Most visitors stroll at a leisurely pace through London’s Kew Gardens but Banchory athlete Robbie Simpson won’t be taking any time to admire the vast array of amazing plants when he enters the gates of the Unesco World Heritage Centre on Friday.
The Scotland international is one of a very small group of elite marathon runners competing in a Covid-controlled race to be held on a 13-lap course within the grounds of the Royal Botanic Gardens.
The first two men to finish will be selected to represent Great Britain in the Tokyo Olympic Games this summer, so long as they run quicker than the qualifying time of 2hr 11min 30secs.
Simpson, who won the Commonwealth Games bronze medal in the searing heat of Australia’s Gold Coast in 2018, has a best time of 2:14:56 from two years ago, but will be aiming to get as close as he can to the required standard.
He said: “Can I run faster than 2:11:30? The short answer is that I don’t really know what shape I’m in at the moment.
“There haven’t been any races in the lead-up to this one so it’s hard to tell. I’m happy with how my preparations have gone and I can get an idea from the sessions I’ve done, but you can never be sure.
“I’ll just have to be careful to not start too fast, otherwise I might struggle towards the end. Equally, going too slow early on would mean the qualifying time might become out of reach.
“I can’t go much quicker than 1:06 in the first half. If I went faster, then it would be too quick and, if I went at 1:07, it would be too slow. If I’m having a good day at 1:06, I might be able to pick up the pace a little from there.
“We’ll just have to see how it plays out.
“There’s a lot of people of similar ability to me, so hopefully there will be a group of us going at the right pace.
“Being realistic, it’s quite a big jump for me to make, but at the same time the field looks open. There’s a few good names there, but the marathon is always unpredictable.
“It’s an opportunity to run against a good field and if I run a decent race then I should be faster than I’ve been before.
“I feel fit enough to run my best race, then we’ll see what time comes out of it.”
Simpson’s opponents include Derby’s Ben Connor, who already has the Olympic qualifying time, which he achieved in last October’s elite-only London marathon. Belgrave’s Tom Evans, Welshmen Dewi Griffiths and Josh Griffiths could also pose a threat, as could debut man Mo Adan (Thames Valley).
Liverpool’s Johnny Mellor, who also has the qualifying time, is an absentee because of injury.
Kilbarchan’s Derek Hawkins, whose brother Callum has been pre-selected for Tokyo, is another to have withdrawn.
Pre-selected Callum Hawkins still has part to play in Simpson’s hopes
Scottish record-holder Callum Hawkins could play a key role in assisting Robbie Simpson’s bid for Olympic selection in the elite-only Great Britain marathon trial at Kew Gardens on Friday.
Hawkins is already assured of his place on the trip to Tokyo in the summer, having been pre-selected on the basis of his previous good form.
But the Kilbarchan athlete is to perform pacemaking duties to help the leading runners hit the required qualifying standard of 2hr 11min 30sec.
Simpson said: “I haven’t spoken directly with Callum, but I know he is to be one of the pacemakers. I’ve heard that one of them will go out at 2:10 pace and another at 2:11:30 pace and that would probably suit most runners.”
The Deeside runner is determined to focus on his own performance and will not be swayed by anything anyone else decides to do.
He said: “You can’t tell what shape anyone will be in, so there’s no point being influenced.
“It has been so long since most people have raced. So, there may be people who have made a lot of progress over the past year and there will be guys who haven’t done so well. I’m just concentrating on what I can do.”
Simpson’s partner, Ginie Barrand, will also play a vital part in the proceedings. The Metro Aberdeen runner, a past winner of the Great Aberdeen 10k, will be the Banchory man’s sole support crew member.
Although no spectators are allowed to attend the race, each of the 17 men is allowed to have one backer who will hand out drinks and offer moral support on the course and Barrand will fulfil that role.
Fiona Brian ‘gutted’ to miss Kew race
Metro Aberdeen’s Fiona Brian is disappointed that she’ll miss this week’s Great Britain women’s Olympic marathon trial at Kew Gardens.
The Scotland international relocated to Paris earlier in the year as husband Tom, also a Metro club member, took up a new post in the French capital.
She had hoped to maintain her marathon training regime, but it hasn’t quite gone to plan.
She said: “I’ve had a few disruptions which have impacted on my training, including the move to France and various Covid quarantines. I’m gutted not to be running, but it will be exciting to watch.”
Brian’s best marathon time is 2hr 42min 51secs, set at Berlin in 2019, while the Olympic qualifying standard is 2:29:30. She admits that getting to Tokyo wasn’t a realistic prospect, but she aimed to edge closer to the 2022 Commonwealth Games qualifying mark of 2:36:49.
Scottish record holder Steph Twell (Aldershot, Farnham and District) has also withdrawn from the trial. She already has a qualifying time and is preparing for the Olympic 10,000m track trials at Birmingham in June.
Scotland will have two other representatives at Kew with Steph Davis (Clapham Chasers) and Sarah Inglis (Lothian Running Club).