Naomi Lang in action at Scone Palace in the British Cross Challenge and Inter-District XC event in January (photo by Bobby Gavin)
By Katy Barden
‘Where does your athletics future lie?’.
It’s not a trick question, but for an athlete who has represented Great Britain and Scotland in the mountains, represented Scotland on the track, and won national track titles over 1500m and 5000m, it’s fairly loaded.
‘I think the hills suit my lifestyle,’ replies Naomi Lang after a brief pause.
‘The past couple of years I’ve been moving more and more away from track or going longer. I enjoy it, but I prefer spending time in the hills.’
Lang, 23, is smart. She’s a sport science graduate from the University of Edinburgh but is going back to university in September to study medicine.
She’s hard-working and is currently working full-time hours across two jobs, one in a coffee van, the other at Go Ape.
She’s also talented and sufficiently laid back that she didn’t fall to pieces when called up for her first Senior GB vest only days prior to the team’s departure to the World Mountain Running Championships in Thailand last year.
The GB and NI team of (L-R) Holly Page, Naomi and Scout Adkin landed silver medals in the up-and-down race at World Champs in Thailand
‘I found out four days before which was quite funny,’ says the Carnethy HRC athlete who finished 25th in the up and down race.
‘It probably suited me, though, because I’m not much of a planner. It was a bit surreal, but it was very relaxed, I guess.’
Originally from the northeast and brought up to love the outdoors, Lang says the hills are her natural habitat. She swam as a youth but showed greater potential at running and joined Aberdeen AAC when she was in her early teens.
Within three years she had represented Scotland over 3000m at the Commonwealth Youth Games and won her first national track titles. Her success coincided with her final year of school, and as she prepared to start university in Edinburgh, track remained her focus.
While her choice to spend an exchange year in Canada mid-degree had been partly influenced by Vancouver’s ‘cool’ vibe and the draw of the surrounding mountains, her talent for hill-running, competitively at least, didn’t become obvious until she graduated and moved to the Lake District to work in a hostel.
Earning her first Scotland vest on the hills during that period – she finished first U23 in the 2021 British Championships and World Mountain Running Championships selection race – Lang admits it was the obvious choice of running terrain for the location.
Naomi racing at the Lindsays National XC with Steph Pennycook of Fife AC and eventual winner, Alice Goodall of Edinburgh Uni Hare and Hounds (photo by Bobby Gavin)
‘The Lakes is obviously a very convenient place to do hill races and hill running,’ she says.
‘I did a couple of local ones . . . I wanted something to focus on when I was there and I was quite keen to give it a go. More and more of my running ended up being in the hills. It’s just really enjoyable for me.’
For the first half of 2022 Lang worked as a healthcare assistant in the intensive care unit at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. It was an intentional move as she decided what her career might look like long-term.
For now, however, Edinburgh remains home for the Lewis Walker-coached athlete. She has a trusted support network including Kenny Watt at Project: Physio who plays an integral role in keeping her healthy.
She also has a strong and varied group of athletes to train with, acknowledging the ‘sheer number of distance runners in Edinburgh’ who make it easy to find company.
With another World Mountain Running Championships this year, she will return to the hills with increased confidence and motivation.
‘I did have a bit of debate about whether to do the longer one or whether to do the up and down, but I’ve gone for the up and down,’ she says (referring to the upcoming trials).
‘I didn’t have a bad run in Thailand, but I feel like I have unfinished business.’
Naomi features in the current edition of PB magazine