8 Incredible facts about Ron Hill at 80

Inspirational facts about Ron Hill

Ron Hill has accomplished many things in a stellar running life—from world records to Boston victories to being the greatest “run streaker” ever. For his 80th birthday, here are eight things you might not know about the remarkable runner.

1. That streak

Hill ran at least one mile for 19,032 consecutive calendar days from 1964 through 2017, until heart issues at age 78 warned him to stop. (His nearest challenger, Jon Sutherland of West Hills, California, is still three years behind.) For Hill, always dedicated in training, it was a way of motivating himself in the middle years of his elite career.

Related: Olympian and top marathon runner Ron Hill reveals dementia diagnosis

2. Boston

Hill won the Boston Marathon in 1970, smashing the course record by three minutes when he finished with a 2:10:30, despite cold, wet headwinds almost as bad as those in 2018. “I had no idea of my pace, because I didn’t understand the odd splits that Boston used in those days. So I was shocked when I heard the finish time, and absolutely elated—the first Briton to win Boston,” Hill told Runner’s World when he returned to Boston as a VIP in 2011.

He came back twice more to race in America. In December of 1973, he beat the new Olympic champion, Frank Shorter, to win the fiercely hilly Maryland Marathon in Baltimore. When Hill returned to Boston, in 1975, he ran 2:13:28. But American running had taken off, and Hill placed only fifth, behind a new course record of 2:09:55 set by Bill Rodgers. 

3. Record breaker

In 1970, Hill was the second fastest marathoner in history, with his 2:09:28 to win the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh in 1970. Some lists dispute Derek Clayton’s 2:08:33.6 at Antwerp in 1969 and credit Hill as world-record holder. A world-record breaker on the track (10 miles, 15 miles, 25K) on the road (20 miles), and one of the best in the world in cross-country, Hill was a prolific racer who totaled 27 marathons faster than 2:20, the most ever at that date. That achievement was at a time when fewer marathons were available than today, and when even elite running was strictly unpaid.

4. Strong at half

He also pioneered a quirky new distance when he won Britain’s first half marathon, at Freckleton, near his home at Bolton, Lancashire. (His 1:04:45 is still the race record.)

Ron Hill at 80

5. Prolific winner

Hill won some of the major marathons of the era, including the European championship (1969, Athens), Windsor to Chiswick, Enschede (Holland), Debno (Poland), and was second at Fukuoka (Japan). Olympic medals eluded him, however, as Hill placed sixth at the 1972 Olympics in the marathon.

A favorite to win that Munich Olympic race, Hill may have suffered when the program was delayed by a day because of the terrorist killings, which disrupted his rigorously scientific prerace nutritional routine. The race was won by Shorter, whose childhood experience of violent abuse had enabled him (he has said) to detach and stay calm through times of distress.

6. Going minimal

Hill was one of the first top runners who often raced barefoot, including his seventh place in the 1968 Olympic 10,000 meters and second in the world cross-country championship in 1964. He once won a marathon barefoot.

“In 1965, I won the Salford 7.5 miler in a course record, then won the Beverley Marathon, in 2:26:33, both barefoot. I was going to run the marathon at the 1972 Munich Olympics barefoot, but the Germans laid new stone chippings on parts of the course,” Hill surprisingly revealed to Running Times.

7. Apparel pioneer

With a Ph.D. in textile chemistry, Hill became an entrepreneur in the running apparel business, designing some of the first items in man-made fibers, as well as popular “Ron Hill freedom shorts,” ventilated mesh tops, and reflective strips.

“I was running to and from work in the dark in winter and wondered what I needed to stay safe,” he said. His company is now branded as “Hilly Clothing,” and specializes in technical running socks.

8. Fighting Alzheimer’s

In May 2018, Hill was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. He has committed himself to working to remove the stigma from the disease.

A version of this article appeared on Runner's World US