Thanks to Bobby Gavin for this montage of the 2016 National XC winners
It’s almost 719 years since the original Battle of Falkirk when William Wallace and Edward the First clashed in a great test of physical endurance, doubtless amid mud, sweat and tears.
The ‘course’ near Callendar Wood wasn’t too far distant from the current home of the Lindsays National XC in the park itself and the backdrop for contests of a different nature come Saturday.
A Record field of 2330 entrants holds much promise for terrific cross country ‘battles’ and the competition will be intense from U13 right through to the Seniors later in the afternoon.
From Olympians to those who have only just entered the sport, challenges await in the fight against team-mates, age group rivals, the course and the conditions with the podium places the ultimate prize.
In many ways, the eagerly-awaited occasion of the National XC represents the biggest gathering of the athletics family in Scotland in the year and we’re thrilled by the level of engagement by our clubs.
Callum Hawkins, Andy Butchart, Beth Potter, Freya Ross and Lynne Macdougall look like making it five Olympians in attendance – although it’s not yet clear if all will be racing with Butchart more likely to be cheering on Central AC as they chase seven-in-a-row in the Men’s team race.
Add GB internationals from other disciplines as well as Scotland Commonwealth Games athletes like Ross Houston and Susan Partridge, as well as Paralympian Derek Rae, and the anticipation rises.
London 2012 Olympian and Edinburgh AC athlete Ross, a six-times winner, is a huge fan of the event after competing in the National XC for 20 years.
‘I think it is such an exciting event that clubs get behind it and give it their support,’ said Freya.
‘There are people coming to Falkirk from every part of Scotland to race and that’s great for the sport. It is a focal point on the calendar and people build towards it through the winter.
‘Whatever the age group, athletes want that opportunity to compete with the best in the country and maybe be the best in the country – as an individual or as a team.
‘The Women’s race has really grown and it doesn’t look like an extra 2K has put folk off – and nor should it. Loads of women are running 10K on the road now and this is just a different type of challenge and I think many will enjoy it just the same as they do every year.’
Forecasting the 1-2-3 for the Senior race is always difficult – and both Men’s and Women’s races do look more open than in recent years, arguably for silver and bronze (with Hawkins and Potter likely to be strong favourites for gold, assuming both start)
The contenders or the Men’s race, on the proviso Butchart does not compete, could well feature: Callum Hawkins; Kris Jones; Calum McKenzie; Jamie Crowe; Ben Stevenson; Michael Christoforou; Wenay Gehebreselassie; Lachlan Oates; Mark Mitchell; Murray Strain.
In the Women’s, the top dozen or so may will feature: Potter; Morag MacLarty; Rosie Smith; Susan Partridge; Nicola Hood; Sarah Inglis; Fionnuala Ross; Steph Pennycook; Louise Mercer; Mhairi Maclennan; Megan Crawford; Jenn Wetton; Fiona Brian.
As always, though, conditions on the day may play a part as well as pre-race form and fitness and this year there’s a new long lap involved – with no running around the loch following a decision by the course builders Falkik Victoria Harriers and the Road Running and Cross Country Commission.
But, really, it’s about athletes across all the ages and stages competing and feeling part of the same event which makes the sport the big winner.
For example: we notice Inverness Harriers preparing for a 6.30m bus departure; Garscube Harriers getting ready to sell cakes for charity – with 1984 Olympian Macdougall in their ranks for Saturday; and some new clubs on the roster competing at the National for the first time, as the scottishathletics landscape changes.
We wish each and every single athlete, coach, volunteer or parent/supporter well for Saturday. With the weather forecast suggesting a possibility of wind and rain, please do come with the right clothing if you are due to be there for a number of hours.
Back in 1298, William Wallace and Edward the First at least had the good sense to do battle in mid-July . . .
Here’s the race start timetable:
11am U13 Boys
11.16 U13 Girls
11.32 U15 Girls
11.53 U15 Boys
12.15 U20 Women and U17 Women
12.50 U17 Men
13.20 Senior Women
14.20 U20 Men
14.50 Senior Men
(Declarations close 30 minutes before the start of each race)