Race Report: IAU 24 Hour World Championship

By now most people who will read this will already be aware that I dropped part way through the IAU 24 Hour World Championships in Belfast. It hurts physically, mentally and emotionally. I won’t deny that. I am pretty philosophical about it all. And outwardly that is how I am presenting it. But, I also won’t deny that there have been moments when I have sat head in hands and whispered “fuck, fuck, fuck” to myself.

Hindsight is a curse and it is in glorious 20:20 technicolour 4k high definition when it comes to what happened at Victoria Park, Belfast around 4am. The exact time is unclear to me.

Let me give the short-story version. I had battled through some sickness earlier in the race. Four separate barfs to be precise. With the help of the infectious support of Robbie Britton I had laid the worst of these to rest hours before midnight and by the time the night was starting to turn back into day I was feeling really good.

Then, sometime around 107/108 miles as I was weaving in and out of runners on the back straight of the park, just past where Noanie and John had planted their brilliant Rainbow Flag, I felt my hamstring go. I pulled up right away. I walked the last few hundred metres of that lap (it was 1.7k long each lap) and saw Guy and Andy who administered some work to get me back out. Every time I tried to run after that it cramped and it felt like the pain was going right down my hamstring. I went back in and put some trousers on to warm up. To see if I could keep going. Another lap painfully executed, I couldn’t run more than 200 metres and it was getting worse. Guy checked me over again and declared a grade 2 hamstring tear. That meant nothing to me until I googled it. Race over, Guy had already told Andy before I went back out this was the case but they both knew I’d want to give it another lap or two.

At this point I was a gamut of emotions internally. 24 hour racing is as tough as it comes. There is no hiding place. There was already utter carnage on the course as champion after champion, famous ultrarunners galore, dropped from the race or were running miles (literally) short of their goals. I was devastated. I tried not to show it externally but inside I just wanted to go and sit in a dark corner. I couldn’t do that of course. My team mates were out there running their hearts out. Selfishly my biggest emotional pain was regret, regret that I had let my team down. That we may fall short of the team medals due to my exit from the race.

This is hard to write.

I am stuck between self-pity and selfishness on this one. But the things my teammates said to me after the race will stick with me. Whether the private messages or the words uttered between us as the day wore on.

The facts of the matter are I was quicker for 100 miles than I had been at Tooting and was then running quicker between 100-108 miles. All of which had me pretty confident I was going to come close to 260k /161 miles+ which was not far away from where I had set out to land. When I pulled up I had just passed Paddy Robbins with a smile and a bounce in my step.

So, why did it go wrong? The answer will never be known. The surface? The camber? An underlying but undiagnosed issue? Lack of conditioning? Hydration? Nutrition?

Who knows?

What I can say is that Paul Giblin had worked me into the best shape of my life. I was hitting numbers that were way in excess of anything I had in training and I felt super fresh coming into the race. It wasn’t physical capacity that’s for sure. It just was. And sometimes it just needs to be accepted for both its insensitive and unexplainable nature.

There are a number of learnings regardless that I will take from the race. These will centre ‘round clothing, nutrition, shoe choice and a few other stimuli that I will keep mainly between me, my coach and the race team. Nothing ground breaking but lots of good learning.

The positives outweigh the negatives 100x but the negatives will dominate my mind for a week or so yet. This is Glenmore 2014 all over again. After that I quickly recovered from the physical, mental and emotional trauma that beset my race and used it as a catalyst to strive for bigger and better things.

Belfast 24 has been the most wonderful experience of my running career to date. Despite how it ended, it was without doubt an honour to be selected for Great Britain. I met some amazing people and I can say without any hint of hyperbole, the team I was in was filled with the most incredible people. That is the whole team, crew, management and athletes.

To Paul, Renee, Shane, Charlotte, Eleanor, Adrian, Andy, Alan, Guy, Richard and Shane, thank you so much for making such sacrifices for us athletes. The selflessness you all show is rather humbling.

And to Robbie, Dan, Steve, Paddy, Marco, Debbie, Sharon, Jess, Beth and Ali, you all inspired me in so many different ways on and off the course over the weekend. Whenever I had a “fuck fuck fuck” moment I think of what you all did, what you have all done, and said, and think myself lucky to have stood alongside you.

Many great stories start with a protagonist in the midst of a challenge, facing a setback and having to fight adversity in order to find themselves and their way forward. Belfast 24 was the start of that story for me. I look forward to writing / righting things in the next chapter.

This has been the most cathartic blog post I have ever written. Thanks if you made it this far. I will excuse myself from the proverbial couch now and declare myself ready to fight again.


Some final words. A thank you to John and the whole management team but John especially who has been a great support from initial squad selection to this moment. We didn’t deliver as team on the day but our mission is clear and will happen. To Andy and Skoosh, every step you are there with me. And to Louise and the boys, I am sorry I wasn’t able to run the whole way for you but having you out there meant so much! Lastly, the amount of goodwill and support I have had before and after the race has left me honoured to the core. I can’t express my gratitude enough.


6 replies to “Race Report: IAU 24 Hour World Championship

  1. Loving your attitude, we’ve all had a fuck fuck fuck attitude and it’s totally understandable. You’ll bounce back from this, in meantime enjoy the downtime with Louise and the boys, although pretty sure you’ll be doing plenty cross training to keep you occupied. Speedy recovery champ!

  2. Well done James, sometimes putting things into words is the hardest part but it’s also the start of the healing xx

  3. Our son is a runner too. All I can say is running is part of your life, but it is not your life. Another day, another time. You did well. Cause you did.
    A MOMh

  4. You can feel by the way you execute your story that it was a dark day for you as it went on but as you wrote the light of the next day arrived and with it a renewed determination to put the past behind you, enjoy your recovery, enjoy the family during this period before your back out doing what you do best,

  5. James just got this . Great you got the vest. Tomorrow is another day. Was the race all on tarmac?

    1. Thanks Robert, and for all your nice words on the other post.

      The best way to think about the race route is it was similar to running around Broadwood Loch. All tarmac and a camber the whole way!

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