THE gentleman in the bright blazer waved the pistol with some abandon.

Worryingly, he resembled a Butlins' redcoat with a grudge. He faced a mass of humanity who were pawing the ground as if a patch of Falkirk had been turned into a bullring for the day, a sort of corrida de toros in Callendar Park.

The owners of more than 500 pairs of spiked feet looked at the pistol as if it contained the very meaning of life. It was fired and the runners sprang to life. The climax to the Scottish National Cross Country Championships was under way.

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It proved to be a muddy, sweaty but authentic emblem for the truths of the day. This was a Saturday when the much-mooted revival in athletics found some solid supporting evidence in the highest entry for 20 years and in performances from a clutch of athletes whose efforts over the woodland track were made even more impressive by their youth and potential.

The senior men's race and the women's equivalent contained an admirable quota of those who seemed to be hastening for their pension before the Post Office closed, providing a reminder that running is for life. There was even a redoubtable gentleman who careered around the park with his arm in a sling.

However, the most eye-catching figures were those who forged clear of their pursuers and declared with their deeds that Scottish athletics has a future laced with a healthy optimism.

The winners of the two senior races fit that mould snugly. Callum Hawkins, with a family pedigree that is the athletic equivalent of a winning dynasty at Crufts, proved his strength and promise with a breathtaking display over the 12,000 metres of the men's race.

Breathtaking, that is, for everyone but the 21-year-old Hawkins. He surged over the line in 37 minutes 41 seconds, a 55-second advantage over Central AC silver medallist Andrew Butchart. Tewolde Mengisteab of Shettleston Harriers took the bronze, 18 seconds behind Butchart.

Hawkins, who strode down the finishing straight alone, was able to give an impromptu press conference immediately after powering over the line. Almost incidentally, his run assured the Hawkins family of their 12th gold in the history of the cross-country championships: brother Derek, who is heading for the Glasgow 2014 marathon, Callum and middle boy Scott having joined their father Robert, who won in 1979, in plundering titles.

Callum, in measured tones, immediately highlighted his priority as achieving a 10,000m qualifying time for the Commonwealth Games and his mood would not be dimmed by his formidable display in the watery sun of Falkirk.

He burst away from the field at the start and surged on with an irresistible rhythm. "My original plan was to sit in for the first 8k but I felt good at the start so I just went for it," he said. "That will give me a really good endurance base for the forthcoming track season."

The women's race - with more than 300 entrants - had depth and class. Rhona Auckland, the University of Edinburgh student, made it a treble at Callendar Park, adding the senior title to the under-17 and under-20 championships she has already won.

The 20-year-old's time of 28 minutes 9 seconds over the 8000m left Olympians and World Cup representatives in her wake. Marathon runner Susan Partridge, 10th in Moscow last August, claimed silver for the second successive year some seven seconds back, with Beth Potter, the 2013 national champion, finishing third.

"I just like the course here with the hills and the smaller undulations, and it suits me when it is a longer race. The mud is good," said Auckland. With Rosie Smith fourth and Freya Ross, the Olympic marathon runner, fifth, the class of the race was undeniable.

Ross, too, was pleased with her afternoon's work as she is coming back from injury and felt no ill effects in her foot despite the most testing of conditions. She will now step up her preparation for Glasgow 2014.

The world-class events for other winners may be some time off but there was encouragement for those concerned with the future of athletics in Scotland.

Jake Wightman, the under-20 European champion at 1500m, won the under-20 title; Edinburgh AC's Rachael Dunn was a fine winner of the women's under-20 title, coming home in 17.01, 25 seconds clear; Jonathan Glen raced away with under-17 men's title; and Catriona Graves successfully defended her under-17 title.

Further down the age groups, there were also substantial shows of continuing promise. Ben Greenwood (Perth Strathtay) won the under-15 title impressively, franking his indoor form over 800m and 1500m with a devastating display in 4000m of mud. Erin Wallace (Giffnock North) won the girls' race.

Ronhill Cambuslang's Ryan Stephen was the first winner of the day in a fine under-13 boys' race, with Jennifer Walls of Central taking the under-13 girls' title. Jennifer said later she was inspired by Laura Muir. Who knows, this may be the youngster's first steps towards being an inspiration, too.

It was cold in Falkirk on Saturday but there was more than enough to prompt such warming thoughts.