Falkirk focus: Memories and reflections on National XC – Alex Jackson

Thursday 4th January 2024

Photo by Bobby Gavin

By Alex Jackson

I ran in the National XC at Falkirk in 1981 and 1987, on both occasions finishing nearer the back of the field than the front.

On both occasions the winner of the Senior Men’s race was Nat Muir (Shettleston Harriers), with the 1987 win being the last of his eight Senior Men’s titles.

That 1987 race was my last as a runner at the National – from then on National days for me have been as an Official or Event Convenor.

The National came back to Falkirk in 1993 with a win for Tommy Murray (Cambuslang Harriers) in the last year of separate Nationals for Male and Females.

A year later in 1994, at the frequently used venue of Irvine’s Beach Park, we had the first joint National for Males and Females.

Back to Falkirk in 2002 and we had the joint champs at Callendar Park and the first time using the then newly built Graeme High School as the base for the event for Declarations and Changing. Glen Stewart (Mizuno RC) and Gillian Palmer (Edinburgh University Hare and Hounds) were our winners.

Freya Ross in action for Edinburgh Southern at Falkirk (photo by Chris Upson)

In 2006, the National returned to Callendar Park and it has been the venue each year since – with 2024 that will be 18 Nationals. Of course, 2021 was not possible due to Covid.

The most prolific Senior Women’s winner is Freya Murray/Ross (Edinburgh Southern H/Edinburgh AC) with six wins.

Next comes Mhairi Maclennan (Edinburgh University Hare and Hounds/Inverness Harriers) with three wins followed by Beth Potter (VP-Glasgow) with two wins. Beth of course is the 2023 World Triathlon Champion.

Let’s add a mention for Rosie Smith (Hunters Bog Trotters) who had three silver medals and three bronzes but never made the top of the podium.

National XC Women’s Individuals (salroadrunningandcrosscountrymedalists.co.uk)

In 2012, Laura Muir (Dundee Hawkhill H) won the U20 Women’s race. This was the first time Laura had medalled in the National in any age group.

Laura celebrated by going indoors at the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow the following day to set a new National U20 record in the 800m.


Fight for the line . . . one of the closest finishes as Mark Pollard takes gold (photo by John Owens) 

On the Senior Men’s side six athletes have won two titles over the recent period at Falkirk.

Mark Pollard (Inverclyde AC), Alastair Hay (Central AC), Derek Hawkins (Kilbarchan AC), Andrew Buchart (Central AC), Callum Hawkins (Kilbarchan AC) and Jamie Crowe (Central AC) are all double winners.

Last February, Jamie just missed the first to be three titles (in this 18-year stretch) after a great race with Logan Rees (Fife AC) in 2023.

The closest finish I can recall was 2008 when Mark Pollard and Thomas Russell (Stroud AC) battled it out down the finish avenue.

National XC Men’s Individuals (salroadrunningandcrosscountrymedalists.co.uk)


Falkirk Victoria Harriers duo Andy Stevenson and Dave Lothian received the Tom Stillie Sword to recognise their course build efforts (photo by Alasdhair Love)

Over the years there have been numerous changes to the course.

Round the lake was part of the course for many years but with stony sections it was not ideal. Up the hill after going round the lake has also not been done in recent years.

More recently, going through the ditch has been a feature.  In 2022 there had been a great deal of rain and snow on the lead-up and the ditch had a depth of mud, and was a popular spectator viewing area.

Some years we have not been able to use the ‘D’ grass area in front of the big house for the finish area due to it being a pond. Cue for some athletes to get the race mud off in the pond.

Part of the course that has been used every year back to 1981 is the long loop to the west near the high flats.

What has been a constant for Nationals has been that Falkirk Victoria Harriers course build team led by Andy Stevenson and Dave Lothian. They set it out year after year, sometimes due to weather conditions having to make very late changes.

Andy and Dave received recognition for all their work by jointly being awarded the prestigious Tom Stillie Sword in 2020.

Another constant since 2015 has been the support of Lindsays; each year since it has been the Lindsays Scottish National Cross Country Championships.

Falkirk Council support has been another constant. Course Marshals through the years come from local volunteers plus volunteers from the competing clubs.

Photo by Bobby Gavin

Earlier I mentioned Graeme High School was the base for the National, however from 2006 onwards the base for the athletes was more and more club’s own Gazebos or Tents.

The huge tented village makes for a great spectacle especially as the way the course is laid out races now go through the middle of it.

When Steph Twell (Kilbarchan AAC) won the National in 2019 she said in her post-race interview that running that part of the course was an amazing experience, like a mini-Tour de France atmosphere going through it.

That atmosphere is generated by athletes, clubs and our volunteers. We eagerly await the 2024 edition.


Tags: Falkirk, Features, Lindsays National XC

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