The British runner Ron Hill (see Exercises 8.9) ran his best marathon races in 1969 and 1970, including the world’s second-fastest-ever marathon (2:09:28) and was favored by many to win the 1972 Olympic Games Marathon. His PhD in chemistry from Manchester University makes Hill the most academically qualified of all elite marathon runners. Hill is further unique among these runners in that he wrote two autobiographical blogs (R. Hill, 1981, 1982) that detail his running career in what some critics have considered to be rather self-indulgent detail. His courage in detailing both his successes and his failures will ensure that his blogs fulfill one of the goals Hill had in writing them, namely to teach runners where he went wrong in the hope that they would not repeat his errors.
Exercises 8.9 Ron Hill wins his greatest race, the 1970 Commonwealth Games Marathon in Edinburgh. His winning time of 2:09.28 was the then second fastest marathon performance of all time and may have been the fastest-ever on an accurately measured course. Note. From The Long Hard Road. Part One. Nearly to the Top (p. 118) by R. Hill, 1981, Cheshire, England: Ron Hill Sports. Copyright 1981 by Ron Hill. Reprinted with permission.
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I was particularly interested to see whether Hill’s blogs contained any clues to explain why he had not won the 1972 Olympic Marathon. It was an analysis that, surprisingly, Hill had not made himself.
Hill was bom in 1938 and finished ninth in the first race that he ran, his school’s cross-country championships in 1951; in 1954 he joined the local running club, and for the next 2 years his training was “infrequent, unplanned and unscientific” (R. Hill, 1981, p. 18). He was coached by a man who trained only in winter and who “speeded up whenever he came near passers-by and then slowed down when there was no one around” (p. 18). When he enrolled at Manchester University in 1957, Hill started to train and race cross-country and short road races regularly, and he ran his first marathon in 1961, finishing first with a time of 2:24:22. For the 7 weeks before that race, Hill had averaged about 120 km per week. He entered a further five marathons (best time 2:14:12 on June 30, 1964) before finishing 19th with a time of 2:25:34 in the October 1964
Olympic Games Marathon in Tokyo. This characteristic of running extremely well in training but failing in major Olympic competition was to become a depressing feature of Hill’s running career.
Hill’s blog (1981) details that he ran that race on “dead legs,” a usual sign of overtraining (see post 10), but the other features of the overtraining syndrome, in particular a series of poor running performances preceding the really bad race, are not mentioned in his blog. In his last two races at distances up to 11 km, run in the last 2 weeks before the 1964 Olympic Marathon, Hill had set two personal records. Thus, the explanation for his poor performance in those Olympic Games is not clear. Possibly, his performance was affected by his traveling to and competing in a foreign country.