GRANT MacDONALD was, he admits, getting pretty frustrated with being congratulated on relatively average race results when really, the congratulations were “for not being dead”.

It may be a brutal appraisal of people’s well-wishes, but it is entirely understandable why people were impressed with MacDonald being on the start-line of races, never mind crossing the finish line.

In 2014, while out on a training run, MacDonald was hit with what he describes as a “blinding headache”, collapsing mid-run. In fact, it turned out to be a subarachnoid haemorrhage – a rare type of stroke caused by bleeding on the surface of the brain.

For individuals who suffer such a haemorrhage, survival rates are only 40 per cent and of those who survive, half are left with severe brain damage and disability. That MacDonald is now one of the country’s top ultra runners is nothing short of remarkable and he attributes much of his subsequent success to the health issues that could have killed him.

“Before the haemorrhage, I was a solid club runner. I’d started doing ultras and got to a reasonable level but I certainly wasn’t at international standard,” the 41-year-old recalls.

“After I recovered from my brain haemorrhage though, it gave me that extra motivation to train that little bit harder because you feel like you’ve got a second chance, which is a cliche but there’s definitely some truth in it.”

Two brain surgeries later, he used running as part of his recovery strategy, going out for his first jog just 39 days after his collapse and astonishingly, racing the Glenmore 24, a 24-hour trail race, just seven months after the haemorrhage.

However, despite his near miraculous recovery, he became somewhat irked at getting credit for just being alive.

Which is why, when he began doing 24-hour racing – a truly superhuman discipline which involves running as far as possible around a track for 24 hours – he was driven to really make a name for himself.

“When I started running again, I felt like every race I did, I had an asterisk against my name because it was like that’s a good result for someone who had a brain haemorrhage,” the biomedical scientist from Strathblane says. “I felt like I was getting credit for something that I shouldn’t really be getting credit for – ‘well done for not dying’, really. I felt like I was being congratulated for something that wasn’t in my hands.

“So when I started getting into 24-hour racing, I wanted to do something that stood up on its own, an achievement that didn’t have that asterisk beside it. I wanted to do something that even if I hadn’t had a brain haemorrhage, I’d still be proud of it.

“So I don’t think I’d have got a GB vest if I hadn’t had the brain haemorrhage. I made the best out of a horrible situation and I’m pleased I’ve been able to take some positives from it.”

He certainly has made a name for himself. MacDonald became a GB internationalist, and earlier this month should have been racing the World 24 Hour Championships in Romania.

As has become all too familiar over the past 18 months though, Covid caused the cancellation of the event and so instead, MacDonald will be on the start line at the Belfast 24 Hour Run this weekend.

This race doubles up as qualification for next year’s European Championships and, with a baby on the way which will certainly make finding the hours required for training considerably more tricky, MacDonald is aware this is likely to be his one and only chance to make the team.

However, with 24-hour racing being something that can only be done once or twice a year, the pressure of now or never is something MacDonald is well used to and in fact, is something he uses to his advantage when he is hitting the wall mid-race.

“Things will definitely be different when the baby arrives so if I’m going to get my qualifier, I have to put everything into Belfast,” he says.

“That’s actually a motivation though because I don’t want to be sitting complaining for the next 12 months about how I ran. So when you’re struggling at the 18-hour mark, you have to remind yourself that it’s worth having a hard six hours rather than moaning for the next 12 months about it.”

For most mere mortals, the thought of running for 24 hours – during which MacDonald typically covers over 150 miles – is unimaginable. And while the physical test is severe it is, says MacDonald, the rollercoaster of emotions he experiences during the course of a race, including occasionally wondering why having escaped death, he’s chosen this as his favoured pursuit, that can be the greatest challenge.

“What appeals to me about the 24-hour races is they’re a real mental puzzle,” he says.

“You’re asking yourself ‘how much do I want this’ 600-odd times with every lap of the track. The temptation to stop is there on every single lap.

“I do sometimes think I’ve been given this second chance, is this really what I should be doing with it? Why have I chosen this?”

In all likelihood, these same thoughts will pass through MacDonald’s head in Belfast this weekend. It’s nothing he can’t handle though.