Hope running strong

LEADING British distance runner Jo Pavey will be looking for strong local support from her Scottish in-laws when she competes for the first time in Edinburgh tomorrow.

Pavey, who has interrupted warm-weather training in South Africa, joins the world-class field for the women's 6k race in the VisitScotland Great Edinburgh Cross Country International in Holyrood Park and has promised to give 100 per cent effort.

"My mother-in-law is a very proud Scot and we've still got relatives up here, so I hope there will be a few folk shouting me on," said Exeter's Pavey, who will represent England in the 5000 metres at the Commonwealth Games.

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"I meant to do the European Cross Country Championships when they were in Edinburgh, but I got flu. I'd planned to really focus on that - and I didn't run this event last year as I was in South Africa so I'm really looking forward to it.

"This race is very useful as it helps me to get fit," she added, mindful of the extremely strong field she will face.

But the 32-year-old Pavey is also fearful of the conditions she may face tomorrow, especially if it is wet. "To be honest the country's not my best surface," she admitted. "The firmer the better for me and if it's dry I'll dance a little jig.

"I find cross country surfaces quite difficult - they don't suit my style of running - but whatever the conditions I'll use it as good preparation. After all it's the same for everyone."

Pavey always has one problem with cross country running - deciding what to wear. "I ran in Bolzano recently and just wore my usual track outfit, but my legs went completely dead at the end due to the cold."

Unlike Pavey, Edinburgh-born Kathy Butler is a bit of a mudlark and revels in the heavy conditions, finishing seventh in last year's race won by Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia, who went on to complete a great track double at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki when she won both the 5000 and 10,000 metres.

The other Dibaba sister Ejegayehu, who picked up a bronze in both races behind Tirunesh, will also be on show tomorrow, as will Isabella Ochichi of Kenya, the 5000 metres silver medallist from Helsinki.

Butler, whose 2005 season was a bit of a disaster as she dropped out of the World Championships in St Galmier, France last March through heat exhaustion, will be looking not only to beat Pavey but also the Yelling sisters-in-laws Hayley and Liz and Britain's No.2 marathon runner behind Paula Radcliffe, Mara Yamauchi.

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It remains to be seen what Scots will compete, though Edinburgh Southern Harrier Freya Murray, who finished well up in the same race last year, has opted out in favour of Sunday's 800 metres in the Scottish District Indoor Championships at the Kelvin Hall.

Last year's men's cross race at Holyrood was a classic, with lap after lap of pulsating excitement as Kenya's Elliott Chipchoge ground out the pace and resisted all efforts to overtake him. But missing was the amazing Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia, who withdrew from the event after the sudden and tragic death of his fiancee Alem Techale, who collapsed and died while out on a training run with him. This time the world 10,000 metres record-holder and double 5k and 10k champion will be there with some super opponents to push him, including world No.1 steeplechaser Saif Saaeed Shaheen of Qatar, six-times European champion Sergiy Lebid of Ukraine and Zersenay Tadesse of Eritrea, winner of the Great North Run. Lebid, who won one of his European titles over virtually the same course, is giving this year's World Cross Championships in Japan a miss to concentrate on preparing for the European (track) Championships in Gothenburg in the summer.

"It's good to have a tough nut like Sergiy coming to Edinburgh again carrying European hopes of a win," said race director Matthew Turnbull.

But in truth it would be a major shock if Lebid were to win as Bekele is rightly the huge favourite. In all, 11 races will take place in the Park tomorrow beginning with the Tesco Junior Great Winter 2k Run at 10am followed by six inter-district championship races, the VisitScotland Great Winter Run at noon and the men's short course (4k) race at 1.10pm.

The main women's race is at 1.30pm and the men's at 2pm.

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