16-Dec-2013 – Southeast Asian Games – 2:45:34 – N/a (barefoot)
Date of birth: 10-Nov-1989
Phạm Thị Bình holds an important distinction in distance running. Over the last year I have contacted researchers across the world, World Athletics and asked through many other channels, and as far as I’m aware she ran the fastest ever marathon barefoot by a woman. This means she holds the unofficial world record for this achievement.
Before we get to this incredible achievement, it is important to acknowledge that it was remarkable enough that Bình was even able to compete at the elite level. Despite having shown enormous promise in her early years, in 2009 she was diagnosed with a heart defect that would have otherwise halted her athletic ambitions. In 2010, through charity donations, she underwent surgery on her heart. Bình recovered rapidly, and would make the Vietnamese team for the 2011 Southeast Asian Games. In the marathon event, she would secure bronze in a time of 2:48:43. Unbelievably, she did so barefoot.
She has eschewed shoes in her running career, saying the skin on her feet was delicate and irritated by footwear. Despite her previous performances, Bình would not come into the 2013 Southeast Asian Games as one of the favourites for the marathon, but she soon proved her worth. By the 25km mark, she was accompanied by only two other competitors but at the 37km mark it was down to her and Myint Myint Aye of Myanmar. Bình pushed through, and would secure gold in 2:45:34, setting the new Vietnamese national record in the process. As with her previous marathons, she had done this barefoot.
Bình would step away from international competition after 2014 to start a family, citing a lack of official support, but in the last few years has restarted her involvement in athletics through coaching the next generation of Vietnamese athletes. She also made her return to competitive running at the 2022 Hanoi Marathon. Bình lost none of her athletic talent, coming second in 2:57:30 and of course doing so barefoot. Since then she appears to have started using shoes for her races, but either way the mark she set very much continues to stand.
Yes, as with Abebe Bikila back in 1960, Bình ran the entire marathon distance without shoes. While Guinness World Records had previously stated on their website that it was Tegla Loroupe who set this benchmark at the 2000 Olympics, she was wearing shoes. I reached out to correct this, and they have since amended their entry to correctly reflect that Bình holds this distinction.