Croy based ultrarunner and lover of Sherlock Holmes, James Stewart, has proven himself a force to be reckoned with, with numerous high profile ultra wins and a tremendous performance in the 2018 IAU 24 Hour European Championships.
We had the pleasure of talking to James Stewart about what drew him to ultrarunning.
When did you start running?
I’d pottered about with running for years. Doing a few marathons. Then in 2011, after having put on a fair few stone (I was almost 70lbs heavier than I am now) I decided to get serious and try to get fit. And at the same time I found ultrarunning.
What gives you that drive?
Running is an integral part of my life. It offers challenge and escapism. I practice mindful running when I am out a few times a week and it also helps me stay healthy. It is starting to influence the choices my kids make too, in a positive way.
When I started to look at running properly back in 2011, I set myself the challenge of beating all my PBs up to marathon distance in 2012. Just a personal goal. The reality is I wanted to lose weight as I was ridiculously heavy and out of shape. The times were pretty modest in relative terms. We are talking 3:43 marathon, 1:36 half etc. But I’d never been racing fit. After a successful 2012 I started to get the bug and found ultrarunning. I had a disastrous DNF (did not finish) at my first ultra but enjoyed the experience loads.
Ultrarunning is like a way of life. An attitude. A spirit. And I was drawn to it. I trained harder, became more engaged in the sport. Improved my diet and condition. After a while I become competitive. Not winning but towards the top ten / top five. And this is how the story goes. There wasn’t one epiphany moment where I decided I would be such and such. It was an evolutionary process of me as a person and runner. Before I knew I was working with a coach and aiming to win ultras, which is pretty much what 2015 was about.
Since then I have been lucky enough to pull on Scotland and GB vests. Win a couple of decent races and get better despite getting older.
What keeps you going?
I guess two things 1) I am doing something I really love and enjoy – that makes motivation very easy to come by and 2) this is fuelled by the fact I am enjoying exploring the limits of my potential.
What’s your favourite distance?
100 milers are my favourite.. It’s epic! The 24 hour event comes a close second though.
What’s your favourite surface to run on?
I am quite happy on all surfaces. It’s the act of running that I enjoy most. That said, if I had to choose it would be trail. I run hills, flat, trail, track and tarmac and from 50k to 160 miles, just not that mountain sh*t, I am scared of heights. I see 100 mile+ races on varied (but runnable) trail as my preferred place to be.
What’s your favourite running route?
Anywhere in and around Croy Hill where the Antonine Trail Races take place.
What has been your best event to date?
It’s a hard to choose one! I think my best experience was the West Highland Way in 2016. It was a great day out and such fine weather that we got to see Scotland at its best.
Have you got a go-to running shoe?
HOKA. I love the support and stability of them. Of course, being an ambassador for them means I get to try lots of pairs. For trails the Challenger 4s are amazing and I wore the Elevon shoe at the recent 24 hour European Championships and they were frankly amazing.
Tell us about the IAU 24 Hour Championships?
The IAU 24 Hour European Championships. is an International Association of Ultrarunners event, and this was the 22nd running of it. Dan Lawson (GB) was the defending champ. It features the best runners from all over Europe. The primary aim is team medals and the 3 best cumulative distances count. GB men came 2nd to the French, and ahead of the Germans. The women’s team, despite only 3 starters, took bronze. Poland were the winners with Germany 2nd.
I finished 11th overall with 244.4km despite a period of 3 hours overnight where I fell ill and was sick for a few hours. I’d dropped to 32nd during this time. I was agonisingly just 210 meters from 10th and was finishing faster than anyone else in the field. I was really pleased with how I recovered and know I can run quite a bit further.
Is there anything you couldn’t run without?
Your go-to post-run treat?
After a long run I love some eggs and potato scones.
What does the future hold for James Stewart?
Unknown at this stage. I don’t have any ultras booked in. I decided to have no distractions in the future and it helped. There are so many events on my bucket list it’s hard to know where to start. Fitting them all in is the problem!