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Stewart Won’t Give Up Title Without a Fight

March 7, 2024

Scottish Championships Medals up for grabs in Inverness Half Marathon

Fraser Stewart won’t give up his Scottish title without a fight when he lines up in Sunday’s Inverness half marathon which has attracted a capacity entry of 2,940 runners with an additional 1,300 taking part in the accompanying 5k.

The 36 year-old Cambuslang athlete posted the fastest time of his career when striking national gold in the Highland capital 12 months ago, clocking an impressive time of 1hr 5min 24secs. And he believes he’s in shape to match or improve on that performance when the championships return to Inverness this weekend.

Inverness Half Marathon

Stewart Fraser, 2023 Scottish half marathon champion

He said: “I’m confident, but I know it’s going to be hard. There are guys who can beat me, but equally I know I can beat them.  You want all the top men to be there, so, it’ll be a good race as there could be six or seven of us in contention on the day. There’s a lot of us at a similar level and hopefully we can push each other along. That’s exactly what you want at a national championship race.

“My training has been going well and I feel I can run a similar time to last year, maybe even a bit quicker. I’m preparing for next month’s London marathon, as I was in 2023, so Inverness comes at an ideal stage in the build-up. It worked well for me last time as I went on to set a personal best 2hr 18min 34sec at London, so hopefully it’ll happen again.

“This will be my third time at Inverness as I was third in 2022, and I love the course. You get all the climbing done early on when you are still fresh, then you can get moving after that. It always seems to produce fast times.”

Stewart’s Cambuslang clubmate Ryan Thomson had hoped to bid for the title but doesn’t feel  sufficiently recovered from setting a lifetime best of 1:04:40 when taking seventh position in the Napoli half marathon a fortnight ago. “I’m still feeling a bit tired so I need to get myself ready to go at the London marathon in April,” he said. But another Cambuslang athlete, Michael Christoforou, is planning to compete, with an improvement on his 2022 personal best of 1:05:41 being the target.

Inverclyde’s Adam Craig, who ran 1:04:17 from the 2022 Great Scottish Run, also hoped to be racing for gold, but feels the Inverness race comes just a little too early following serious injury problems over the past year.  He said: “I had a stress reaction in my femur last March then a stress fracture in August. But I’m getting into good shape again and, as much as I’d love to come up to Inverness to compete for the Scottish title, I’m not quite ready. I need a few more weeks, so I might do the Scottish 10-mile road champs at the end of the month or the Prague half marathon in April.”

But there are plenty of others capable of taking the top podium spot in what promises to be a fascinating race. Fife AC’s Lewis Rodgers, who was only 14secs behind Stewart when taking silver last year, is returning, as is Central AC’s Luca Fanottoli who was fourth in 2023 in 1:06:17.

Aberdeen AAC’s Michael Ferguson is aiming to improve on his best of 1:06:23 set when taking fifth position 12 months ago while his clubmate Sean Chalmers is also likely to come into the reckoning. The former Inverness Harriers athlete won here in 2022 and has a best time of 1:04:22 from Farnborough that same year. Ferguson and Chalmers will join forces with Myles Edwards in a strong Aberdeen AAC side hoping to take top spot in the team competition.

John Bell (Inverclyde) shouldn’t be too far away from the podium positions either while it will be interesting to see how the 2023 Loch Ness Marathon champion, Moray Pryde (Lothian Running Club) fares on his return north.

James  Wilson (Moray Road Runners) is one of the favourites to land first prize in the Scottish North District championships which are also incorporated in this year’s race

Maclennan Favourite for Women’s Title

Mhairi Maclennan (Inverness Harriers) is favourite to lift the Scottish women’s title in the absence of title-holder Natasha Phillips (Dundee Hawkhill Harriers) who set a course record 1:11:56 last year.

Mhairi Maclennan, winner of the Baxters River Ness 10K in 2022

MacLennan sits ninth on the Scottish all-time best performer’s list with a 1:11:18 result in Copenhagen last September while Phillips is just one second slower from her run at Larne in August, and athletics fans were looking forward to a potentially thrilling clash between these two fine athletes.

Phillips was keen to compete in Inverness until she discovered the race clashed with the UK Inter Counties cross country championships at Nottingham which doubles up as the Great Britain team trial for the world championships to be held in Belgrade at the end of the month. The Angus athlete is a strong contender for a place in the GB under-20 squad.

Edinburgh-based Invernessian Maclennan, who hasn’t raced seriously since her fine performance in Denmark last year, has overcome recent health concerns and is keen to test herself over her home town course.

She said: “I haven’t raced seriously since Copenhagen last September. In the autumn I was really ill with respiratory problems and I had to take medication to detox my body from mould spores which came from the flat I was living in.  Fingers crossed that’s sorted the problem as I’ve been struggling with it for the past five years.

“I started training again in December and everything has gone well since then. I had a little run out in the London Winter 10k a couple of weeks ago and that went very well. I started off at half marathon pace and built up from there. In the end I was only about 20secs outside my PB but I felt very relaxed and chilled.

“It would be nice to run a bit faster at Inverness than I did in Copenhagen, although I really don’t know what the course is like and it depends on weather conditions on the day. “

Metro Aberdeen’s Ginie Barrand, who set a personal best time of 1:14:00 when taking the bronze medal behind Phillips and Fionnuala Ross (Shettleston Harriers) in last year’s race,  is expected to be one of Maclennan’s closest challengers this weekend.

The Banchory-based runner hasn’t raced since setting a PB 2:35:25 in December’s Valencia marathon, although she showed sharp form when clocking a parkrun 5k PB of 16:29 at Aberdeen last month.

She said: “Training has gone as well as it could have done over the past few weeks and if the weather is favourable on Sunday I’d like to think I can go a little faster than last year. My training is geared for the Copenhagen marathon in May but I’m not treating Inverness as a training run, I’m certainly going to be racing hard. It’s good that Mhairi is doing it and I’ll just try to keep her in sight for as long as possible.”

Barrand will be supported by Claire Bruce and Nicola MacDonald in a strong Metro Aberdeen squad aiming to retain the national team title.

Others likely to be challenging for individual honours include the 2016 Inverness champion Fanni Gyurko (Ochil Hill Runners) and Nynke Mulholland-Stümmer (Inverclyde AC) who was eight in the Scottish cross country championships recently.

Race Director Malcolm Sutherland is excited about what promises to be another wonderful occasion.  He said: “It’s shaping up to be a fantastic day of racing with so many top quality athletes coming to Inverness. We are proud to be hosting both the Scottish and North District championships once again this year, which adds a bit of extra spice to the proceedings.

“It will be interesting to see if Mhairi Maclennan can break the excellent course record set by Natasha Phillips in 2023, while any one of a number of runners could threaten Robbie Simpson’s 2018 men’s record of 1:04:27.

“We are delighted that we have capacity fields for the half marathon and the accompanying 5k  and entries for both had to close early. We have a record 1300 runners in the 5k, more than 40% of whom come from local schools, sports clubs and youth groups.

“We can assure everyone that they’ll receive a warm and enthusiastic welcome.  There’s a fantastic level of support along the route and the atmosphere in the stadium at the finish is always enthusiastic and heart-warming. Every finisher is treated like a champion.”

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