Should Beth Potter and Andrew Butchart crown Olympic year with GB vests in Rio come the summer, they may well look back on a February day in Falkirk as a key staging in their 2016 journey.
If they do not, and there are never any guarantees in athletics, then they will still be able to reflect on winning their second Scottish National XC titles at Callendar Park with a deep sense of pride.
Butchart for his part turned down the opportunity to win a British title at 3000m indoors in Sheffield on Saturday – and chase World Indoors selection – in order to deliver a successful Senior Men’s title defence. The Dunblane-based athlete’s victory also helped lead his club, Central AC, to a remarkable ‘Six-in-a-row’ in the Men’s team race.
Potter, too, is a serial winner over the mud and hills of Falkirk having won a number of age group golds and other medals before taking her first Senior Women’s championship back in 2013. Potter followed that up quite emphatically on Saturday with a success she insisted featured something a ‘detour’ from her pre-race instructions by her coach, Mick Woods.
‘I really enjoyed that today,’ smiled Potter, as she came home in 29.45 over the 8K course and well clear of Fionnuala Ross of Shettleston and Rosie Smith of Hunters Bog Trotters. Olympian Freya Ross, the six-times winner, had to settle for fourth this time in her comeback year.
‘My coach, Mick Woods, told me to sit-in on the first lap and advised me not to make too much of a break or go off like a rabbit. In the end, that’s exactly what I did! I just got up the first hill, felt pretty good and wanted to keep it going.
‘Last year I went off quite fast, too, but I’d had one or two viruses around that time and had been unwell – so I could not sustain it, really.
‘But I’d run well here in 2013 to win it and I do like Callendar Park. It has been such a good course for me over the years and, in terms of cross country, it just seems to be a place I love compared to one or two others courses.
‘Down the years I’ve had a fair bit of success but every time it feels really special. There was such a big entry this year and it is great to see the Senior Women’s race growing.’
Butchart was a strong favourite in a Senior Men’s race contested over 12K by 631 athletes – including Scotland Commonwealth Games marathon runner Ross Houston , GB 24-hour internationals and 81-year-old Walter McCaskey – as the second Lindsays Cross Country Season reached its conclusion.
‘I’m glad I came here and it is nice to win it for the second time,’ said Andrew, who won in 40.02. GB international hill runner, Andy Douglas (Inverclyde AC) was second in 40.17 with Mark Mitchell of Forres was third in 40.45.
‘I wouldn’t say it was a comfortable win but after the first lap I managed to establish a bit of a lead and kept that ticking over thereafter. Not all that many men have won this title on two or more occasions so that means a lot to me, my coach (Derek Easton) and my family.
‘I’m absolutely sure I will come back to try and win more in the future and if the weather is like it was this year then I will be back next year for certain!’
Potter and Butchart both now have Olympic qualification standards on their minds and will soon swap central Scotland for the United States.
‘I am going to try and chase it at both 5000m and 10,000m and will give it my best shot,’ said Potter, who represented Scotland at Hampden in the Commonwealth Games and GB in the Europeans in Zurich also over 10,000m in 2014.
But there was so much more happening right across a wonderful occasion for the sport as clubs the length and breadth of the country responded in remarkable fashion.
The ‘finisher numbers’ of just over 1700 represent a record in this event since men’s and women’s championships merged and also topped the overall tally for 1987 (when more entries were received in what was then just a male-only event).
It was a pretty good day for three clubs beginning with the letter F – as Forres Harriers, Fife AC and Falkirk Victoria Harriers savoured great moments on the podium.
Inverclyde AC’s Jonny Glen made it a hat-trick of wins as he won a second U20 title emphatically after winning U17 and U20 gold in the past couple of years. Glen was favourite and duly delivered to win from Euan Gillham (Kilbarchan AAC) and Aidan Thompson (Central AC) – those three having medalled last year.
Fife AC’s Steph Pennycook topped the podium for the first time as she won the U20 gold in the same race in which Anna McFadyen of Forres struck a blow for the north by taking the U17 gold.
Pennycook, part of Scotland’s Women’s team who won the Armagh International Road Race over 3K earlier this month, had a significant advantage over her U20 rivals in the combined U20/U17 race with silver headed for Louise Mercer (Edinburgh Uni Hare and Hounds) and bronze to Annabel Simpson (Fife AC) in the elder age bracket. MacFadyen took the U17 gold from Lauren Dickson (Lasswade) and Laura Stark (Kilbarchan).
Scotland international hill runner Tristan Rees of Fife proved his strength on the hilly sections to take the U17 Men’s title while Lewis Pentecost of Falkirk Vics was a ‘local hero’ as he enjoyed U15 glory on his home course.
Edinburgh AC’s Eloise Walker won the U15 Girls race and the new U13 National XC champions are David Addison of Corstorphine AAC and Lily-Jane Evans-Haggerty of VP-Glasgow.
*Central AC won the Men’s team title with 65 points. Silvers went to Corstorphine AAC with Shettleston Harriers taking third place. Edinburgh-based Hunters Bog Trotters won the Women’s golds with 62 points from Edinburgh AC and Fife AC were third.