A certain sportswear company once had a motivational slogan which simply said — ‘You Either Ran Today or You Didn’t’.
For 76-year-old Ron Hill, that’s something he’s been able to answer in the affirmative for the past 50 years.
And this morning, in the lowly setting of a 5km park run in Manchester, he will mark a half-century of never missing a single day of running since December 20, 1964.
According to the United States Running Streak Association, a streak is defined as: “running at least one continuous mile within each calendar day under one’s own body power, that is without the utilisation of any type of health or mechanical aid other than prosthetic devices”.
When Hill — who was born in the Lancashire town of Accrington in 1938 — started his streak, Harold Wilson was the newly-elected British Prime Minister. The Beatles were top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic with ‘I Feel Fine’ and the James Bond film ‘Goldfinger’ was in cinemas across the USA.
Two months before, Hill had finished 19th in the marathon at the Tokyo Olympics.
A few years later, he would go on to set world records for 10 miles, 15 miles and 25km, win the 1969 European marathon and the following spring become the first British runner to triumph at the Boston Marathon, later that year adding a Commonwealth Games victory.
Speaking recently from his home in Hyde, Cheshire, Hill was clearly looking forward to today’s special anniversary: “I’m going to the Parkrun in Heaton Park, and as it’s on the Saturday it will make it exactly 50 years of running without missing a day.”
And he still clearly relishes his daily excursions.
“This morning I went out and after a mile downhill, I could feel my heart beating and I was coughing a bit, but by the time I got home I thought ‘well, that was good’.
“I have been corresponding with some people in America who invented the streak list and they sent me a questionnaire which I filled in.
“They now have an official international list and next to me is a Canadian who is on 35.94 years, so he’s a long way behind.”
Over the years, there have been a couple of near misses. In 1993 he crashed his car and broke his sternum. “They took me to hospital and said they would have to keep me overnight.
“Luckily, I had done my run that morning and next day when I got home I walked to a level stretch of road, ran a mile slowly and walked back.
“The same year I had a bunion operation which was tricky. I had my own rules for the streak then, which I called the Ron Hill rules.
“I got my son to take me to a track the day after the operation and I did a mile with walking sticks, I daren’t put my foot down.
“The second time I ran a mile at the same place I managed to put my heel down and after that I gradually got the whole foot down.”
Hill admits “the people in America” were a bit sceptical at first about these claims of maintaining the streak but have now come around to his way of thinking.
“My version of the rules is to go out somewhere and do a session, and it’s counted as a run.”
But it’s more than his running streak that marks Hill out as a legend of the sport.
In the late 60s and early 70s he was the undisputed king of the marathon at a time when monetary awards were non-existent.
His time at that 1970 Commonwealth Games marathon in Edinburgh of 2:09:28 was then the second-fastest recorded for the distance.
The winner of the Boston Marathon nowadays receives $150,000 (€122,000) in prize money but for his 2:10:30 effort, Hill received a medal and a laurel wreath.
“My airfare wasn’t even paid; the money came from a fund set up by the Road Runners Club, just ordinary runners putting in their few shillings,” he recalls.
With a PhD in textile chemistry (giving him the title of Doctor), Hill, through his companies Ron Hill Sports and Hilly Clothing, has also been a pioneer of many innovations in athletic clothing such as the breathable fabrics now the norm.
Shortly he will reach the figure of 160,000 recorded miles — more than six times around the world.
He has raced in 100 countries during his lifetime, including Ireland back in 1964 when he finished second in the International Cross-Country at Leopardstown.
In more recent years, he has competed in a couple of 10km races in Galway and in 2009 took part in the Ballycotton ‘10’.
Saying the anniversary “has just crept up on him”, Hill has no intention of stopping.
“It’s just an on-going thing, why should I stop?” he asks.
“I aim for about 25 miles a week so if I do three-and-a-half miles a day plus a little longer on weekends, I’m happy.”
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