr.com/photos/peteaylward/ under Creative Commons License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/
Doha 2014 team photo courtesy of Ellie Greenwood.