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Smoother journey may lead to podium

Rhona Auckland is one for performances, but not the show.

A year ago, she returned from the European cross-country championships in Budapest with a bronze souvenir packed in her kit bag, part of a dominant British effort that saw every team member secure a medal.

Returning to her studies in medical science at Edinburgh University the following morning, most would have been tempt to flaunt, if just a little. Not me, exclaims the 20-year-old. "I try to keep it quiet. I don't want to come across as big-headed."

Others will surely hand out the plaudits if the Banchory-born hopeful can match, or better, the feat tomorrow in Belgrade. One of three Scots in the GB&NI team, along with Steph Twell and Callum Hawkins, Auckland is hoping for an improvement on the position of 23rd overall she achieved in Hungary.

The 2012 edition was her first taste of an international championship. It was not her best run, she acknowledges. The stresses of a 24-hour outbound journey were surely a mitigating factor. "My flight from Edinburgh was cancelled," she recounts. "I then had to go to Glasgow but by the time I got to Heathrow, the last flight to Budapest had gone.

"So I had to spend the night there. Then there was a fire at Budapest Airport so I didn't get in until Saturday night. And then I was straight back onto the plane on Sunday after the race to get back for my first exam. But it was worth it."

The junior races at Euro Cross have a habit of being a proving ground for middle and long distance prospects, with Mo Farah and Paula Radcliffe both signalling their intent in the midst of muddy competition.

Emilia Gorecka, who trains with Twell in Twickenham, is Britain's best hope for an individual title, with ever-increasing numbers of the country's elite dedicating themselves to competing indoors in the winter. Auckland, however, will relish the challenge. Rain or shine, it has been what she has always savoured. "I realised distance running was what I was best at," she said. "I went to Aberdeen to get to know the coaches and it was Joyce Hogg who took me on."

Hogg remains her mentor, even now that she is training in Edinburgh. With completing her degree top of her agenda, the pair have kept targets deliberately short-term despite signs that Auckland might flourish at 5000 metres and above.

"I always have said to myself that I'll decide whether to keep on doing this after the next selection," she states. "And then the next one. It does give you confidence when you're in the GB team. There are standards you want to aspire to. It makes you want to get to the next level."

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