DAVID Slater was used to running up hills. As he says, for a keen young athlete growing up in Keighley “everywhere you ran, there was a hill”.

So when he was challenged to run up a mountain in the little Spanish town of Elgoibar, he didn’t think twice.

More than 30 years later, the four-mile mountain run has become an annual event in the town - and David’s record of 20 minutes 40 seconds has yet to be broken.

A big name in cross country and long distance running, who competed internationally for Great Britain and England in the 1970s and 80s, David had his most memorable victory in a race he did alone, following a bet in a bar. Three decades later he returned to Elgoibar for the first time since his run, and learned that it has left a remarkable legacy in the town.

Now David’s story has been made into a film by his son, James Slater. It includes original footage of David running up the Spanish mountain, filmed by local people who turned out to support him.

Having shown promise as a young runner, David’s parents encouraged him to join a local athletics club. His talent was spotted by coach Eddie Hardy, who told him to “run up hills”.

“When I was 17 Eddie said: ‘Listen to me and you’ll be running for England’,” recalls David, who joined Skyrac Athletics Club and Bingley Harriers and became an international runner, competing around the world. He was in the team that won the World Cross Country Championship in 1976.

It was in May, 1981, while on holiday in Elgoibar, that David was set a challenge by his friend, Luis Santolaya.

“I ran many times in the Basque region and Luis used to meet me at the airport. This time he’d invited me to stay with him,” says David. “We were sitting in one of the little social clubs where men gathered to play cards and chat, and he said: ‘Will you run from the valley bottom to the top of that mountain?’ I said ‘Yes’ and thought little of it.”

The bet was to beat a record set by 1960s English international cross country champion, Roy Fowler. Little did David, then aged 30, know what a stir his own attempt would create. “I thought maybe a couple of people would turn up to watch me, but the whole town came out!” he says. “Hundreds of people lined the road, crowds and cars were following me. There were cars going uphill, and coming down in front of me. I just put my head down and carried on.”

News had travelled fast in the little town and everyone was talking about it. Luis had contacted the local newspaper and TV station. In James’ delightful film, El Ingles (The Englishman), David is seen running up the mountain, a gradient of 600m, surrounded by people, cars and mopeds. A man is hanging out of a car, clutching a camera. In one scene Luis runs alongside him, shouting: ‘Go on, go faster!’

David broke Fowler’s record by 40 seconds. “Afterwards, in the bar, it was hailed as a great sporting day,” recalls David. “There was a slate with ‘Liverpool 2/1. Real Madrid 2/1. David Slater 3/1’ written on it.

Thirty years later, in 2011, David had a surprise ‘phonecall from a former president of Bingley Harriers who had been contacted by the organisers of a mountain race in Elgoibar...

David was invited to be guest of honour at the town’s mountain race, which had been resurrected following the death of his friend, Luis. It is now an annual event - and to date nobody has beaten David’s record.

“When I was a runner it was a golden age of running; the standard was high in those days,” says David. “I did cross country and road races in countries such as Russia, Canada and all over Europe. For a lad like me, from a working-class background, running gave me an opportunity to see the world, and it gave me confidence.

“I’ve worked in textiles since school - I moved to Baildon because I got a job at a Yeadon mill and could run to and from work. I was running 100 miles a week. Eventually, with a young family and a busy working life, it took its toll. I stopped running in the mid-80s. These days I keep fit by cycling, with my grandson.”

Now 67, David is managing director of Roberts Dyers & Finishers in Keighley. He has fond memories of running in Elgoibar and was thrilled to go back there, initially with his former coach, Eddie Hardy, and later with his son, James. “We discovered that some locals had taken footage of the race, which I’d never seen before,” says David. “James was there to make a documentary about the run - it’s a lovely thing for us to have as a family. We premiered it in Elgoibar, he locals loved it.”

James, a freelance director who has made music videos for acts such as Kaiser Chiefs, the Zutons and The Coral, as well as documentaries and adverts, hopes to screen El Ingles in Bradford.

The film, which is in memory of Luis Santolaya, blends original footage of David running with scenes of present-day runners taking on the mountain, and local people their sharing their memories. “He was like a horse, he didn’t give in,” says one man. “He kept his speed up, even halfway.”

The locals include Fermin Arrese who was at the top of the mountain with his stopwatch when David crossed the finishing line, and Manu Conde, who followed David up in his car. In a particularly moving scene, David and some townsfolk watch old race footage together in a bar, taking them back to where it all began with a bet one spring evening in 1981.

So why did this Yorkshireman’s victory capture the town’s heart? “There’s a big running tradition in the Basque region, and Elgoibar is in a valley, surrounded by mountains. They like a challenge!” smiles David.

For James, it was a story he’d grown up with. “I was about four when Dad did the run, I don’t really remember it,” he says. “When I went to Elgoibar with him, more than 30 years later, I was bowled over by how cherished the memory is for these people. It was a big deal, and they still talk about the Englishman who ran up the mountain. We met someone who had filmed Dad running, it was on VHS in a cardboard box in the back of a shop. It was very moving to watch.

“There’s a romance to the story that really appeals to people. It’s almost like a film script.”

Adds James: “Going back to Elgoibar reconnected us to the Santolaya family. Last year some runners from Baildon went there, and we hope Basque runners will come to Bradford, to continue the link.”

* To watch El Ingles go to vimeo.com/291298133