Reblogged from the ParkRun newsletter with grateful thanks
When I was in my first year of secondary school in the early 1950s, I would read a boy’s magazine called The Rover. There was a guy in it named Alf Tupper who was often pictured running in the rain on cobblestones. Alf came from a northern town, just like I did, and he was extremely poor. He lived under railway bridges or on disused barges, and he would hitchhike to London for races after working all night as a welder. He’d eat a bag of chips and then go out and win his race. Nobody was helping him and everybody was against him, but he was a champion in his own right. I wanted to be like Alf Tupper, so I joined the local running club.
I was the only boy at my school who looked forward to cross country – the other lads either cut corners or tried to hide to avoid it altogether! I would travel around to cross-country races, and in my first big race I finished 256th. I loved the races, I loved the competition, and when I moved away to university to study textile chemistry I started taking my running very seriously. I still wanted to be like Alf Tupper, running in the rain in just shorts and a vest. That was until I went for a 90-minute run one day and ended up suffering from exposure from running through a freezing stream. I still had a lot to learn!
Over the years I became the first British athlete to win the Boston Marathon, I won the marathon at the 1970 Commonwealth Games in a world record time, and I also won the European Championships Marathon in Athens. That day almost turned out differently though – as I was about to run into the stadium I narrowly avoided being run over by a jeep doing a u-turn. Thankfully I avoided disaster, and running into the stadium knowing my parents, my wife and my two children were there to see it was one of the highlights of my career.
I discovered parkrun in 2011 and was hooked immediately – I can’t put into words how fantastic I think it is. It’s wonderful that everybody can join in and nobody cares what position you finish in. I have always been an avid racer, but on weekends when I don’t have a race, parkrun provides me with an opportunity to get a good session in. I love the social side and I’m really looking forward to doing some parkruns abroad, because they’re a great way to explore unfamiliar places and an easy way to meet likeminded people.
At 77 years of age I am still competitive with myself, and having run at least one mile every day since December 1964 (that’s 18,753 days in case you were wondering) I am determined to keep my running streak going.
parkrun has certainly featured in my streak. On 20 December 2014 at Heaton parkrun I celebrated running every day for 50 years. And then last Saturday I was proud to run my 50th parkrun there. The reception from all the participants was fantastic, and it got me thinking about when I will join the 100 Club. It was a memorable moment and I was thrilled – and surprised – to finish in less than 30 minutes. I hadn’t run that fast for a long time and it was the icing on the cake.
I always run first thing in the morning because it sets me up for the day and I always feel better afterwards. Running is who I am. It’s me, and this is why I run.
Running is the most accessible exercise you can do because the kit is minimal – it’s a simple sport to start off with and all you’ve got to do is go out your front door and run, or build up to it by walking. Enjoying it is the key, and that’s what parkrunners do so well.
Ron Hill MBE
Photos courtesy of Paul Taylor and Graham Cameron