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Ron Hill in 1962 - TALKING SPORT/Photoshot/Avalon

Ron Hill in 1962 – TALKING SPORT/Photoshot/Avalon

Ron Hill, who has died aged 82, was a record-breaking long-distance runner who competed at two Olympic Games and was the Commonwealth and European marathon champion; the basis of his success was probably the fact that between 1964 and 2017 – 52 years and 39 days – he ran every single day.

His victory at the European Championships in 1969, on a course run from Marathon to Athens, was a triumphant vindication of the scientific approach Hill took to his sport. As he crossed the finish line 35 seconds ahead of the Belgian Gaston Roelants, who had led most of the way, he executed an airborne scissor kick and punched the air, and not just because his wife, parents and two sons were there to watch him.

He had prepared for the race by using what was then known as the Saltin-Hermansson diet, or glycogen-depletion diet – what we know today as “carbo-loading”, getting large amounts of carbohydrates, often in the form of pasta, on board in the run-up to a race.

“I was definitely the first runner to try it,” Hill recalled. “Nobody else had even heard of it.” It is now universally accepted standard practice for distance runners – not least because Hill immediately announced it to the world, or at least to Chris Brasher.

“It was such a revelation, I couldn’t resist telling someone,” he said. “So I explained what I had done to Chris Brasher, stupidly, and he put it in The Observer. That’s how everybody else found out about the diet. I just couldn’t wait to tell somebody about it, but I should have kept my mouth shut.”

Ronald Hill was born at Accrington in Lancashire on September 25 1938. His father worked on the railways but the family was not well off, and his mother also went out to work to make ends meet. He attended Accrington Grammar School, where he enjoyed science, although, he recalled, he had no clear ideas about what to do with his life. He studied Textile Chemistry at Manchester University, eventually earning a PhD and joining Courtaulds.

Hill wins the 1968 Inter Counties Cross Country Championship at Windsor... - Ken MasonHill wins the 1968 Inter Counties Cross Country Championship at Windsor... - Ken Mason

Hill wins the 1968 Inter Counties Cross Country Championship at Windsor… – Ken Mason

... before collapsing with exhaustion - Ken Mason... before collapsing with exhaustion - Ken Mason

… before collapsing with exhaustion – Ken Mason

His scientific knowledge, allied to his business acumen, led him to establish a successful sportswear company, which he eventually sold in the 1990s. Putting his knowledge of elastomeric fibres to good use he would redesign running shorts, pioneer the mesh vest and invent tracksters that sold more than 3 million pairs, as well as design his own lightweight running shoes.

He had begun running as a boy, inspired by Alf Tupper, “the Tough of the Track”, in the Rover comic. “I thought, ‘Bloody hell, this is a man with nothing going for him whatsoever, and he’s succeeding.’ He wasn’t in a team, the officials were against him, and I thought that I’d like to be like that – doing stuff all off my own back, basically.”

He joined his local cross-country club, his results gradually improving, then at university he shared digs with two keen runners and began to get serious about his sport, running 100 miles a week. In 1961 he entered the Liverpool Marathon – and, to his surprise, crossed the finish line at Anfield in first place.

In 1963, he won the 6-mile event at the Amateur Athletic Association (AAA) championships, equalling the UK record. In the following year’s race he was outsprinted by Mike Bullivant, losing by less than half a second – but both runners smashed the British record by more than 20 seconds.

At the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Hill doubled up in the 10,000m and marathon but finished only 18th and 19th respectively. “I was the second fastest marathon runner in the world, and I blew it,” he recalled. “I couldn’t stand being away from home – I just went to pieces.”

Hill breaks the tape to win the Windsor-to-Chiswick Marathon in 1962 - TALKING SPORT/Photoshot/AvalonHill breaks the tape to win the Windsor-to-Chiswick Marathon in 1962 - TALKING SPORT/Photoshot/Avalon

Hill breaks the tape to win the Windsor-to-Chiswick Marathon in 1962 – TALKING SPORT/Photoshot/Avalon

That year, though, he set his first world record, clocking 1hr 15min 22.6sec for 25 kilometres, breaking the mark set by the great Emil Zátopek by more than a minute; on the way in that run he set another world record, of 1:12:48.2 for 15 miles. Also in 1964 he won the inaugural Freckleton Half Marathon; his course record of 1hr 4min 45sec stands to this day.

In 1968, in the AAA 10-mile championship at Leicester, Hill set a world record of 47:02.2 (he won the race every year between 1965 and 1969). Later that year he beat his own record, in 46:44.0, while in the Mexico Olympics he finished seventh in the 10,000m.

In 1969 Hill won the European Championships, with his celebrated aerial celebration. As he was leaving the stadium he was approached by the head of the English Road Runner’s Club, who asked him: “I say, Hill, how would you like to run the Boston Marathon?”

The club had a whip-round to pay for his trip, and were richly rewarded when he became the race’s first British winner, obliterating the course record by three minutes in a time of 2:10:30. Three months later, at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, he became only the second man to break the 2hr 10min barrier, clocking a world’s best time of 2:09:28. He ran the first 10km in 29:24, the equivalent of a 2:04 marathon pace, which one observer described as “suicidal”.

At the end of the year he was ranked as the best marathon runner for 1970 by Track & Field News, and in 1971 he was appointed OBE. His final Olympic appearance came the following year in Munich, when at 33 he finished sixth in the marathon. He carried on racing, and in 1981 won the first China Coast Marathon in Hong Kong in 2:34:35. It was, he said, “the toughest marathon” he had ever run.

He wrote down the details of every race, every training run and every trip abroad (he ran in 100 different countries). He also wrote a two-volume autobiography, The Long Hard Road.

Hill did not miss a day of running between December 20 1964 and January 30 2017; he defined a “run” as at least one mile. He carried on even after a car crash in 1993 that broke his sternum, and following bunion surgery, after which he used a crutch to cover a mile in 27 minutes. In December 2014 Hill completed Manchester’s 5km Heaton Park park run, achieving his goal of running at least a mile a day for 50 years.

His streak came to an end in 2017, when he announced on Facebook that “Due to ill health Ron has decided to take a day off.” He had suffered chest pains when out the previous day, he said: “After 400m my heart started to hurt and by the time I got to the one-mile point I thought I was going to die. I was in such pain and I thought, ‘No, hang on, this isn’t going anywhere at the moment,’ and really in respect of my wife, two sons and friends I need to stop this.”

Ron Hill is survived by his wife May and their two sons.

Ron Hill, born September 25 1938, died May 23 2021