TO say Ron Hill built his athletics career on a shoestring budget would be an understatement. Like describing his record of running for 16,000 consecutive days as ‘a fairly decent effort’.

Hill started his life in humble surroundings in Accrington and, despite securing a scholarship in textiles at Manchester University, his earning capacity was hindered rather than helped by his running.

In these days of sponsorship deals and lottery funding, it is difficult to imagine one of Great Britain’s leading athletes needing a whip-round to fund one of the greatest moments of their career.

Yet that was what was required when Hill, now 70 years old, won the Boston Marathon in 1970.

“I didn’t get invited to Boston,” revealed Hill, who was then the European champion.

“The Road Owners’ Club of England had to have a whip-round to send me there and when I got there I had to stay with a family.

“But I didn’t know any different. I knocked three minutes off the record and ran 2 hours 10 minutes.

“No Briton had ever won Boston before and it was the most famous marathon in the world. To knock all that time off on an awful day, with headwinds and rain, was special.”

Winning on the streets of Boston was a mighty achievement for a man once so timid that he did all his training in the back streets of East Lancashire.

“I had a happy childhood,” he said. “I joined Clayton-le-Moors Harriers when I was 13 years old because I was interested in running, inspired by this comic character called Alf Tupper.

“But I was shy and ran up all the back streets up to Bullough Park and out on to the moors, on to the Haslingden Old Road and back again.

“I once went to a reunion at Accrington Grammar School and this guy said he couldn’t get over how poor I was. I didn’t realise people had noticed we were poor.

“But the toilet was in the back yard and we had a two up, two down. My mother went out to work to keep a family of three of us together and my dad worked on the railway.

“I never thought I’d get anywhere because my early results were nothing significant. I just wanted to go out and run.

“I used to get very nervous. I couldn’t sleep the night before a race and I’d be scared to death. I’d run the race and be absolutely knackered, but the next day I’d say, ‘When’s the next race?’.”

Hill developed into an international class athlete at Manchester University, forcing himself to run twice a day so he could reduce his recovery time after races.

In 1964, he emerged as a serious force with the second fastest marathon time in history. It may even have been the fastest had he not been given the wrong directions at one point.

He was disappointed with his performance at the Tokyo Olympics later that year but was boosted by victory at the English Cross Country Championships in 1966 and finished a respectable seventh in the 10,000m at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, leading with five laps to go before being beaten by altitude specialists.

Then came victory at the 1969 European Champ-ionships, Boston and gold at the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, which he refers to as ‘the crowning moment’ of his career.

But, despite all his success, still Hill met with opposition within his own country.

He said: “The year after the Commonwealths, I said to the selectors that I’d proved I was a top class runner, so why should I have to run in a trial to prove I was good enough to run in the European Games?

“But the head of selection said that I had run 2 hours 9 minutes and the second guy ran 2 hours 12 minutes and that in percentage terms there wasn’t much difference. How can you argue with stupidity like that?

“I won the trials but they were so close to the Games that there wasn’t time to have a rest. In the end I got a bronze medal.

“So I said, ‘Next year is the Olympics, if you want a gold medal, pick me now’. But they said I had to run a trial again and it just took something out of me.

“But that’s life. The selectors are picking pole vaulters and marathon runners, so what do they really know?

“And I found out that my salary as a textile chemist was being held back because I took time off to run.

“After the Munich Olympics I was told that if I was selected for Great Britain again I’d better start taking my annual leave.

“I started my own business and got out.

“Times were tough. But like Alf Tupper I got on with it.”