In sport psychology’s currently fashionable mantra, athletes are ordered to control the factors under their purview and to block all else from their minds.
The fragility of the body remains the prickliest renegade. European cross-country champions present and past, Rhona Auckland and Jess Coulson lined up in yesterday’s Morrisons Great Edinburgh Run with near-identical resumes and, eventually, with times and performances in close proximity.
And in ultimately emerging triumphant on a dreich morning in the capital, Coulson provided a reminder of what promise she once showed – and what might yet remain untapped.
Turning 25 on Saturday, and deeply embedded in researching bone and muscle issues at her Manchester base, the Englishwoman is no longer consumed with conquests on the road and track. Reality has bitten. Two years largely lost diluted her goals.
“It’s been really frustrating,” she admitted. “Because I won in Budapest and then did well at the cross-country here in 2013 but since then, it’s been such a tough time. It’s been really hard. I think I’ve quit the sport completely a few times. But now I’m working full-time, I’ve got a house and a lovely boyfriend and my life is great. I’m running happy.
“I’ve still got ambitions but I love the sport. Now I appreciate even a 20-minute run so much. But I know I get injured easily and I just have to be protective of myself. The thing is I’ve kept at it despite everything. Maybe that suggests I know I can still achieve something. And if it does happen, I’ll be very happy.”
Seeing off Auckland, who emulated her European success last December, was a notable scalp. The 21-year-old Aberdonian, 19th at the recent world cross in China following her own brief hiatus, was side by side with her challenger until the midpoint of the ten-mile circuit but could not quite cling on, with Coulson crossing the line in Holyrood Park in 56 minutes and six seconds with a margin of barely 20 metres.
No big deal, Auckland acknowledged. Emerging from a winter of immense promise, the Edinburgh University student will return to completing her degree in the weeks ahead before the track takes precedence.
“I’m going to focus on 5,000 and 10,000 this summer,” she confirmed. “I’m hoping to get to the European Under-23s in July and all my focus will be on that. I’ll do the BUCS 5,000m and then Highgate 10,000m and see where I sit after that. But I’m looking forward to something new.”
Like Coulson, Andrew Lemoncello has spent longer kicking his heels than he would have wished but the 2008 Olympian senses his revival act is hitting the right notes after coming second in the men’s event in 50:02 behind Ethiopian prospect Abeje Ayana, whose first-ever visit to the UK brought a convincing victory.
The Fifer, based in Arizona, is not yet at his sharpest in the wake of a three-month break and was left behind when the teenager accelerated in the sixth mile. “I couldn’t do anything,” Lemoncello said. “We’d been battling for a mile before then but he really wound up the gap. I was trying to keep it as small as possible but up the last hill, he just went and put a minute on me. But I’ve got a half-marathon in Eugene three weeks which is flat. So running that way here, I know I’ll be able to go a lot quicker.”
With a new relay element added to invigorate an event which has ceded some of its lustre in recent years, Susan Partridge and Helen Clitheroe lacked any real opposition in sharing the load – and the spoils – in the women’s race. However, Callum and Derek Hawkins pushed African pairing Boniface Kiprop and Loitarakwai Lengurisi to the closing straight before the Kilbarchan brothers settled for second.
The siblings are now set to diversify their respective targets with Callum, the younger by three years, opting against challenging Derek for a marathon spot ahead of Rio 2016. “I’m moving down to the 5k and having a development year to get more speed,” he confirmed. “Going to the Commonwealths gave me a taste for the 10000 but I think I need to get quicker now.”