Catherine Ndereba is one of the most accomplished female distance runners in history. Her nickname of “Catherine the Great” is well earned. The 37-year-old Kenyan has amassed an impressive five Olympic and world championships medals at the marathon distance-none of them bronze. Although she is now in the autumn of her career, Ndereba has shown no signs yet of slowing down and is expected to perform at her usual brilliant level at the ING Philadelphia Distance Run on Sunday.
Ndereba had no role models to nurture dreams of becoming a great runner as she grew up in rural Kenya through the 1970s and ’80s. It wasn’t until the early ’90s that Kenyan women runners began to compete-and win-internationally as their male compatriots had done for some time. Ndereba had to wait until she was 23 years old to get her first taste of competition outside of her homeland, and she took full advantage of it. In her first full season of international road racing Ndereba won 13 races and reached the No. 2 spot in USA Track & Field’s World Road Running Rankings.
Ndereba seemed on her way toward greatness, but she had her own priorities and took the entire year of 1997 off to give birth to her first child. The break did not derail her rise to greatness, however, but only delayed it. In 1998 and 1999, Ndereba won a bronze medal in the World Half Marathon Championships, ran the fastest times in the world at 5K, 10K, 15K and 10 miles, and won 16 of the 21 races she ran.
Ndereba also made her marathon debut in 1999, at Boston, finishing sixth in 2:28:27. The result exceeded her expectations and gave her confidence that she had a future at the marathon distance. Ndereba went on to win Boston four times (2000, 2001, 2004, 2005), a record for women. She also won the Chicago Marathon in 2000 and again in 2001, when she broke the world record (2:18:47, since broken twice by Paula Radcliffe). In 2002, she was the runner-up at both Boston and Chicago.
As mentioned above, Ndereba’s accomplishments in Olympic and World Championships marathons are equally impressive. She won Olympic silver medals in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008. She claimed world championship titles in Paris in 2003 and Osaka in 2007 and captured a silver medal at Helsinki in 2005.
Like many other world-class Kenyan runners, Ndereba is employed by the Kenyan prison system. She has a reputation as a highly competent administrator and is expected to devote herself full-time to her prison work after retiring from running.