Wayne Joseph’s Blog

Running with the Big Dog

Big Island Running Pioneer, Robert Hillier

Bob Hillier

It’s been more than 20 years since I moved from Honolulu to teach, raise my family and become part of the running community here on the Big Island.

   During the 1980’s the Big Island running scene was anchored by several pioneers who brought with them the enthusiasm and commitment to start, maintain and bring to full bloom the competitive spirit of our sport.

   One such pioneer that deserves much credit is Robert Hillier who came to Hawaii in 1968 to teach English at Hilo High School after serving two years in the Peace Corps in the Philippines.

   “I was recruited by the Hawaii Department of Education who wanted to bring into the school system returning Peace Corp volunteers,” Hillier said.  Other former Peace Corps Volunteer who taught school and who enjoyed running included Donald Romero, Patricia Richardson and Rob Banashek.

    Hillier was born and raised in Laramie, Wyoming and ran track and cross country in high school.  “I ran cross country at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, but stopped running altogether from 1966 to ’74,” he said. 

   “In the 1960’s six miles was considered a long training run.  Running shoes were lightweight canvas shoes with no cushioning or support and the Boston Marathon was open to any male who wanted to enter, but 26 miles seemed like an impossible distance,” Hillier said.

   The opportunity to coach the Hilo High girls cross country team, newly formed in 1974 also encouraged Hillier to resume running.

   By 1979 Hillier had begun to establish himself as a regular Big Island harrier and during the 1980’s could be found entered in almost every local race.

  “My training by the ‘80s exceeded 40 miles per week as I raced almost every month doing 25 marathons and a few shorter ultra-marathons,” Hillier said.

   By 1985 Hillier was at the top of his running performance with a personal best 2 hours 38 minutes and 8 seconds for the 1985 Honolulu Marathon. 

  “I ran marathons in Hilo, Volcano, Kona, Maui, Boston, San Francisco and Cheyenne and had two marathon victories,” he said.  Hillier won the 1985 Kona Marathon and the 1986 Big Island Marathon while he coached and trained with the lady Viking harrier squads.

   Hillier also helped to promote running through the Big Island Road Runners as he and Alvin Wakayama co-directed the Saddle Road Relay and Ultra-Marathon for four years.  Hillier also co-directed the Pepsi Challenge 10K with Calvin Shindo in Hilo for two years and was instrumental as a pioneer in helping to continue the running craze that was sweeping the country during that time period.

   When I arrived in Hilo during the 80’s Robert Hillier’s name was well known within the local running community as the Viking teach/coach had established himself as a solid competitive runner and a contributing member of the BIRR.

   “Running is the most basic of athletic activities,” Hillier said.  “All you have to do is put on your shoes and go.  It promotes aerobic fitness more readily than almost any sport.  Running can be social when you run with others, or it can be meditative when you run alone on trails.”

   One of the most challenging activities that Hillier has ever done is when he decided to hike the Long’s Peak which is a 16 mile round trip to the summit with an elevation gain of almost 5,000 feet.

    “The same breathing techniques that helped my marathon pacing also got me to the top of the mountain and back down,” Hillier said.

   Today, at age 66, Hillier continues to work full time for the DOE as the State Coordinator for the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP).

   Although not as competitive as he once was Hillier continues to run an occasional fund-raiser event and was last seen in the EMS 5K runs hosted by the County’s Fire Department this past May.

   “Now I run mostly for health, but I try to participate each year in an occasional fund-raiser,” he said.  “With age and an injury I decreased my mileage to between 10 and 25 miles per week and sometimes the running turns out to be walking.”

   Hillier doesn’t let age and a nagging injury deter his drive to stay healthy and fit and has incorporated variety into his fitness plans.

   “I follow no special diet, but try to include healthy foods in my meals,” he said.  “I like a full range of foods with lean protein, salads, fruits and especially wholegrain carbohydrates.  I also cross train a bit, visiting Spencer’s Health and Fitness on weekends and I include light weights and stretching into my regular routine.”

   Robert Hillier exemplifies the essence of what we strive for in health and fitness that of achieving balance in our lives. 

   “Running is a great way of exploring cities,” he said.  “Exercise promotes health and contributes to balance in life.  Usually a runner can use pacing and mind power to get past “the wall” but there are also times when a runner needs to slow to a walk and if injured to drop out.”

   And what’s in store for this super healthy senior citizen?  “My exercise goals are to keep active and take pleasure in exercise,” Hillier said.  “My health goals are to remain active and productive.”


August 2, 2010 Posted by | Profiles, Running on the Big Island | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment