The Diary: A mile a day - even when plastered

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IT SHOULD take Ron Hill less than 50 minutes to complete the Coalite Saucony 10km road race in Bolsover today. It has taken him considerably longer to reach the latest landmark in his long-running personal marathon. Since Friday 20 December 1964 - the day before the House of Commons voted to abolish hanging - Hill has run at least one mile every day.

It has not, as you might imagine, been easy to keep his run going for 35 years. There have been late-night jogs at airport terminals and on railway platforms. There was the time, five years ago, when he was injured in a head-on car crash. "I broke my sternum and was taken to hospital," Hill told The Diary, "but fortunately I'd already run that day. They kept me in overnight but I was released the next day and when my wife went out shopping I sneaked out and hobbled a mile in 12 minutes. It was not a very nice experience."

Then there was the time he persuaded his son to drive him to the local track when he left hospital with a plaster cast on his foot after a bunion operation. "Now that really was painful," Hill reflected. "My son told me I was stupid but he waited while I did my four laps. I ran a mile every day for six weeks with the cast on."

Hill is more than just a real-life Forrest Gump. He won the European championship marathon in 1969 and the Commonwealth Games marathon in Edinburgh in 1970. At 61, though, he has clocked up as many momentous milestones as famous victories. He has covered 137,397 miles in training and racing, for instance, raced in 60 different countries, and competed in 2,040 races.

He has also built up a running-wear empire and written two marathon-sized volumes of autobiography. Part three of the Ron Hill story is already being planned. It's title? Downhill All The Way. Not that the Lancastrian legend can see an end to his long-running saga. "How long can I keep the run going?" he said. "I don't know. Forever, I guess. Forever of my lifetime, any way."

Never too old

TO THE folk who follow the New Year professional athletics gala in Edinburgh, it must seem like Ken Cairns has been running forever. It was in 1949 that the Tynesider first ran in the blue riband event at the annual meeting, the 110m handicap sprint. He has been back every year since and last year, aged 71 and running from a mark of 35m, brought the crowd at Meadowbank Stadium to their feet by holding off his fast-finishing young rivals to win his heat.

This year the Peter Pan sprinter has been drawn in the same heat as Chris Baillie, the 18-year-old high hurdler who made his Great Britain senior debut in the match against the United States in September. Sadly, though, Ken Cairns (or Ken Charles, to use the old pro sprinter's "cod name" he still runs under) will not be getting down to his mark at Musselburgh on 28 December.

"I've had an injured leg since July and I haven't been able to do the necessary training," he told The Diary. "I'll be back next year, though - holding my body together with a piece of string if I have to."

Closing in on 900

GRAEME ARMSTRONG has not been back to the Edinburgh New Year gala (not as a sprinter, at any rate) since he ran in the 90m handicap 15 years ago. "I ran embarrassingly," he confided. At 43, though, the self-effacing Scot is on a record-breaking run which dates back to 25 April 1975, when the Bay City Rollers topped the charts with "Bye Bye Baby" and Dixon of Dock Green was still on the Saturday night television schedule.

Armstrong played his first match in the Scottish Football League that day, as an 18-year-old triallist for Meadowbank Thistle against Stirling Albion at Annfield Park. Twelve months ago he broke Tommy Hutchison's British record for league appearances by an outfield player, 863. And yesterday, as Stenhousemuir's left-back-cum-manager against Partick Thistle at Firhill, he took his running total to 897.

"I'm looking to stop playing, actually," Armstrong told The Diary. "I've played every game this season but, to be honest, I'm finding it difficult in the muddy conditions at the moment. I think there'd be something wrong with me if I wasn't. The trouble is I'm struggling to find a replacement. Finding left-sided players isn't easy." Especially ones who can keep going for a quarter of a century.

Almost potless

MICK BULLAS has passed the century mark in his particular sporting run. The defeat he suffered at Hillsborough Snooker Centre on Wednesday night was his 101st successive loss in the Sheffield Association League. The 53-year-old captain of the Hillsborough fifth team was actually 14-0 up in his one-frame match, part of a five-frame team fixture against Sheffield British Legion. "But then I went for a colour and missed," he told The Diary, "and the next minute the lad I was playing against started potting like mad. I thought, `That's my victory gone for Christmas.' I lost 53- 14."

Bullas has gone six Christmases without a win. "I haven't won since 5 October 1993," he said. "Against Sheffield Housing, it was. I wouldn't say I was too bad a player - average really. Things just keep going wrong for me. I don't know why. It might just be lack of confidence.

"I do get fed up with losing all the time, but I still enjoy playing. And at least I'm consistent." In a Sheffield Wednesday sort of a way.

Tupper worn down

AND FINALLY... Not many people can claim to have caught up with their comic- book hero but Ron Hill is one exception. As he relates at the start of his first autobiography, he was inspired to take up running by Alf Tupper, the legendary "Tough of the Track". According to The Victor, Alf won the 1970 Commonwealth Games marathon as a one-man team for Tristan-da-Cunha. The record books, however, confirm that Hill was in fact the winner of that race. "It was a bit of a coincidence," the real-life running legend told The Diary, "but I definitely crossed the line first."