Andrew Douglas, from Halkirk in Caithness, is eagerly looking forward to defending his title against some top class opposition in a record field of 2,145 runners in Sunday’s Global Energy Inverness half marathon.
The Scottish international, who is currently based in Edinburgh, won last year’s race in a time of 1hr 7min 53sec but knows he may have to run much quicker if he is to retain the winner’s trophy and collect the £1,000 prize which goes with it.
He said: “I’m hoping to be faster than last year, but it all depends on what happens on the day. It’s great that there’s going to be a number of fast runners. It’s tough when you are out on your own, so it will be good to have a group to run with as that should help everyone go quicker.”
The biggest threat to Douglas’s bid for success is expected to come from Ethiopian Yared Hagos who has a best time of 1:03:31 set in last year’s Great North Run on Tyneside.
Hagos has previously competed in the Highland capital, finishing a disappointing 11th in the 2010 Loch Ness marathon. That was Yared’s first experience of overseas competition, but he is now settled in England and is confident of a much better showing when he travels north this weekend.
He said: “I am really looking forward to being back again in Inverness. I did not do as well as I would have liked at the Loch Ness marathon in 2010, but I have improved a lot since then. I’m in good shape and looking forward to trying to win.”
Glasgow-based former Eritrean athletes Tesgai Tewelde and Teweldeberhan Mengisteab, both members of Shettleston Harriers, will also be among the contenders for the top prize.
The quality line-up also includes City of Aberdeen 10Km champion Ben Hukins (Aberdeen AAC), Banchory’s Great Britain mountain running international Robbie Simpson (Deeside Runners) and Scottish internationals Ross Houston, Robert Russell and John Newsom (all Central AC).
Melissa Whyte (Inverness Harriers) hopes to have shrugged off a leg injury in time to take her place on the starting line to bid to complete a hat-trick of wins in the women’s division of the race.
The veteran Scottish international set a personal best and course record time of 1:16:30 when winning last month’s Kinloss to Lossiemouth half marathon but subsequently picked up a niggling injury.
She said: “I’ve been suffering from a calf strain. I had a week off running but was able to do some cycling and swimming so hopefully I’ll be fine. If I can run quicker than 1:18 I’ll be happy.”
Whyte also faces Ethiopian opposition in the shape of 20 year-old Hana Megersa Abo who will be competing outside of her home country for the first time.
Abo is excited about her first overseas trip. She said: “I am so happy to have the chance to compete in Inverness.
“I have never been abroad before so it is exciting and what I train for each day in Addis Ababa.
“My good friend Dinknesh Tefera won the Loch Ness marathon in 2010 and has told me about Scotland. My dream has always been to run outside Ethiopia and I am ready for the race and hope to be on the podium.”
Sarah Liebnitz (Inverness Harriers), who was runner-up last year, is also taking part, as is Stornoway half marathon winner Christy MacLeod (Stornoway Running Club), Kirkcudbright half marathon winner Katie White (Garscube Harriers) and Balmoral 10Km champion Megan Crawford (Edinburgh University).
Erica Christie (Bellahouston Harriers), Louise Beveridge (Dundee Hawkhill), Amanda Blackhall (Lochaber AC) and Mel Henderson (Portobello) are among the other leading entrants.
Organiser Malcolm Sutherland is delighted that such a top quality field has signed up for the race but he’s equally pleased that runners are heading north in big numbers from all over the world.
The numbers are up 28% from 2011 in the half marathon and 32 different nationalities are represented with runners from USA, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands and Norway taking part.
There’s also more than 920 people taking part in the 5K fun run and Team Attack competition.
Entries have now closed for the half marathon but limited 5K fun run entries will be available on the day.