Liverpool provides the familiar backdrop this weekend to the next stage in the British Cross Challenge – and the Euro Cross trial for British Athletics teams.
Selection for the Euro event in Tilburg in Holland next month is the ultimate goal, of course, for those in the Senior, U23 and U20 age groups.
But for dozens of Scots in races which stretch from U11 through the Seniors/Masters this is an opportunity to test themselves in an unofficial British championship at this stage of the season, with Loughborough in March and the Inter-Counties the only other comparable level event.
Looking through the start-lists, it is clear once again how the popularity for a trip to Merseyside and the races at Sefton Park has grown for Scottish clubs and their athletes.
We make it more than 20 clubs represented with more than 150 athletes set to head to England’s north-west for the action on Saturday.
The (not necessarily comprehensive) list of clubs with an interest via one or more athletes features:
Garscube Harriers, Shettleston Harriers, Ayr Seaforth, Kilbarchan AAC, Giffnock, Inverclyde, VP-Glasgow, Fife AC, Central AC, Whitemoss, East Kilbride, Inverness, Dunfermline, Lasswade, Team East Lothian, Law and District, Greenock Glenpark, Moray Road Runners, Edinburgh AC, Springburn, Edinburgh Uni Hare and Hounds and Stornoway RAC.
As well as the Euro Cross selection aspect, there are British Cross Challenge points up for grabs and a couple of other significant aspects, too.
It is a Scotland competition opportunity at Senior, U23 and U20 and we announced last week the names of 20 athletes given Joma Sport kit plus help with travel and accommodation to compete at Liverpool.
For the likes of Adam Craig, Luke Traynor, Mhairi Maclennan, Morag Millar and Steph Pennycook they will see this as an opportunity to try and chase selected for GB and NI for Holland or indeed for the Great Stirling International XC which comes up after the turn of the year.
Adam Craig – Inverclyde AC athlete represents Scotland this weekend and is second in the Cross Challenge table after silver at Lanark
Equally, for our Senior athletes, this is part of the scottishathletics Cross Challenge for 2018-19.
The six-race series started at Lanark at the Lindsays Short Course XC and continues this weekend with the other events the Lindsays District XC, the Inter-Districts, the Lindsays National XC and the Inter-Counties at Loughborough.
That means the leaders after one round are the 1-2-3 lists from Lanark, although Short Course champions Sol Sweeney and Jemma Reekie are not racing this weekend as they are in South Africa.
On the club front, and again at Senior level, Central AC men and Fife AC women represent Scotland in the European Clubs Cross Country championship trial with representatives from England and Wales.
Central AC on this occasion are up against Leeds and Swansea while Fife AC for their part face Swansea and Tonbridge AC.
Mhairi Maclennan (second from right) with the GB and NI Women’s U23 team who won Euro Cross gold in 2017
Mhairi Maclennan, the Lindsays National XC champion from Falkirk earlier this year, heads to Liverpool hoping to repeat her feat of a year ago when she made selection for GB at U23 level. Team gold followed in Samorin with Mhairi having a fine run to finish ninth.
‘I am looking forward to it and hopefully will have an outside chance to making the team,’ said the Edinburgh Uni Masters student.
‘This is my first year as a Senior, to that’s different from last year, but it looks a more open race in a sense because the athletes who raced for GB at Senior Women’s level last year in Samorin are not racing in Liverpool (Steph Twell included).
‘I’ve raced a couple of XC events this winter in Cardiff and Dublin and also managed a PB in Leeds in the 10K. I had been pretty ill the weekend before Leeds but tried to convince myself I was fine!
‘On balance, I decided not to race again the week after – in Lanark or Milton Keynes – and just tried to make sure I feel right for Liverpool.
‘I think I can take a lot of confidence from making the U23 team last year and then going to Samorin and finishing ninth in the Euro Cross and winning team gold. I had set myself a top 10 target that day to really try and show I merited being there and it was a great feeling to achieve that in a strong GB U23 team that day.
‘I’m older now with more experience and training has been going well. The group in Edinburgh (with John Lees as coach) is really strong and we all push each other on even though we are sometimes at different stages or distances. Holly Page has come north, for example, and she’s training really well with Anna Macfadyen.
‘Hopefully a few of us can have a good day in Sefton Park and we will see what happens.’
Anna Macfadyen won the Lindsays Short Course U20 gold at Lanark and is set to race in Liverpool