Cross country’s growing popularity in Scotland has been emphatically under-lined once again by a quite remarkable response for the 2016 National XC Champs at Falkirk.
The overall figure of 2295 athletes entered for races from U13 to Seniors/Masters has been bettered only once at this event in more than 40 years, stretching back to the early 1970s.
In fact, it is a record field assembled since the championships for Men and Women merged in Scotland in 1994 and the 378 female athletes who have put their names forward for 8k of mud at Callendar Park on Saturday make that a record Women’s race entry.
Just as encouraging for the sport in many ways are rises in at U17 and U20 categories to suggest the battle to retain teenagers in the sport is being won, certainly at least in terms of the National XC participation.
Scotland vests are up for grabs on Saturday, too, with the additional competitive edge supplied by an impending selection for a Home Countries International match being hosted by Scotland at the same venue in March and places for the London Mini Marathon road race in April at U15 and U17 level.
The National XC also marks the conclusion of the second year of the Lindsays Cross Country Season, with the backing of the legal firm helping the governing body and the Road Running and Cross Country Commission deliver on a deliberate policy of increasing the profile of national events.
Lindsays chief executive Ian Beattie, who is also chairman of scottishathletics and an ultra marathon specialist, is among the 840 Senior Men entered for their 12K race.
Reigning champion Andrew Butchart, who set a Scottish native record in the 3000m indoors at the Glasgow Grand Prix, has confirmed he will defend his title at Falkirk this weekend rather than race indoors at the British Champs. Butchart’s club, Central AC, are looking for a sixth successive win in the Men’s team race.
Olympians Freya Ross and Susan Partridge, both former winners, are listed for the Women’s race on a day which will see action for Commonwealth Games athletes, GB internationals and Scotland internationals at various age levels.
It was back in 1987 that the entry number last topped this year’s tally (at 2322) but that is the only time in more than 40 years that this year’s 2295 figure has been surpassed.
‘The stunning growth we have seen and experienced across so many of our events in recent years is really highlighted by the National XC,’ said Nigel Holl, scottishathletics chief executive.
‘We’re looking at record entries once again in terms of the Men and Women Champs taking place on the same day and in the entry for the Senior Women’s race.
‘Cross country is a most traditional form of our sport and the enduring interest – and growth – via the support from clubs the length and breadth of Scotland really is quite marvellous. I think last year we learned afterwards that no fewer than 87 clubs had finishers at Falkirk.
‘Perhaps the most significant aspect, of course, is that we know this growth doesn’t happen by accident. It is fundamentally down to great club activity, inspiring coaches, and a well-structured, progressive cross country season that leads to this stunning climax in Callendar Park.
‘The support the cross country season as a whole has received from Lindsays is hugely appreciated – it is helping the event and helps us enhance the event presentation. I feel sure that will be brilliant again in Falkirk irrespective of the weather. Support from the Falkirk Community Trust is also critical – they have been great partners of the National XC for so many years.
‘But I cannot stress enough how this comes down to our membership and our athletics clubs being galvanised to compete.
‘In an era when modern society faces many challenges with getting the nation active, Callendar Park on Saturday will demonstrate that community athletics clubs and coaches know how to get young (and not so young) people out into the mud to run.
‘I’m certain the tented village will be buzzing irrespective of the weather. Most importantly, all the athletes will go home with smiling faces and dirty kit; what a great combination.
‘Please come along and join us to experience it all for yourself!’
Scotland face England, Northern Ireland and Wales in the Home Counties International at the same Falkirk venue on March 19 and athletes finishing high up in the Senior and U20 races can win themselves vests for that fixture.
Similarly, Scotland send teams of six athletes at U15 and U17 for both male and female races at the London Mini Marathon road race and this year the National XC is the main selection race for that representative honour for two dozen teenagers.
2016 Senior entries (with last year’s figures in brackets):
Women 378 (330)
Men 840 (823)
Total all age groups 2295 (2214)