May 23, 2021 — Just I was getting ready to post my blog this morning, a sad “shocker” news came in via Facebook. England’s legendary runner, Ron Hill, had passed away at the young age of 82 (*Obituary in The Guardian HERE). Recently he was known as the man who had a running streak of 52-years and 39-days. But Ron Hill was a lot more than just that. There are good runners; some pretty darn good. They may win a championship medal or set some records…and they come and go. But “legends” are timeless. And Ron Hill was definitely a legend. When I first heard of Ron Hill was for 1972 Munich Olympics. Hill, along with Australia’s Derek Clayton who was at the time the world marathon record (2:08:34) holder and America’s Frank Shorter who was the previous year’s Fukuoka International Open Marathon Championships winner. In fact, Hill was having the best years of his athletic career. He won Boston Marathon in 1970 to become the first British runner to win this historic marathon in the record time of 2:10:30 (which, interestingly, was the same time as Shorter’s life-time best that he ran in 1972 Fukuoka Marathon) in the freezing rain all by himself. Then he become the history’s second man to break 2:10 barrier (with Clayton being the first and twice) with 2:09:28 at Commonwealth Games that summer. As it turned out, he finished 6th — not too shabby at all but not enough for the hardware. Munich was his third and final Olympic Games.
In fact, years later when I got more involved with running, I noticed Ron Hill was already competing in 1964 Olympic Games. He was 18th in the 10,000m and 19th in the marathon. In fact, you can see him taking a drink at the water-station and, as he finished and went on running, you can see him taking a small “bow” to officials who were setting up the water station (*7:00 into THIS video clip). What a gentleman!! You can also see him at the start (*0:45 into this same clip) with the strict Japanese officials trying to line up runners “correctly” and young Ron Hill can be seen with a nervous smile. He was also known as running barefoot and can be seen in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics 10,000m competing barefoot. He finished 9th there. During this period, he had set 4 world records (X2 for 10-miles as well as 15-miles and 25km); he introduced a diet system for endurance sports; then-popular among professional cyclists and today known as “Carbo-Loading” to marathoning (although he claimed that was a mistake he made for the Munich Games) and, employing his textile expertise (his profession), founded Ron Hill Sports. I had a pair of shorts and famous fishnet singlet years ago (in the late 1980s) just to honor him.
In 2011, I was at Boston Marathon. Ron Hill was supposed to have been honored for his 40th anniversary (from 1970 victory) but because of the volcano eruption in Iceland, he couldn’t make it. So instead, BAA invited him (again) in 2011. As I walked in the hospitality room (I had a press pass) with my friend, I spotted this tiny old man with a soft smile sitting in the middle of the room. “That’s Ron Hill!!” I whispered to my friend. Usually I don’t like to be a “groupy”. I don’t like to just simply seeking autographs or taking pictures with some celebrities. I would much like to get to know them as a person and THEN take pictures as friends!! There had been TWO occasions I had to ask for autograph and take a picture with — that was with Carl Lewis and Said Aouita!! Ron Hill was the third one. We were alone in the room; it was a perfect situation!! I shook his hand and got an autograph…for my friend in Japan (Professor Tetsuro Yamanishi)….and one for myself too! Following day, however, Nike’s first employee, Jeff Johnson, famous with his black-and-white pictures of many athletic events — most notably those of the late Steve Prefontaine,,,and many pics from Boston Marathon including the one of Ron Hill in 1970 (shown above). And he wanted to hand it directly and personally to Ron Hill. That was another perfect situation for me so I volunteered to take a picture of them.
When I moved to Minnesota, I got to become close friends with Steve Hoag, second to Bill Rodgers at 1975 Boston Marathon and founder of “Steve Hoag’s Marathon Sports”. His store carried products of “Ron Hill Sports” so he got to know Ron Hill quite well. He used to tell me all sorts of fond memories of Ron Hill. Of course, when Steve finished 2nd at Boston, there’s a picture of Steve at the start only a few runners away from Great Ron Hill!! Hill was 5th. Hill in his easily-spottable Union Jack shorts can be seen at various races around the globe. He “reckoned” he had run 2,260 races around the world in his lifetime. Of course, he was famous with his Guinness-Book record of running streak of 52-years and 39-days. It was a well-talked-about story that, in 1993, after a bunion surgery, he went to the near-by track with a crutch and hobbled around the track twice (a half a mile) in the morning; then again two-laps around the track in the afternoon. Total of ONE MILE a day. Is it necessary? Probably not. Could that be actually harmful? Maybe…. But it’s the same thing — Arthur Lydiard used to say: “Even if you went out and ran for 15-minutes, then you’ll be winning!!”
Our paths crossed only briefly. He would never remember who I was; but I sure as hell remembered who Ron Hill was pretty much all through my own running career. Surely his name carried weight all these years. His name, to me, was almost synonymous to RUNNING — for BOTH competitive as well as recreational. In all the pictures of Ron Hill in his later years that I have seen, he always had a soft smile that I spotted in the hospitality room at Boston in 2011. Of course, he was a fierce competitor when he was competing. I shared a photo of him winning 1970 Boston Marathon in the drizzling rain all by himself…in VERY thin shoes (and heavy I’m sure!!) via Twitter a few years back. “He would have run 2:04 in today’s Super Shoes…!!” I got quite a few positive reaction from this tweet!! In his biography, “The Frank Shorter Story”, Shorter recalls, looking at Ron Hill’s shoes before the start of the Munich Games Marathon: “I must be the lightest runner in this race, in terms of softness of stride, and I wouldn’t want to run a marathon in his shoes!!” In honor and remembrance of Ron Hill, I ran the longest run since this past winter (not quite 2 hours but 1:55) in the thinnest shoes I have — ASICS racing flats, Sorties!! Rest In Peace, the legendary runner, Ron Hill. — Nobby Hashizume