Just 50m into a World Mountain Running Champs race featuring 13k of hard running and an ascent equivalent to half of Ben Nevis, Robbie Simpson was flat on his face at Betws-y-Coed in Wales.
Nursing a bloodied hand and two cut knees, he was hauled to his feet by either a GB team-mate or an opponent to give chase to the leaders.
And, some 50 or so minutes later, the redoubtable Scot had carved out a 10-second advantage over the Italian athlete in fourth to land a richly-deserved podium place and bronze medal at the World Champs for 2015.
Simpson did so as Andy and Jamie Murray wrestled with Australia in the Saturday afternoon Davis Cup doubles at the Emirates Arena.
Like the revered tennis duo, there was more than a decade of sacrifice and focus behind the Scot’s success – which included a team bronze with GB as well as his individual medal. He first raced on the hills for Scotland in Ireland some 11 years ago as an U14 athlete.
Robbie on the World Champs podium (pic via Twitter)
‘I am in a bit of pain now but fortunately it didn’t hurt too much during the race,’ said Robbie, from his training base in Germany.
‘We were less than 10 seconds into the World Champs and I felt a bit of a push in the back in the scramble at the start and was flat on my face.
‘I’d been at the front ‘on the grid’ because only one athlete per nation was allowed there and that was my spot at winner of the GB trials (at the same course in north Wales).
‘I cut my hand and both knees so it was quite a bad fall but no sooner had it happened than somebody scooped me up and I was back in the race. I don’t know whether it was a GB team-mate or an athlete from another country – you don’t exactly have time to look round.
‘I just wanted to get after the leaders and try and settle into my race-plan. Having raced Betws-y-Coed before in the trial, and planned my tactics, I knew where I wanted to be on each of the three loops. That involved not doing anything crazy on the first one because if you go off too fast then you just blow up and people reel you in.
‘Instead, I was able to get to fifth and then fourth and finally pick off third place behind the winner from Uganda and a top Italian.
It was exciting to get a bronze medal in the World Champs and I’d rate it as the best race of my life so far.
‘But there’s so much work has gone into it – maybe 100 miles a week in the winter and about 70 or so in the summer when I’m racing as well. I’ve also been putting in uphill cycling in the past few months – maybe five hours of that per week.
‘I’ve lived in Austria and now Germany the past two years and you have to do that to get the training and the quality of races you need to be competitive at this kind of level. I’m fortunate to have some good backing and I also worked for a couple of years and saved up a bit of money after university.
Robbie closes in on third place in Wales (photo by Andy Stark)
‘Looking back I’ve been doing this now for more than 10 years. I did some cross country as an U13 athlete – in and around the Grampian area – and in 2004 went to the East Districts. I think I finished fifth.
‘Around that time, I also went to an international hill run in Ireland and loved that experience. They couldn’t quite call it the Junior Home International because we were too young!
‘But I competed in that event and in the International Youth Cup as a teenager and those races definitely helped my development and sparked my interest.
‘Last year, Andy Douglas moved into hill running and that’s been another spur for me. I knew Andy quite well and when we first raced together I was thinking ‘he is a decent athlete but nobody can just go straight into mountain running and contend right at the top of the race’. How wrong can you be? That’s exactly what Andy did and I only just beat him that day.
‘He beat me once I think in the 2014 season and a couple of times earlier this year so he has certainly pushed me on. He’s significantly improved the GB team, too, and that helps everyone train that bit harder.
‘Andy ran a perfectly-judged race on Saturday to get to sixth place and it was great to be on a World Champs team podium with him and for two Scots to be at that level. We always encourage each other and I’m delighted he took up hill running.’
Andy Douglas – photo by Andy Stark