Google+ Running in Cork, Ireland: Guest post by John Walshe : RON HILL’S 80th BIRTHDAY RACE

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Guest post by John Walshe : RON HILL’S 80th BIRTHDAY RACE

Guest post by John Walshe : RON HILL’S 80th BIRTHDAY RACE

Five years ago three runners from Cork – Kerry Constant, Brian Healy and John Walshe – travelled over to the Lancashire town of Littleborough for a special 5km race to mark the 75th birthday of all-time running great Ron Hill.

On Tuesday last (September 25th), the actual day of Ron’s 80th birthday, the trio again assembled with around 400 like-minded participants to celebrate another milestone in this man’s remarkable career. The venue this time was Whitworth, a suburb of Rochdale where the 5km course consisted of two laps around the scenic Cowm Reservoir.

Pictured with Ron Hill (R) at his special 80th birthday race are Brian Healy, Kerry Constant and John Walshe

John Walshe was privileged to have been at Ron’s 60th, 70th and 75th Birthday races and following his trip in 2008 the connection led to Hill coming over the following March to run the Ballycotton ‘10’, where he also gave a special seminar the night before.

Brian was making his second visit but for the much-travelled Kerry it was his sixth consecutive year. In actual fact, the Bishoptown man had run the Dublin Half-Marathon the previous Saturday, followed by the Belfast Half-Marathon on Sunday and was then traveling down to London for another half-marathon (and a parkrun) at the weekend!

The race was organised by Waterford native Andy O’Sullivan, a man who has received an MBE for the many charity events he has put on over the past 35 years which have raised thousands of pounds for various causes. This was actually the 666th race that Andy had organised, the proceeds this time going to the Diane Modahl Sports Foundation. Entry fee was a modest £10 for club runners and £12 for unattached which included a special souvenir mug along with chip timing and fine array of prizes.

Organiser Andy O’Sullivan (right) with Colin and Brenda Robinson of Rochdale Harriers

At 4.30pm on the Tuesday afternoon, the Cock & Pheasant pub in Whitworth, the race headquarters, was already beginning to get busy as runners arrived to collect their race numbers and mugs. Giving out the numbers were Colin and Brenda Robinson from nearby Rochdale Harriers, two runners from Ron’s era with equally impressive athletic CVs to their credit. 

Colin was a one-time British 2000m record holder (5:06.2), he also ran a 4:05 mile and 13:48 for 5000m but was equally successful at cross-country and on the fells where he was a past winner of the classic Three Peaks 23-mile race, known as the ‘Marathon with Mountains’.

Meanwhile, his wife Brenda made a number of Irish appearances and ran in the first-ever International (later World) Cross-Country Championships for women at Barry in Wales back in 1967. 

At around 5.30pm, the great man arrived. Looking remarkably well on his 80th birthday and wearing a padded jacket and baseball cap, he quietly made his way through the now-thronged lounge, shaking hands and posing for pictures with those who rightly looked on him as their hero and running inspiration.

After starting the race, Ron made his way back to the Cock & Pheasant where he received a number of presentations and cards. After giving out the prizes, there were more selfies to pose for and autographs to sign.

Ron with Dennis Williams and John Walshe. Despite recent ill-health, Dennis – another regular visitor to Ireland – travelled up from London specially to pay his tribute

Having had to end his running streak (due to health reasons) of not missing a day for a total of 56 years and 39 days in January of 2017, earlier this year Ron was diagnosed with the early onset of Alzheimer’s. “It isn’t the end of the road. I can’t be ashamed of it because I haven’t done anything to deserve it. I’ll cheerfully carry on keeping active,” he said at the time, adding earlier this month, “mentally I am in a good place because my career is May, my wife of 58 years.”

It will be 50 years next month since Ron Hill – in bare feet – finished seventh in the Olympic 10,000m held at altitude in Mexico City. A few weeks later, on a cold November Saturday, he set a world best of 46:44 for 10 miles on the track at Leicester. Then followed his purple period which saw him win the European Marathon (2:16:48) in Athens in September 1969, victory at Boston (2:10:30) the following April and three months later came the crowning glory of his career when he clocked the second fastest time in history of 2:09:28 when claiming gold at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh.

During this period Hill was working full-time as a research chemist and logged his 120 or so miles a week by running to work and back. In that Boston victory (a course record by three minutes) on a wet, cold and windy day - almost as bad as this past April – Hill was attired in just a string vest, minimalist Freedom Shorts (which he designed himself) and a pair of Reebok shoes. He didn’t even wear a watch, not that it would have been of any benefit as Boston at the time didn’t even have actual distance markers at each mile.

“I had no idea of my pace so I was shocked when I heard the finish time, and absolutely elated – the first Briton to win Boston”, he is quoted as saying in a three-page feature by Roger Robinson in the latest issue of Athletics Weekly.   

The winner at Boston these days can expect to receive $150,000 in prize money, plus bonuses and expenses. In his day, Hill received a medal, a laurel wreath and a bowl of stew. “My airfare wasn’t even paid,” he recalled at the time, “the money came from a fund set up by the Road Runners Club, just ordinary runners putting in their few shillings.”

And it was many of those self-same ordinary runners, of all ages and abilities, who turned out last Tuesday to pay tribute to a man who of all others surely deserves the title of legend – Dr Ronald Hill, MBE.

1 comment:

Brenda Robinson said...

Great article on Dr Ron John and nice to meet you all. It was good to see our Irish visitors in Whitworth and hope you enjoyed your stay.
Good running in the future.
Brenda Robinson. Rochdale Harriers.