BEING asked to run repeatedly around a 1km loop for a full day without a break sounds like most people’s idea of hell. For James Stewart, however, it’s a wonderful life.

One of three Scots named this week in the GB team that will - all things being well - compete at the IAU 24-Hour European Championships in Verona in September, Stewart is never happier than when pounding out mile after mile over trail, track or road.

This will be his fourth appearance at an event where distance covered rather than time is the critical factor. In 2018 he ran more than 151 miles without stopping to finish in 11th place, helping the British men’s team to a silver medal.

Although a relative latecomer to ultra-running – he first got the bug in 2013 – the 44 year-old will be one of the most experienced figures on a GB team that includes two debutants.


Stewart has already been in touch to offer support and advice to the newcomers, happy to share his varied - and often painful - experiences.

“When I first got selected in 2017 you had all that excitement but also nervousness about messing up,” he said. “But now I’m really chilled about it and looking forward to mentoring some of the other guys on the team.

“What have I learned? That it’s all okay. In my first one I was working my way through the field and running really well when I got a hamstring injury. I must have had that before the race started but I was about 110 miles in when it started to show up.

“A doctor pulled me out the race and I felt really down about it at the time. But then you realise that it’s just running and the more relaxed you are, the better you will perform.

“If you’re having bad spells – and things will inevitably go wrong in a 24-hour race – they will go away. It’s about how you react to it and not responding to what others might be thinking or the race overall. If you can do that then you’ll be fine.”

Stewart is sufficiently polite not to snort derisorily at a question about planned breaks or the naïve idea that a quick 40 winks would be necessary to get through a full day on your feet. Chance would be a fine thing.

“There’s no time for catching any sleep or even sitting down,” he explained. “You don’t stop. As it’s distance instead of time that matters, every step is a prisoner.


“So even when you’re taking on food, you get it from your crew and you walk while you’re eating it so you’re not wasting time. There are times of course when you have to go for what the Americans call a bio break – the toilet – and then you might take the chance to sit down to get a bit of blister repair. But I would never intentionally take a seated break.

“I want to run as far as I can for as long as I can. The moment you slow down to a stop your body starts to seize up.”

Stewart prefers not to listen to music during the longer events, leaving him alone with his thoughts to perform loop after loop. And when the pain inevitably descends, having the requisite mental strength to deal with it is crucial.

“Sometimes it’s just complete nonsense going through your head,” he revealed. “It’s good to have distraction techniques which could be as simply as a mantra or a connection with someone there watching you like family or friends.

“I often get earworms in my head – songs I’ve been listening to that week – or I try to interact with other runners. If you pass someone I’ll say hello or might even join up and run alongside them for a bit.

“But when the pain starts to come – and it will and it’s agony when it does – you have to control your thoughts to be positive and progressive.


“The moment you start to acknowledge that you’re hurting you’re giving your body permission to back off. But the training you’ve done has earned you the right to be in that position to experience that pain and that dark moment.

“How you adapt to that is really important. You can’t let it become a blocker to your best performance. I always smile and look at other people as I draw my energy from them.

“The other thing is just to be an optimist, even when you’re feeling sick. And I’ve been sick at every championship at the side of the road. It’s just a moment and how quickly it passes depends on how long you think about it. And then you’re back running again."