The Oldest Ever Competitor at the Atacama Crossing 2019


At the age of 75, Bill will be the oldest ever finisher of this race and any RacingThePlanet / 4 Deserts Ultra when he crosses the final finish line of the Atacama Crossing this year. 


William Mitchell is one of a kind. At 63 he decided he needed to be a little bit fitter, so he started walking. Those walks turned into jogs and those jogs evolved into training sessions for marathons and ultramarathons. 


A former naval officer, Bill finished his first marathon in London at the age of 65. Now, at 75, he has completed 177 marathon and ultramarathon races and has a marathon PB (personal best time) of 03:54:33! He is the oldest man to do his first marathon at 65 and the oldest to complete 100 having started so late. He is also the oldest person to complete three Marathon des Sables races in 12 months where he was UK best male runner of 2016. All of this makes him very happy, as he never thought he would reach that point: “it only shows that you are never too old” said Bill, a mantra that he frequently repeats. In this line, he is the winner of the "Active Agers" Category at the Amplifon Awards 2018, awarded to an individual aged 60 or over who’s attitude and approach to ageing is an inspiration to us all.


The record for the oldest finisher of a RacingThePlanet / 4 Deserts Race is currently held by Yoshiaki Ishihara of Japan who completed RacingThePlanet: New Zealand earlier in 2019 at the age of 74 - he beat the previous record held by Jack Denness when completed the Sahara Race (Egypt) 2018 at the age of 73. The record for the women is held by Robyn Metcalfe who completed RacingThePlanet: Patagonia in 2017. Jennifer Murray was also 69 when she completed the Sahara Race (Egypt) in 2009.


Bill lives now in a small village near the Peak District in Derbyshire and running not only has allowed him to get fit but also to travel around the world and all over Europe. 


What Bill has achieved in his running is quite an achievement, arousing both admiration and envy among his peers, although many think he is out of his mind. So, why is he doing it? “I feel absolutely euphoric, like I’m flying on a kite. It’s a wonderful feeling. The high I had after finishing the London Marathon was just brilliant. And I still feel that about every run. The moment I don’t feel that is the moment I’ll give up. For now, every time I achieve something, I think, ‘What’s the next challenge?’ It has to be harder every year”. 


In case someone thinks that he is made of a special material, he is convinced that it is not the case, and he insists that anyone can do it. Bill’s advice is:

  • You can do anything if you have the desire.
  • Do it in little bites.
  • Forbid yourself from saying, ‘I’m too old.’ I hear quite young people say that all the time. It’s an excuse.
  • Just give it a go. If you don’t like what you’re doing, do something else, but don’t give up before you’ve tried.


He certainly hasn´t given up yet, Bill has booked his next flight to another new country, Chile for his next challenge, running the Atacama Crossing 2019. 

We ask him a little bit more about his routines and goals.


Q. Why did you choose the Atacama Crossing as your next race? 

A. I found that I like the different landscapes and the challenge that desert running brings. The Atacama looked very interesting and also a new challenge


Q. What are you looking forward to most and what are you most worried about at the Atacama Crossing?

A. The altitude is a new challenge to look forward to, the only other concerns are the cold nights or having a fall.


Q. Can you share what your training looks like?

A. I only train with other trail / ultra marathons as these do make you work harder. I have six more booked till the end of August, one will be a night run and there is also a 50k one. In trail running you can get lost, and this can be a blessing as it can help you cope with something you were not expecting.

Also I am training with a weighted bag, increasing slowly its weight.

One key training I do most weeks is hill repeats and gym work.