To Hell and Back – 100km Nightmare

Today’s blog is from our resident long distance runner, Dave Mitchinson. In this blog, Dave shares his exploits in his longest, toughest and most unpleasant race to date. An arduous 100km race, where the pride of representing his country kept Dave going, through injury and worse. A really heroic run, well done Dave, we hope you take some time off and recover well.

UKA 100KM Championships incorporating Anglo – Celtic Plate Home Nations International – TO HELL AND BACK!

It was with optimism that I arrived in Perth, Scotland on Saturday 30 March, in preparation for my 100km debut on 31 March, running for England against Scotland, Ireland and Wales in a home nations International match.

My plan was simple, run comfortably to 50km, aiming for approximately 3hrs and 25minutes and then do what I needed to do to hang on, with the aim of running 7hrs and 02minutes, the individual qualifying time for the World 100km Championships, with the backup plan of achieving the team qualifying time of 7hrs 18mins, if things were tough – little did I know what awaited me!!

A 7am start, combined with the clocks changing on the Saturday night mean a very early rise, however I was rooming with my England Team mate, Adrian Marriott, an experience marathon running and similar to myself a 2hrs18minute performer who had also chosen to focus on the challenge of Ultra distance running. I had run with Adrian at the World 50km champs in Italy in October 2012 and his sensible head had lead to a steady start in the arduous and hot conditions and definitely contributed to my 6th Place finish, although on that occasion Adrian had been forced to stop due to an injury. The conditions on this occasion could not have been more different.

On the morning of the race I rose at 5am, body clock telling me it was 4am(!) and had my prerace breakfast of porridge. It’s always a relief to wake on the morning of a race fit and healthy, after months of preparation it can be sole destroying to wake with a sore throat or illness, and making a sensible decision when representing your country can be difficult.

As I headed out to the course at 6am I was nervous, but glad to finally be about to start the race. The weather was minus 5 and not due to rise much above freezing, however I felt confident that by deciding to race in lycra style Fuel Shorts provided by ColourMyKit UK I would be able to bear the conditions and reminded myself that it had to be better than the 26 degree heat I endured in my last Ultra race.

UK Athletics 100km Championships

Dave at the start line (R) in England vest


The race started, with me and Adrian sticking to our prerace plan and going out at a sensible pace, the course of 100km (62miles) was run over a 42 circuit which was predominantly flat apart from a 30 metres climb near to the start of each lap. The first few laps passed uneventfully and I felt I was settling into a rhythm. The Cloudracer shoes I had opted for, provided by felt perfect. Adrian and I shared 3rd place and running side by side I felt confident that I hadn’t started too fast and would be able to sustain the pace. However inexplicably at 15km my right hip flexor (the muscle which helps to lift the leg and basically run!!) started to tighten, I tried not to panic and stay relaxed, but with the prospect of 85km still to run this was difficult.

Having never raced for more than 3hrs and 10mins during a 50km race and never having needed to take a toilet break  I was aware that I may need a toilet stop during a 100km race, but it soon became apparent that this would need to be sooner rather than later, again I tried not to panic, a short period of time lost now would surely not be a problem later on if it meant being able to run more comfortably. Approaching 2hrs of running I informed Adrian I needed to ‘take a pit stop’.  I wished him well and said I hoped to gradually close the gap once running again. I darted into a porta-loo and within a minute was back out on the course, stomach feeling better, but unfortunately not my now worsening right hip flexor, which had now been matched by the left one. I was careful not to try and immediately close the gap to Adrian, whom due to the nature of the course I could still see. As the next hour passed by hips and quads became tighter still, by three hours I KNEW I would not be able to finish the race, I decided to run until 50km, and call it a day then. I was aware that one of my England team mates had already withdrawn at 20miles, but the other 3 seemed to be going well.

UK Athletics 100km Championships

Freezing conditions early on in the race, Dave (L)


I reached 50km in 3hrs and 32mins, slower than I had planned and in real pain, I’m unsure what went wrong, maybe the weather?, maybe the long train journey the day before the race? Or maybe ‘just a bad day’ which unfortunately can happen. What happened next is still a mystery to me…..

I informed the England team management that I had to call it a day, I hate dropping out of a race, and in 20 years of competitive athletics I can count the number of times this had occurred on one hand. I was told to get a massage which was set up on the side of the course, which I was doing when I was told to take some ibuprofen and asked if I would consider ‘jogging’ a further (2km plus) lap. My head told me no, but I’ve always considered it an honour to put on an England vest and my heart told me the least I could do was try and jog a lap.

What then occurred was the truly most arduous and painful 50km of running of my life as I was encouraged lap by lap to keep moving – at points I could not believe what was happening, how could I still be moving when in so much pain? What was the point? At 60km I was told exactly that by the team management as I was informed Adrian was in trouble and had stopped for massage and was struggling badly and not expected to finish. I now HAD to finish in order that England were assured of a team finish in the home nations international.

I’ve always believed in mind over matter, but the next 40km stretched my mental ability, almost to breaking point. Performance levels were no longer a consideration, this had become a matter of survival, of placing one foot in front of the other and making sure I kept moving forwards, be it shuffling, walking, jogging or should the need arise crawling!!

UK Athletics 100km Championships

Through a haze of pain and encouragement from supporters I finished the 100km in 8hrs and 55mins – a staggering 1hr and 55minutes slower than my target – but England had finished a team.  I’m unsure what the problem with my hips was, but I believe this problem was lying dormant before the start of the race and was not something I could have predicted. I will be trying to rectify the problem as I recover over the coming days.

I believe I would not have finished the race had it not been for the shoes I was wearing, this was my first Ultra wearing On-running shoes and was amazed to take them off at the end of the race to find not one single blister, rubbed toe or blackened toenail – an AMAZING endorsement for both the shoes and the Balega  socks provided by . Also I did not suffered any chaffing or rubbing from my clothing. My equipment was definitely up to the job, but unfortunately on this occasion my body was not.

Despite the negative elements to this race I have learnt a lot. I have learnt I can ‘suffer’ more than I ever thought possible and positively despite hardly being able to walk by the end of the race my legs already feel that they are recovering and my passion for running has not diminished as I found myself looking at the ‘fixtures list’ for my next challenge! I hope to be back racing again soon and making the most of Running on Clouds!!!

Follow Dave on Twitter to find out more about ultra distance running @DaveMitchinson

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