Neil Featherby: Ron Bentley – Old school heroics from a great and humble man

Ron Bentley celebrates running 161 miles in 24 hours Picture: Wolverhampton Express & Star

Earlier this week I posted on Facebook an old ITV film clip from 1974 featuring Tipton Harriers' Ron Bentley, who had just set a world record (on November 3/4) for running over 161 miles in 24 hours.

Whilst this amazing feat brought him attention beyond the usual running circles, it was more out of fascination.

However, not only was Bentley an awesome ultra runner, he was pretty special at all distances and was one of many top guys who hailed from the UK at the time.

The four-minute clip showed how he fitted his 24 miles a day training into his working and daily life. The interviewer's questions suggested a bit of 'is this for real?', but Ron took it all in his stride with matter of fact, but very modest, answers.

'What's a great runner like you doing in a workplace like this as it seems a hard way to make a living?' the interviewer asked.

'No, not really, I'm used to it,' Ron replied, summing up the attitude he and lots of others had back then, making no big deal of what many others would see as a great achievement.

Needless to say, my post received several likes and responses, especially from the older runners, with many of them suggesting back then it really was just about working hard, getting your head down and getting on with it. And this was long before today's technology existed.

Having a bit of an old school mentality myself, I agree, but one of my responses to a particular comment was that if today's technology had existed back then, would the likes of Ron Bentley have taken advantage of it? Personally, I think he would have.

However, mindsets were most certainly different all those years ago, but they would be; it was a completely different era. Things were not so easily accessible for one.

If you wanted something, the likelihood is that you would have had to wait weeks and months to save up for it before getting it. A bit like training for a marathon, ie, putting the money and miles in the bank first.

Running publications were few and far between and certainly did not have the same amount of glossy adverts and marketing which all of today's mags have.

As for footwear, back in 1974, the shoes worn in the film clip are a pair of old Tiger Marathons, which were nothing more than a canvas upper with a hard rubber sole. With regards to cushioning, well what was that.

In the film, they show an example of the food he ate during his world record run too, which was pretty amazing, containing gallons of glucose drink along with dry glucose, jars of honey, tins of soup and fruit, several chocolate bars and much more - yet he still lost 14lb in weight.

It was all high energy food and any good ultra marathon runner of today such as our own Mandy Foyster and Carmine De Grandis will tell you that this diet will still very much work during long distance races irrespective of having more sophisticated products on the market; all carefully packaged up ensuring that our nutritional requirements are readily available through sports supplementation.

Whilst I would use many of today's available supplements for such long distance runs, at the end of the day I would still be more than happy with what is real food, particularly when at a low point, along with a nice cup of tea to pick me up.

In a nutshell, if you fancy it, then eat it.

At the end of the day, whether it be a runner with the mindset of those hard guys of the past or indeed one of today's more techno athletes, the one thing you can be sure of is that when it comes down to old school versus modern day methods, there are no short cuts. Hard work and applied structure towards training will always be a case of 'you are only going to get out what you are prepared to physically put into it'.

The interviewer asked why he did it when there was no financial gain. With a shrug of the shoulders, Ron replied: 'I do it for the glory and the pride.' Perfect answer!

Ron Bentley passed away last year aged 88, but I like to think that we can still learn so much from this great and humble man.

Neil Featherby's Friday EDP Feature