Lancashire

Ron Hill: Olympic athlete and sports designer who keeps on running

Ron Hill
Image caption Ron Hill's time for the marathon in 1972 is still in the UK top ten

"Get going. Get up and walk if you have to. But finish the damned race."

It's a quote you can find on Ron Hill sportswear T-shirts that sums up one man's dedication to a life of running.

Born and brought up in Accrington, Dr Ron Hill MBE remains one of the world-class British distance runners of his generation.

He set several world best times during his career, his proudest achievement being the 1970 Commonwealth Games marathon in Edinburgh which he won in a world record time of 2:09:28.

Forty years later, his time still ranks in the UK's top ten.

At 73, Ron Hill's best days as a runner are, of course, behind him: He ran his 115th and final marathon in 1996.

But the legendary Lancashire athlete continues to break records with a running odyssey of epic proportions.

"He's not missed a day's running since 1964," said Andy O'Sullivan, a close friend and race organiser from Rochdale.

"He's in the Guinness Book of Records with it. He's just such an incredible man."

To date, he has clocked up 155,000 miles in his training log, the equivalent of lapping the Earth six times.

It's a proud achievement and not one Dr Hill is prepared to give up lightly.

"If you set yourself a course, you don't give in," he said.

"On 21 December 1964, I didn't set out to go on as long as I have but once that took over, there's no way - unless I break a leg completely - that I'm going to stop."

Broken bones

In 1993, Dr Hill suffered serious chest injuries in a head-on car crash on the Woodhead Pass in Derbyshire.

Determined to keep his record going, he defied doctor's orders and sneaked out to run a mile with a snapped sternum.

"When my mother and my wife went out to do the weekly shop, I walked quickly to a level stretch of road nearby, ran half a mile out and half a mile back and was back in the chair before they got back," he said.

He even ran a mile a day in a plaster cast for six weeks after an operation on his foot.

The 'Get going' quote actually comes from a race in the heyday of Ron Hill's career.

At the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, Ron Hill lined up against one of his close rivals Jerome Drayton.

At about 20 miles, he closed the gap on Drayton who was on the brink of pulling out of the race.

Instead of sprinting past as many athletes would have done, Ron Hill actually slowed down, urging the Canadian athlete to "finish the damned race."

As a young man, he won the English Cross Country Championships in 1966 - one of his proudest achievements - and won numerous gold medals in the European Championships and the Commonwealth Games.

However, despite representing Great Britain in the marathon at the 1964 and 1972 Olympics, and the 10,000m in 1968, a Games medal eluded him.

Nylon shorts

Unlike today's professional athletes, Ron Hill had to hold down a job to pay the bills.

Image caption Ron Hill met the Queen in June during her tour of East Lancashire

So Dr Ron Hill BSc, PhD worked as a textile chemist for Courtaulds in Droylsden, running the seven-and-half miles to work from his home in Romiley every day.

He used his knowledge of textiles to set up his own Ron Hill Sports brand in 1970, becoming the first person to to use synthetic fabrics.

"Back then, the shorts that were available were not designed for runners," he said.

"I quickly decided that cotton and wool were not good fibres for sportswear because cotton wears out very quickly and when it gets wet, it stays wet."

"Being with Courtaulds, I was exposed to synthetic yarns so I began to design my own sportswear."

He started selling nylon and polyester kit from the back of a van at athletics events, before opening his first shop in Hyde, Greater Manchester in 1975.

Today, the Ron Hill Sports brand is worth millions of pounds and his sportswear is sold in thousands of shops in 16 different countries.

Dr Hill still runs with his beloved Clayton-le-Moors Harriers running club, supporting local charities and appearing at running events around the world.

On Tuesday, his contribution to sport and his local community was recognised when he was awarded the the Freedom of Hyndburn .

After the formalities, Dr Hill celebrated typically by going for a run up and down the Coppice - the big hill overlooking Accrington - with local schoolchildren.

Clayton-le-Moors club chairman Pete Booth said to be given the freedom of his home town meant a lot to him.

"He's such an inspiration to everyone, not just in Accrington but all over the world."

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