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Tour of Tameside founder Ron Hill MBE has died

Ron Hill.

Olympic running legend Ron Hill MBE, from Hyde, who founded the Tour of Tameside and was an ambassador of The Running Bee Foundation, has sadly passed away at the age of 82.

The news of his death, following ill health, was announced by his sportswear company on Sunday (23 May). 

He was born in Accrington in Lancashire in 1938, but lived in the Gee Cross area of Hyde. 

In 1981, he launched the unique Tour of Tameside, which comprised a double marathon run within the space of a week with each of the six stages being over different terrain. It was billed as the toughest challenge in British athletics.

The event, which drew competitors from all over the world, ran until 2000. It was relaunched in a modified format in 2015 and remains as popular and challenging as ever. The tour will return for its 40th anniversary this year as a four-day festival of running. 

In December 2019, Ron was named a freeman of the borough of Tameside at a special ceremony at Dukinfield Town Hall. 

Around 200 colleagues and associates along with dignitaries, close friends and family and special guests, including former Olympic and Commonwealth 800m runner Diane Modahl MBE, were all present to witness the presentation. 

Ron was given an illuminated scroll and signed the roll of honorary freemen in the presence of the then Civic Mayor, Cllr Leigh Drennan, and the council's chief executive Steven Pleasant.

Sports Tours International CEO Chris Bird, who was a friend of Ron, spoke about Ron's achievements at the ceremony. 

A running legend 

Ron broke world records at four different distances and represented Great Britain in the marathon at two Olympics - Tokyo in 1964 and Munich in 1972.

He also won gold at the European Championships and Commonwealth Games, as well as winning many of the world’s leading marathons. 

Ron clocked the second-fastest marathon in history at 2:09:28, in a performance that won him gold at the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games.

He became the first British runner to win the Boston Marathon in 1970. 

Despite cold, windy and wet conditions, he was able to claim victory in an incredible 2:10:30, taking, in the process, more than three minutes off the official course record. 

His final marathon was the 100th Boston Marathon in 1996.

In another incredible achievement, Ron also ran every day for 52 years and 39 days between 1964 and 2017 - which was a record in itself - before ending his streak at the age of 78. Even a car accident, in 1993, in which Hill broke his sternum, did not stop him. 

By the age of 70, Hill had accomplished the ambition of racing in over 100 countries. Including running events in Panama and the Faroe Islands.

Later, Ron completed a PhD in textile chemistry at the University of Manchester. He went on to become a pioneer in technical sports fabrics and running clothing, including wrap-over shorts, mesh vests, waterproof running jackets and reflective strips. He was the founder of Ron Hill Sports, and later Hilly Clothing, who also specialise in technical running apparel.

Sports Tours International, for whom Ron was a community ambassador, produced this three-minute trailer back in 2019 which showcases Ron's life and his amazing achievements during a fascinating career. 

Touching tributes 

Ron was an ambassador for The Running Bee Foundation, who described him as "our friend and our inspiration". 

They said on Twitter: "It is with great sadness we today mourn the loss of one of the world’s iconic marathon runners and a British athletics legend Dr Ron Hill MBE. Our ambassador, Our Friend and Our Inspiration. Ron will always be at the heart of our foundation and we will miss him dearly." 

Kevin Harmer, Head of Foundation Operations at The Running Bee Foundation, said: "Over my time with Sports Tours and the Foundation I got to know Ron and his wife May pretty well. A lovely couple, very unassuming and humble – almost like a set of new grandparents for me. Their home shows exactly his achievements, with trophies, pictures, vests, kits, race memorabilia and much more. It tells the tale of his travels and running over the past 50+ years.

"I remember Ron fondly reminiscing about ‘how races used to be’ and when winning abroad he often would receive a wreath and a pot of stew – rather than a big cheque. Even the time he lost his running shoes before the start of a race – he simply taped up his feet, ran, and won!

"At our UK events, I would always meet Ron and May and walk them to the start line so they could help with starting the race and to be part of the presentation ceremony post-race. When walking them to the start line, the amount of people who you could hear whispering “that’s Ron Hill!” was amazing. Even in his later years, he cut an iconic figure. Ron even ran in a number of our events; I guess for keen runners that’s like having a kick around with Becks!

"Ron always had time for everyone, I don’t think he ever said to his well-wishers, “sorry I don’t have time for a picture”. Ron will be sorely missed, but his impact and legacy will live on through the work that The Running Bee Foundation is committed to, and I know Ron would be saying 'just get out and run'." 

In 1970, Ron founded a sportswear company - Ronhill - which pioneered and designed new types of running clothes. 

The company said on Twitter: "It is with immense sadness we today mourn the passing of British running legend Dr. Ron Hill M.B.E. Our founder, our inspiration, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a runner. We send our thoughts to May, Graham, Steve and all the family at this time." 

Tameside Council said Ron "really put Tameside on the map" and he was an "inspiration to many". 

They tweeted: "Such sad news, it was a pleasure to honour Ron Hill as a freeman of the Borough in 2019. The three-time Olympian really put Tameside on the map with the Tour of Tameside, as well as being one of the borough's entrepreneurs and an overall gentleman and inspiration to the many." 

Tameside Council leader Councillor Brenda Warrington, who had the honour of awarding Ron the freedom of the borough, described him as "a visionary, an entrepreneur, and a loved man of the community".

She tweeted: "My sincere sympathies to the family of Dr Ron Hill. I had the pleasure of awarding Ron with the freedom of the Borough, an honour saved for the rare few and Ron was truly deserving - a running legend, an inspiration, a visionary, an entrepreneur, a loved man of the community."

Active Tameside said in a statement: "We are truly saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. Ron Hill M.B.E. Ron’s achievements are the stuff of legend and he was an inspiration to so many.

"The Tour of Tameside is a fitting legacy and we are proud to play a small part in it. Our thoughts are with Ron’s family at this time." 

Former professional boxer Stacey Copeland described Ron as a "humble and kind man" who "inspired so many people". 

British Athletics said on Twitter: "We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Dr Ron Hill MBE. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and the athletics community at this difficult time."

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