Rhona Auckland and Andrew Butchart claimed impressive Scottish 4k National title successes across the mud of Bellahouston Park on Sunday.
And the pair, who both represented Team GB and NI at cross country last winter, now have forthcoming assignments in Leeds and Liverpool firmly on their minds.
Central AC won the Senior Women’s team crown but Inverclyde duly edged out Central in the men’s with Dan Mulhare (2nd) and Craig Ruddy (4th) influential for the men in black and white in the latest races in the Lindsays Cross Country Series.
Butchart was favourite for the men’s race and the Central AC athlete maintained his recent purple patch with a win to add to success in the Scottish 10k Champs, the East District XC and posting the fastest lap in the English 6-stage Road Relays and the Scottish National XC Relays at Cumbernauld.
For Edinburgh Uni runner Auckland, the fastest women at Cumbernauld, there was arguably an even stiffer test as she held off the challenge from the likes of Madeleine Murray (Edinburgh AC), Laura Muir (Dundee Hawkhill) and Morag MacLarty (Central AC) to reclaim a title she won in 2012.
‘I won this a couple of years ago but I think I would agree that it was an even stronger field this time,’ said Rhona, who took bronze last year when Muir won.
‘I know the speed of some of these women over shorter distance so I was pretty keen to make sure I didn’t get involved in a sprint finish situation with them!
‘That’s why I went out quite hard on the first lap and then just did all I could to keep it going and pushing it on in the second lap. I’m delighted to win gold because it’s been a really good race to win this year and I knew the calibre of the people chasing me.
‘I’m heading to Leeds next week now for the 10K road race for Scotland and then Liverpool for the Euro Cross trial. Fingers crossed for both.
‘It is a very strong Scotland team for Leeds and I am in there with people who were on the track at the Commonwealth Games (Steph Twell, Laura Whittle and Beth Potter) which is a wee bit daunting but definitely exciting.’
Murray, who is from Australia but has lived in Scotland for six years, took a fine silver medal as she edged ahead of Laura Muir. Auckland won it by 10 seconds in 13,38 with Murray seven ahead of Muir.
The GB international and Scottish 1500m record holder was nonetheless reasonably pleased with her run.
‘I believe I have run it similar to last year but Rhona and Maddie have had great runs,’ said Laura.
‘I finished my summer season quite late, with the road race in Newcastle, so I have started back a little later than some people. That’s two cross country outings now and it is great for building endurance. Rhona opened up a gap quite early and we couldn’t reach her.’
Central’s best-placed athlete was MacLarty (4th) and with Jennifer Emsley at 6th and Kathryn Gillespie winning the U20 title at 7th that was enough for team gold and overall success in the Scottish XC Team Challenge. Edinburgh Uni were second thanks to Auckland being backed up by Stephanie Pennycook (16th) and Mhairi Maclennan (21). Fife AC were third via the efforts of Megan Crawford (5th), Helen Sharpe (17th) and Jenny Tan (18).
Inverclyde AC men had nursed their disappointment for a fortnight after losing out to Central at Cumbernauld in the XC Relays.
With Andrew Butchart backed up this time by Alex Hendry and two U20 athletes, Cameron Milne and Aidan Thompson, the door opened slightly and the men from Greenock strode through it with Mulhare and Ruddy at 2 and 4 aided and abetted by U20 Jonny Glen (12) and Mark Pollard (26) for team success.
Butchart clocked 14.03 to win by seven seconds from Mulhare with Shettleston’s Tewolde Mengisteab taking the individual bronze.
‘I felt good again today and the conditions out on the course actually were not too bad – better than we’ve had a couple of times already this season,’ said Butchart.
‘I’m enjoying it at the moment and just hope I can maintain this form for Leeds and then for Liverpool.’
Inverclyde’s Irish international Mulhare said: ‘It was a really good team effort and a great day for the club – winning the National 4K title.
‘We thought we’d give Central a real challenge and we’re delighted to get the better of them this time. They’ve a lot of good athletes there but we packed a little better on the day I feel.’
While Glen took a team gold, he was pushed back into bronze in the U20 medals as Kilbarchan AAC pair Euan Gillham and Gavin McArdle finished first and second.
That was very much a victory to savour for Gillham after a couple of years off the very top of the podium at cross country and reward for persistent hard work.
Gillespie took the Women’s U20 gold with her form indicating she could be a contender at Liverpool in three weeks while Catriona Graves of Garscube was second and Pennycook of Edinburgh Uni was third.
*The U17 titles were won over 3k by Josh Kerr (Edinburgh AC) and Laura Stark (Kilbarchan) with the U15 champions over 2k Erin Wallace (Giffnock North) and Adam Scott (Fife AC).