International marathon runner Dave Hill has been going through his biggest challenge after being diagnosed with brain cancer. After a successful operation he is on the mend and looking forward to getting back to full fitness.The
The former Sunderland Harrier, who moved to the States in 2002, along with his wife, Michelle, refuses to let it get him down as he maintains his training in a reduced form.
The 70-year-old said: “Until a year ago, I was still running every day, up to 70 miles per week. Then I injured my hip and was undergoing physical therapy when the brain cancer hit me. Immediately after that, the Covid lockdowns kicked in and I stopped with the PT for fear of cross-infection. I haven’t resumed treatment yet, as I’m still undergoing chemotherapy probably until July."
“Instead of running, I’ve been walking daily and built up to 10 miles each day. The only days I missed in 2020 were the days I was in hospital.’’
Hill, who attended Bede Grammar School and lived in Roker Avenue, had an international marathon career that took him to distant parts of the world. His first marathon was in New York in 1981. It wasn’t really planned as he did not train properly for it. But he still managed a 2:33 finish off a 10-week build-up after eight weeks of total inactivity due to an injury sustained while trying to run in Baghdad.
That New York performance persuaded him that the marathon could be his best event. His next two marathons were 2:21 (Cleveland) (1982) and 2:17 (London) (1983). The London performance earned Hill his first England vest, for the Home Countries International later that year in Aberdeen.
He was then awarded British vests for the Antwerp Marathon, Beijing Marathon (1984) and Harare, Zimbabwe (1985), he also ran for British teams in the Florence marathon in 1985 and 1986.
The land surveyor’s best performances came in the London Marathon in 1984 with his 2:16.36 time and his 49:24 clocking in the Erewash 10-mile Road Race, the sixth fastest time in the world for an over-40 runner plus winning the World Masters’ 25km Championship in 1992.
In 1963, when he was 12 years-old he made his race debut at the Lumley Castle Relays. He was invited to join Sunderland Harriers by a school friend, John Carter in 1965 and club coach, John Barber, took him under his wing and he improved quite quickly. At the age of 17 he was a member of the Sunderland Harriers team that won the Signals Road Relay in 1968 for the first time.
He attended Birmingham University from 1969 and ran for the cross-country team. It was one of the best teams in the UK, with Andy Holden (British record holder for the steeplechase), Malcolm Thomas (English National Cross-Country champion (1972) and Ray Smedley (72 Olympian).
“I had to be at my absolute best in order to get into the scoring team. In my second year at Birmingham I was team captain. We won the British Universities’ Cross-Country Championship that year, for the first time, although I missed out through injury.’’
He then graduated from Birmingham and moved to University College, London for post-graduate study, he was on his own athletics-wise, with an extremely heavy workload and he drifted away from the sport. He was off the scene for about seven years but he did make a mini-comeback in 1976 while working in Malawi in Central Africa.
“I was all set to compete in the Malawi track and field championships, but came down with malaria, so my comeback fizzled out. I returned to the UK at the end of 1977 but was still travelling quite a bit, with projects in Libya, Iraq and Nigeria. I had gained close to 40lbs in weight during my time out of the sport and realized that I need to become more active.’’
Meanwhile, his brother Michael, had joined the Harriers and he went to watch him race a few times. That was the spark that rekindled his interest in the sport. “The plan was just to lose weight. I had no notion of getting back into competition. My first run was on Boxing Day 1979, just before my 29th birthday. I was able to wobble around three miles. I think it was about three weeks later when I got invited to compete in the Harrier League where I finished 13th running from the slow pack.’’
Hill settled in Tucson, AZ in the town of Marana. It is surrounded by mountains, but it’s predominantly desert. It does get very hot in the summer (over 100°F on many days), so the club make an early start. The running group, the Tucson Grinders, meets at 4:30am, 4-days per week year round.
He added: “I don’t think I’ve lost a race in my age group since moving here. However, I haven’t raced since 2014, due to a heart arrhythmia, which doesn’t stop me from running, but the medication I take to control the problem has the effect of slowing me down and I’m not too interested in racing slowly!"
“The athletics scene over here is much different. There are relatively few running clubs and mostly they are not set up like UK clubs with inter-club competition, cross-country leagues etc. Most events do not have team races and those that do will rarely impose conditions on who can compete for a team, so what generally happens is that a collection of individuals decide to create a team for a specific event.“
“There’s no requirement to provide proof of membership of any running club or group. There’s nothing that’s comparable to the English National, for instance. The US Cross-country Championships might only attract 200-300 runners, depending on the venue. Otherwise, there are lots of races but the standard at most races is low, compared to UK”.