Jason Kelly is confident he will have shrugged off any side effects from the mystery abdominal problem which threatened to hamper his chances of winning tomorrow’s Speyside Way 59km ultra trail race.
The Metro Aberdeen runner is one of the favourites to win the race – from Ballindalloch to Buckie – following the withdrawal of Scotland internationals Robbie Simpson (Deeside Runners) and Kenny Wilson (Moray Road Runners).
Simpson, who relegated Kelly to second position in September’s Lairig Ghru mountain marathon and last month’s Bennachie 50km ultra, is concentrating on starting his build-up towards the Olympic marathon trials in March.
Wilson, who has never raced beyond the marathon distance, doesn’t want to risk injury after recently sustaining a slight knee problem in training.
Apart from his fine performances at Lairig Ghru and Bennachie, Kelly can also take confidence from his impressive victory in the Dee 33 race earlier this year.
However, his plans suffered a setback last week when he ended up in hospital.
He said: “My training had gone well since Bennachie, but last Thursday I ended up in A&E with horrendous abdominal pains which came on very suddenly.
“I was in agony, but it seemed to settle down relatively quickly. It was a bit of a mystery. I had blood tests, but they didn’t show anything unusual and the medics were hopeful it’s nothing serious as it went away.
“Afterwards I had a few days of no running as I wasn’t eating properly and felt completely drained. I didn’t have any energy, but I’m fairly confident it’s behind me now.
“I’ve had time off work this week to rest and get my energy levels up again, so hopefully I’ll be fine.”
Kelly believes he is capable of running a fast time if he has fully recovered and if overhead and underfoot conditions are favourable.
Former Cromdale athlete Terry Forrest, a member of Cairngorm Runners, set the current course record of 4hr 1min 42sec in 2014. It is a mark Kelly feels can be bettered.
He said: “I checked out the course over two days, running roughly half of it each day.
“It’s fairly straightforward and is very runnable. Even the climb up and down Ben Aigan in the middle isn’t too bad.
“I took it easy on day one of my recce but ran at race pace for the second half on day two when I was averaging around 3:52 pace. So that has given me confidence.
“The record remains my target. It should be possible, but it all needs to come together on the day. I’m actually aiming for sub four hours as that sounds like a nice barrier to aim to get under.”
Kelly does, nonetheless, appreciate he faces some potentially tricky opponents.
These include his clubmate Chris Richardson, who ran a PB marathon last month and who is making his ultra-distance debut.
Elgin ultra-distance specialist Grant Jeans, who won the Speyside race last year, is another formidable athlete who cannot be discounted.
Kelly said: “I’d guess we may be pushing each other along. I know Chris well and I’ve seen that Grant has produced a number of very good performances over the past few years so it could be between the three of us.”
Richardson, who set a marathon PB of 2hr 27min 41sec at Lake Dorney in Buckinghamshire, is playing down his chances.
He said: “I still have unfinished business with the marathon as I wanted to get under 2:25 before moving on. So I’ll look for another one in the spring.
“But I’m aiming to shift my focus towards ultras and for a start I’m doing the Speyside Way. I’m looking on it as a pressure-free first attempt at an ultra rather than as a serious attempt.”