Steph Twell makes little secret of the fact that Edinburgh is one of her favourite cities and Holyrood Park one of her favourite competition venues.
So it was no surprise to learn that the 24-year-old Aldershot, Farnham and District runner was one of the first to sign up for tomorrow’s BUPA Great Edinburgh Cross Country over a course with the stunning backdrop of Holyrood Palace and the city on one side and Arthur’s Seat on the other.
But even I was surprised to learn that this weekend will be the second time this year that she has visited the city. “I was up for the Hogmanay celebrations and we saw in the bells in Edinburgh,” she revealed.
While here Twell could not resist the temptation to check out the course for tomorrow’s race. “Yes I did take a little peep at the Park,” she admitted.
“I’m really looking forward to Saturday – the field is incredibly strong.”
Twell goes in the women’s 6k race, which features most of the leading runners in last month’s European Championship in Belgrade, including the champion Sophie Duarte of France, the runner-up Gemma Steel (Great Britain) and the twice previous European champion Fionnuala Britton of Ireland, who will bid for her third successive victory at Holyrood.
Britain’s European junior champion and Twell’s clubmate, Emelia Gorecka, steps up to the senior event along with the European Under-23 bronze medallist Charlotte Purdue (Aldershot).
Two other Scots have made the team, Edinburgh University student Rhona Auckland, who was seventh in the European Under-23 race winning a team bronze, and Rosie Smith (Hunter’s Bog Trotters) who replaces the injured Freya Ross (Edinburgh AC).
The men’s 8k race is even stronger with one of the all-time greats, Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia returning along with his younger brother Tariku, the 2012 Olympic 10k bronze medallist, and the winner from two years ago, Abel Kiprop.
Bekele, three times the double Olympic 5000 and 10,000 metres champion, the World cross country champion an astonishing 11 times, and three times the long course winner here, actually had a blip the last time he appeared at Holyrood in 2012, when, clearly not fully fit, he struggled home in the short race well down the field.
But his duel tomorrow with Kiprop, the twice Olympic 1500 metres champion, should be well worth seeing.
All three European medallists from Belgrade are booked, including the man who took a British bronze, Andy Vernon, and the American who won here last year, Bobby Mack.
Scottish runners given a chance to show their paces include former Scottish champion Ali Hay (Central), Andrew Butchart (Central), Callum Hawkins (Kilbarchan) and European junior 1500 metres champion Jake Wightman (EAC).
Twell, who some years back, looked as if she might even win the women’s event, is making no bold predictions for tomorrow, especially with the history of her shattered ankle which had to have pins.
She suffered the awful injury in a Belgian cross country race nearly three years ago, an accident which cost her a place in the London 2012 Olympics.
“It feels good now but still needs treatment. It’s not half as painful as when the metal was in it, but I can’t neglect it, it needs love and attention and I’m still a bit guarded on uneven surfaces.
“Holyrood’s a little bit better than many courses and I’ve been running there for many years.
“I’ve been having some down time since the Europeans,” said Twell. “But I’m still training very well,” added the Colchester-born woman who qualifies for Scotland through her Paisley mother and has “loads of aunts and uncles up here”.
Already named in Scotland’s team for Glasgow 2014 in the 5000 metres, having bettered the qualifying standard five times, and been a bronze medallist for Scotland in the 1500 metres in Delhi in 2010, this three times European Junior Cross Country champion has long been on the Scottish radar, choosing to compete for Scotland even though at the time she was easily good enough to have exercised her England option.
“Cross country is serving a purpose to capitalise on a base of training,” she explained.
“I’ve now had a solid year’s base and I’m using races to give me bench marks.
“What’s really pleasing me is I’m improving and, with the Commonwealth Games in mind, I’m now working on what will get me fast.”