ONE encounters few fellow travellers on the road from Greenock to Guiyang.

The distance between the administrative centre of Inverclyde and the capital of Guizhou province in south-west China clocks in at 5462 miles and for Jonny Glen at times it must have seemed all of that and more.

It wasn't so long ago that this pupil of Greenock then latterly Clydeview Academies was racking up unremarkable times in his distance runs with Inverclyde Athletics Club, seemingly more interested in kicking about with his pals at Port Glasgow Juniors Boys Club or the 1st Greenock Boys Brigade and pursuing an apprenticeship as an electrician than fulfilling lofty dreams of a career at the sharp end of world athletics.

But baby steps have turned into giant strides. This morning the 18-year-old departs from Glasgow Airport as the reigning Scottish and British Junior champion, bound for London Heathrow on the first leg of a 16-hour journey which will transport him all the way to the World Cross Country Championships. He is entitled to feel he has covered quite a distance when he finds himself in close proximity to the cream of the world's running talent, including all the top African athletes and one of his idols in Mo Farah.

"It has been some year for me," said Glen, part of a three-strong Scottish contingent in the GB squad which also includes senior athletes Andrew Butchart and Rhona Auckland.

"To get picked for the Euros was amazing, but now going to China it is just surreal. When I was speaking to my coach Mark [Pollard] at the start of the season, he was saying 'we will do this and do this'. 'We will go to the Euros then hopefully you will make the team for the worlds'. I was like OK, it is good to be optimistic but I wasn't really sure if it was realistic."

All athletes make sacrifices to chase their dreams, and in Glen's case the withdrawal symptoms seem to centre less on alcohol or fast food and more upon pining for football.

"Maybe three or four years ago, I had to make my choice," said Glen, whose next project after Guiyang will be to crack the 30mins 30secs qualifying time for the 10,000m at the European Junior Championships on the track in Sweden.

"Mark basically told me that if I wanted to be good at running I had to chuck football, but I was still just a wee boy who wanted to play. It wasn't so much about making it as a footballer as such, it was just because it was all my pals, it was just what we did.

"But as I got older and a bit more sensible I started thinking that I need to screw the nut here or I am going to end up getting injured.

"As it happens I was out for the first time just at the weekend there, just passing a ball about with my dad, watching a football game, and it was brilliant. I do miss playing football but if you want to achieve anything in your life, you have to commit to it. I don't mind now, because the results are coming."

One man Glen has met and could be classed as a fellow traveller is Chris O'Hare, the 24-year-old from West Linton who is now a European 1500m bronze medallist both indoors and outdoors. The two met after a dream mile at Ravenscraig Stadium and have remained in touch, O'Hare chipping in with both moral support and more tangible assistance such as help in arranging a prospective athletics scholarship in the United States.

O'Hare benefited from his time at the University of Tulsa and Glen could well follow a similar path, although midway through his second year of a four-year apprenticeship, he is determined to break the back of that first before concentrating on trying to make the cut for the Commonwealth Games at the Gold Coast in 2018.

"I have known Chris for a wee while," said Glen. "He has always praised me when I have done well, and likes to help the young ones coming into the sport. He was very good, and gave me a lot of info, and help on scholarship offers, what to do and what not to do. I need to finish my apprenticeship first, so I have got that behind me, because while it is my dream to be a runner, you never know. Plus, you can only run till you are 30 or 35 tops and what would I do after that if I didn't have my apprenticeship? I just wouldn't know."

Amid such exacting competition, and with Glen still having another year of competition to come at junior level, it seems wise to temper expectations when races start on Saturday. However, this 18-year-old has already made great progress due to hard graft, even amid the conditions that hit Inverclyde this winter which have been the polar opposite of warm-weather training.

"I've got a treadmill in my basement, a sort of gym-type area, so if the weather is really bad I can go down there," he said. "I have actually produced some really good sessions there. I have got my TV set up. It is usually at night so I am usually just watching football or listening to my music."