Ron Hill MBE, one of Britain’s great running pioneers, has died aged 82.
Hill was a trailblazer for the sport in so many ways, from winning championship medals and setting world records to changing the face of mass participation running with innovations in diet and clothing.
Born in Accrington in 1938, Hill soon discovered he had an innate talent for endurance running. He broke four world records over a variety of distances during the 1960s, won both Commonwealth and European Championships gold medals in the marathon and became the first British man in history to win the Boston Marathon.
Hill was self-coached and his attention to detail went way beyond just training sessions. He was one of the first athletes to recognise the importance diet can play in performance and he was the first to identify the particular benefits of a high-carb diet before racing, something he says helped him win the 1969 European Championships marathon.
The practice of carb loading is now used by runners of all abilities, particularly ahead of marathons where pasta parties have been popular ever since.
But a pioneering diet is not the only way Hill’s legacy lives on among mass participation runners today.
After completing a PhD in textile chemistry and founded his clothing company Ronhill in 1970 which pioneered and designed new types of running clothes. He was the first person to use synthetic fabrics in the making of sports clothes and generations of runners ever since have worn Ronhill clothing, from the famous string vests to the tracksters and the iconic Union flag shorts.
Hill also had a pure and unbridled love for the sport that was evidenced by his remarkable feat of running every day for 52 years and 39 days from 1964 to 2017 which remains the longest unbroken streak of running every day.
This run continued despite Hill snapping his sternum in a car accident in 1993 and during that time, he competed in three Olympic Games (1964, 1968 and 1972).
In 2016, Hill's family began noticing changes in his behaviour and scans later revealed hardening of the arteries and decreased volume of the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain responsible for memories.
He went on to supporting the joint Alzheimer's Research UK and Alzheimer's Society Dementia Revolution fundraising campaign around the 2019 Virgin London Marathon, saying at the time.
“'It’s got to the point where my short-term memories quickly vanish and I have to ask my wife what day of the week it is when I wake up in the morning. But I’m not daunted and I’m not embarrassed to say that I’ve got a problem.
“I’m lucky that I’ve got a lovely family and great friends and fortunately I can still vividly re-call the days when I was in my running pomp and those memories always bring a smile to my face.”