MEGAN KEITH’S love of cross-country running was fostered by countless runs in the Highlands in her younger years. 

Back then, it was merely a hobby; these days, however, Keith has established herself as one of the most promising young talents in the UK. 

And today, she is out to prove she can compete with – and potentially beat – the best Europe has to offer. 

Today, the European Cross-Country Championships take place in Dublin and Keith is one of six Scots selected for the GB team; she is included in the under-20 squad and is joined by Olympian, Andy Butchart and Jamie Crowe in the men’s senior race, Eloise Walker is in the under-23 race while Hamish Armitt and Lewis Hannigan will race the men’s under-20 category. 

In what is a sizeable field, few go in with the kind of momentum Keith has generated over the past couple of months. 

Four cross-country outings have resulted in four victories in the under-20 category, including a Scottish title and victory two weeks ago at the trials for this European Championships. 

Today will be Keith’s second appearance in this event and having finished 27th on her previous outing two years ago, she is confident she will be far nearer the front this time and, all going to plan, could well be in the hunt for some silverware. 

“Things have gone as well as I could have hoped this season but this is what I thought I might be capable of,” the 19-year-old says.  

“At the last Europeans, I was young but I also raced very stupidly  - I got completely carried away and set off far faster than I should have.  

“That’s how you learn though and so this time, I’m so much more experienced and I’ll go in with a much more composed mindset. 

“I’d like to think that on a perfect day, I’d be capable of winning a medal but in cross-country, you just never know what’s going to happen.  

“Really, you need to just go in aiming to run as hard as you can and then see what happens.” 

Her success in this season’s cross-country events come as little surprise considering her form coming into this winter. Over the course of a few months in the summer, she set personal bests on the track in the 1500m, 3000m and 5000m, all by massive margins.  

That improvement signaled a significant leap forward physically but more than that, Keith believes it was a change of mindset that enabled her to take such strides forward. 

“I used to hate track racing. Really hate it,” she says. 

“I’ve grown up running in the countryside and in Inverness and I just didn’t see the attraction of running round in a circle on a track. 

“But in the past year or so, my coach convinced me to take the track more seriously and so we travelled down to races in Glasgow with more runners and that helped me get some good times. 

“It was definitely my head holding me back on the track rather than anything physical and now, I actually look forward to track sessions and that’s helped me a lot in my racing.” 

Keith’s most notable result over the summer was a fourth place finish in the 3000m in the European Junior Championships, missing out on bronze by a mere three hundredths of a second. 

She emerged from that championship with mixed feelings and that disappointment has, perhaps, been key to her success this winter. 

“I had really mixed feelings about the European Juniors. If you’d told me beforehand that I’d be fourth, I’d have jumped at it but when it was so close, it was pretty gutting,” she says.  

“It’s a bit corny to say but that has definitely added fuel to the fire for me. I know what it takes now and also, I’d like to think I have what it takes.” 

Keith, who has recently relocated to the capital to study sports science at Edinburgh University, is far from a one-trick pony; she also represents Scotland and GB in orienteering, with only the fact the pandemic caused far more havoc to the orienteering calendar than the athletics one the reason she has focused so heavily on athletics for the past year. 

Despite her recent athletics’ success, she still very much has eggs in both baskets. But, with her running going so well, she is likely to prioritise athletics over the coming months and while the Commonwealth Games standard for the 5000m is still some way faster than her current best, her recent rate of improvement suggests nothing is impossible. 

“I don’t have any huge expectations of making the Commonwealth Games but it’ll be good to see how close I can get to the standard because I’d like to think I can chip a bit more off my PB,” she says.  

“It’ll also give me good experience because when the Commonwealth Games come round again in four years, I’ll have a much better idea what to expect.”