Hazlehead Academy pupil Hamish McKay continued his strong vein of form this winter with last-gasp bronze at the Scottish East District Cross-country Championships in Stirling.
The 17-year-old, who was part of the Aberdeen trio to win the national cross-country relay championships in October and is coached by Aberdeen marathon runner Aaron Odentz, originally looked like he would finish out of the medals after three of his competitors – runners from East Lothian, Central, and Fife – pulled away towards the latter part of the 5.7km course.
But the third-placed runner then dropped off the pace and McKay seized his chance to medal – assisted by a vocal travelling contingent of Aberdeen competitors and volunteers.
He said: “I feel I executed it quite well.
“My plan was to sit in for the first lap or so, but it was quite slow through the first kilometre, so I ended up just taking it on at the front a little bit earlier than I thought I would.
“At about 4.5km, the front two broke away and my legs couldn’t go with it. But I hung on to the boy who was sitting in third.
“The last 300m, as we came back into where the finish was, I felt I was closing on him and he was obviously tiring, so I managed to get past him.”
There was a little bit of frustration for McKay – who had beaten the second-place finisher in Liverpool a week prior to the East District race – but a bronze medal was a timely confidence boost in one of his final races of 2022, and going into the second half of the cross-country campaign.
Now in his last year at school, Aberdonian McKay rose to eighth in the Scottish rankings for the Under-17 3,000m this year, and has further plans to focus on the distance at a British Milers’ Club meet at Glasgow’s Emirates Arena in the new year.
For now, however, McKay’s focus remains on the cross-country season, as he targets the national championships in February, as well as the inter-county championships in Loughborough.
‘The shout for me just kept getting louder’
The support there may not be quite as raucous as it was in Stirling on Saturday, when, McKay explains, his teammates played their part in dragging him over the line.
He said: “When I was slowly closing in, the support I was getting helped.
“After the race, he (the athlete McKay passed) mentioned to me the shouts for me just kept getting louder, which made him feel even more uncomfortable, because he was just waiting for me to come at him.
“It did help that I had a lot of support on the course around the finish and the start area, where it was quite loud, but there was also a part with about a kilometre ago where there were quite a few people like my mum and other Aberdeen people there shouting.”
Training partners like experienced Ferguson aiding McKay’s rise
Support while competing may be important, but so too is support during training sessions.
McKay has plenty of this in his current set-up, where he is often joined by seasoned Scottish international, Michael Ferguson.
He said: “I’m currently doing three sessions of running a week, one strength and conditioning session, as well as a couple of easy runs and cross training.
“We’ve got quite a good group at the moment, so it makes it a lot more enjoyable and easier to do, because there’s people to run with who have got a lot more experience in running than me.
“The standout (training partner) is Michael Ferguson, because he’s won Scottish titles before and he’s still competing at national level – he’s up there in every race that he does.
“He sometimes trains with us on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the track, so it’s quite helpful to have him there. It makes pacing a lot easier, because he’s always spot on.”