Running legend Ron Hill dies aged 82

TRIBUTES have been paid to Ron Hill, legendary marathon runner and the holder of various world distance records, who has died at the age of 82.

Though Gee Cross-based Ron’s exploits were in the 1960s and 70s when he was crowned European and Commonwealth champion, he remained one of the most iconic figures in athletics.

Indeed, Ron’s gold at the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh in a time of two hours, nine minutes and 28 seconds remains 51 years later 12th on the British all-time list.

And though Ron was diagnosed with a form of dementia in 2016, he remained in the public eye.

Ron became in 2019 only the 13th person to be made an honorary freeman of the borough, the previous recipient being England’s 1966 World Cup winner Geoff Hurst, once of Denton.

He was also the subject of a film charting his extraordinary exploits which has included running in more than 100 countries.

Dr Ron Hill MBE receiving the Freedom of Tameside.
Pic Paul Burrows

The 55-minute film ‘Ron Hill: The Runner’s Runner’ had a premiere at Hyde Town Hall in front of invited guests including athletes, councillors and other dignitaries.

It was a night of nostalgia as following the screening guests were interviewed as they shared their memories of Ron who ran the marathon for Great Britain at the 1964 and 1972 Olympic Games and competed in the 10,000 metres in the 1968 Olympics.

Ron, who was also an honorary freeman of the borough of Hynburn, won marathon gold at the 1969 European championships when he was the second man to break the two hours and 10 minutes barrier in the discipline.

He also became 1970 Commonwealth champion in Edinburgh and the same year became the first Briton to win the Boston marathon in which he smashed the course record.

It was the days when athletics was amateur, and he hardly made a penny from his sport.
He later recalled: “Three days’ running, and the prizes were a pair of single sheets and a picnic hamper.

“When I smashed the record for the Boston Marathon, I got a bowl of beef stew.”

The film was commissioned by Sports Tours International, organisers of the Tour of Tameside, the original version of which was devised by Ron in the early 1980s.

Ron was a familiar figure running on the streets of Hyde and achieved an extraordinary feat, running at least one mile every single day for 52 years and 39 days before ending his streak aged 78.

Dr Ron Hill MBE with Cllr Brenda Warrington receiving the Freedom of Tameside.
Pic Paul Burrows

The Accrington-born athlete, who is his peak also held world record at 10 and 15 miles, 25K and the marathon, ran every day from December 20, 1964 to January 31, 2017 – including after snapping his sternum in a car accident in 1993 and having his foot in a plaster cast for six weeks following surgery to his foot.

Off the track, Ron completed a PhD in textile chemistry and founded his clothing company Ronhill in 1970 which pioneered and designed new types of running clothes. He was he first person to use synthetic fabrics in the making of sports clothes.

The company once had a shop on Market Street, Hyde, and the business remains operational today with its products manufactured at Redfern Industrial Estate in the town.

And it was his company Ronhill which confirmed his death in a statement posted on social media.
It read: “It is with immense sadness we today mourn the passing of British running legend Dr Ron Hill MBE – our founder, our inspiration, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a runner. We send our thoughts to May, Graham, Steve and all the family at this sad time #RonHill#RunningLegend
Ron devised the original Tour of Tameside in 1983 and which was later revived by Sports Tours International.

That week-long 52-mile event attracted runners from throughout the world and it became a major event in the running calendar, though when it was resurrected it was a shortened format over four days.

There was one minute’s silence at the Diamond League athletics meeting at Gateshead on Sunday and a tribute on air during the live television coverage.

British Athletics said it was ‘deeply saddened’ to hear of Ron’s passing, saying: “Our thoughts are with his family, friends and the athletics community at this difficult time.”

And legendary former distance runner Sir Brendan Foster described Ron as his hero.

He said: “When I was a young kid and coming up as a young athlete, Ron Hill was the leading light in cross country, 10,000m on the track and eventually the marathon.

“He was a hero of mine and I remember travelling to Manchester to watch him run a marathon trial for the Olympics and the race finishing at Old Trafford football stadium. It was an exciting day.

“I remember Ron with great affection. He was a runner’s runner, but he was also a great runner and a pioneer of long-distance running in this country.”

Sir Brendan recalled introducing Ron to the great Haile Gebrselassie at the Great Manchester Run when Ron was competing as a fun runner well into his 70s.

He recalled: “I said to Haile this is the great Ron Hill and he replied you were the world-record holder before me.

Ron Hill MBE

“Ron was tickled pink for the rest of the day. He was running a few feet off the ground that day thinking how the great Haile Gebrselassie had recognised his performances.”

Hyde Godley’s Councillor Jim Fitzpatrick, who nominated Ron for the civic honour, referred to Ron, like Hurst, achieving his own ‘hat trick’ in his doctorate, MBE and becoming an honorary freeman.

The honour was given in recognition of his lifetime of running achievements and he received the award in the blazer he wore at the 1968 Olympic Games.

Cllr Fitzpatrick said: “I always assumed Ron was from Hyde as he was always around and only later found he wasn’t born here.

“He had been here so long he was considered one of our own and he made a huge difference to Hyde and put his stamp on town and helped put it on the map.”

Cllr Fitzpatrick added Ron changed the face of running in his era and through his business interests made a big impact on Hyde.

Personal memories included running with a team from Hyde firm Harnden’s, where he was an apprentice, in the Hyde 7 which was part of the Tour of Tameside.

Cllr Fitzpatrick said: “I can also claim to have beaten Ron in the Hyde Parkrun, but he was about 80 years of age.

“Ron would turn up for the 5K and it was great to see how everybody loved him and he would happily chat with them. He was a real character in Hyde and will be sadly missed.”

Tameside Council leader Councillor Brenda Warrington, who had the honour of awarding Ron the freedom of the borough, tweeted: “My sincere sympathies to the family of Dr Ron Hill.

“I had the pleasure of awarding Ron with the freedom of the borough, an honour saved for the rare few and Ron was truly deserving – a running legend, an inspiration, a visionary, an entrepreneur, a loved man of the community.”

The Correspondent editor Tony Bugby met up with Ron for the first time in almost 40 years at the film premiere.

Tony was a reporter on the North Cheshire Herald in Hyde and Ron’s sports shop was almost opposite the newspaper office on Market Street.

He recalled: “Ron was past his peak but still running competitively and I would regularly report on his exploits for the paper.

“I covered the first Tour of Tameside, an event Ron was proud of and the calibre of runner it attracted.

“One of my most vivid memories was Ron giving me a seat in the lead car at the front of one of the road races which afforded me a special view as it unfolded along the route.

“I remember Ron as being a savvy businessman and ahead of his time in terms of PR and promoting his interests.

“Whenever I was accompanied by a photographer to his shop, he would invariably ask to be excused, but would soon reappear wearing a Ronhill sport t-shirt for the photograph.

“It was great to meet up again on the night of the film premiere and share some memories from that bygone era.”

Alan Royston wrote on Twitter: ‘Very sad news indeed. Many like me from #Hyde will be deeply saddened by his passing. #RonHill was familiar face in the town. Not just a runner, a lovely man who gave his time to various events, he will be sadly missed. Condolences to all the family. RIP #RunningLegend.’

“People throw the term legend around too easily. This man deserves that title and many more. RIP Ron. An inspiration to so many,” another Twitter user wrote.

James Michie wrote: ‘Condolences to the family, but what an achievement his life successes were, and I can’t believe my Ronhill tracksuit bottoms are still being used 35 years on! Quality’.

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