The first is Arthur Newton. Widely known as the Father of marathoning, his impact on the early days of the race in the 1920′s ensured that it survived its infancy. A five-time winner, his 1923 time hacked two hours off the course record. He won by 52 minutes. The following year, he won by 75 minutes. He was simply in a class of his own in his day. The only time he was beaten (Harry Phillips in 1926) was when he had had no time to train properly.
After retirement, Newton wrote a book on running simply called Running. Thereafter he wrote three more books. His common sense advice may seem obvious now but in his time he was the expert, the guru and the, scientist. He constructed the foundations upon which we have built modern training ideas.
The second of these, and in my opinion the runner who most deserves to be called The Greatest, is Wally Hayward. Another five-time winner, Hayward is unique in that he was unbeaten in his prime. Five runs, five wins says it all. The first runner to break six hours, Wally Hayward was a colossus in his day. He was awarded the Helms award for the greatest sportsman in Africa in 1953.
But amazingly, his greatest performance was in a race he lost. In 1988, three weeks shy of his 80th birthday, he ran the Up Comrades in 9:44:15. He beat 47% of the field at an age where at best one is supposed to be retired and armchair bound and at worst, dead. The following year, Wally struggled and only just managed to beat the (11 hour) cut-off gun but he still finished.
Wallys 1988 run must surely be considered the greatest single Comrades run in the history of the Comrades. On the basis of that run and his 100% consistency while racing at his best, Wally Hayward must be The Greatest.
The only way I could challenge that is to run 9:43 in 2035!