Great Britain international Mhairi MacLennan set the heather alight last year when breaking the Baxters River Ness 10K women’s record which had stood for 16 years.
But the local athlete has decided not expected to defend her title this weekend as she is still recovering from setting a personal best half marathon time of 1hr 11min 18secs in Copenhagen last month – the ninth fastest ever recorded by a Scot.
Her Inverness clubmate Megan Keith, the under-23 European 5,000m champion, who won the River Ness race in 2019 and 2021, is another absentee after taking a break from training after a busy summer track season in which she also represented Great Britain at the world championships in Budapest.
In the absence of these two stars, hopes of a local victory will rest on the shoulders of the experienced Scotland international Jenny Bannerman who is gradually edging back to peak form just over a year after giving birth to her first child.
Bannerman has a remarkable record in the race, having won three times between 2014 and 2018, while achieving a further four podium positions since 2009.
And last year, just three months after the arrival of baby George, she ran well to finish ninth. She was third in last month’s Stirling 10k where she recorded 36:35, her quickest time of the year. Her best of 34:52 came at Miltonduff in 2019.
Claire Bruce could also prove to be a serious contender for top spot.
The Metro Aberdeen club member has been experimenting with some hill racing this year, but has still shown excellent form on the roads, setting a 5K personal best of 17:04 at Dunfermline in August.
Her best 10K time of 35:28 came at the Valentines 10K in Edinburgh in 2022.
Scottish under-17 cross country champion Caitlyn Heggie (Ross County AC) makes her 10K debut after a successful summer track season during which set personal best 1500m and 3000m times.
The Dingwall athlete, who, like MacLennan and Keith is coached by Ross Cairns, previously competed in the festival of running in 2021 when she was first in the women’s division of the River Ness 5K fun run.
Amy Hudson, silver medallist behind Jenny Bannerman in the Nairn 10K, is also capable of achieving a podium position, as is veteran JS Kintore athlete Tammy Wilson who won last month’s Nairn half marathon.
Teenager Lily Wale, from Colorado, is a bit of an unknown quantity, but is someone to keep an eye on as she has predicted a sub-40minute time.
Gemma Cormack (Moray Road Runners) and North 10k champion Sarah Attwood (Highland Hill Runners) are among others to look out for.
Elgin’s Lachlan Oates (Shettleston Harriers) defends the men’s title but Great Britain mountain running international Ross Gollan could offer a serious challenge to his Shettleston clubmate. The Edderton athlete doesn’t often run on the road racing circuit, but showed his capabilities earlier in the year when winning the Forres 10K in a personal best 30min 58sec.
For the 2021 winner, Sean Chalmers (Inverness Harriers), this weekend’s race will mark an important step along the comeback trail after a frustrating 12 months on the sidelines.
The Aberdeen-based Scotland international hasn’t competed since finishing a painful third here in 2022. The abdominal problems he was suffering from now appear to have eased and he will be hoping for a confidence-boosting performance.
Max Abernethy should also be among the contenders for a podium position. The Fraserburgh athlete was runner-up behind Chalmers in 2021 when clocking 30:59. His best time of 30:52 was set at Miltonduff in March but there’s little doubt he is more than capable of improving on that given favourable conditions this weekend.
Stirling’s Alastair Marshall has the potential to lift the top prize as he has a best time of 30:23 set in 2021. The Central AC runner was, however, below par when taking 10th position at the Scottish 10k championship last month in 31:51.
Scotland junior international Lucas Cairns, bronze medallist in the North District 10k championships earlier in the year, will be looking to improve on the eighth position he secured in last year’s race. Others to look out for include Stephen Mackay (Inverness Harriers), who was fourth last year, and Vancouver ultra distance runner Andrew Skuse.
Event Director Malcolm Sutherland is excited about the prospects for another momentous day of running.
He said: “We are absolutely thrilled to see so many people entering the full programme of races this year with entry numbers having now returned to pre pandemic levels.
“It’s our 21st year and it promises to be another fantastic occasion with a tremendous atmosphere guaranteed at the finish line in Bught Park.”