THIS hasn’t been quite how Megan Keith had envisaged a gap year from her studies panning out.

Having chosen to delay starting her sport science degree at Edinburgh University until autumn 2021 due to the pandemic, the Inverness athlete has, in theory, the freedom to do as she pleases until that point.

But with the traditional round-the-world trip so favoured of teenagers not currently an option, the 18 year-old has found herself instead not straying too far from home.

“I had been thinking of taking a gap year anyway and then, with all the uncertainty of going somewhere new in the midst of all this, it just felt like moving away at this point might be a bit much,” she explains.

“So I thought I’d just wait a bit longer before starting uni. It’s been a nice half-year break so far with another six months to go.

“With all the restrictions I’ve not been able to do the sort of things I’d have hoped to have done in a gap year. But hopefully I can do something fun and interesting next year, maybe do some travelling and get away for a bit.”

Keith has been putting her spare time to good use, however, taking on a part-time job working with children with special needs.

She revealed: “My friend had been working there for a while and, when I was looking for a job in the summer, she recommended it. She said it was really rewarding and it has been.
“It’s just giving the kids a fun couple of hours after school doing different activities and crafts. I’m really enjoying it.”

Not having to worry about coursework and exams has also afforded her more time to concentrate on her athletics, even if there have been precious few racing opportunities for her and coach Ross Cairns to work towards in 2020.

She did, however, return to the cross-country scene with a bang at the weekend, scooting round the grounds of Scone Palace in the quickest time to win the Lindsays short course invitational.

The hope now is that in a post-vaccine 2021 there will be more chances to race both on the track – where she sees herself eventually concentrating on the middle distances - and on her favoured outdoor courses, splattering through the mud and puddles.

“I had a good start to the year and then we tried to make the most of lockdown doing time trials and some virtual racing,” reveals Scottish Athletics’ Under-20 Performer of the Year.

“So I feel I’ve got something out of this year even though there wasn’t a lot of racing over the summer.

“It was nice getting back into cross-country again at the weekend for the first time since March.

“I had a road race the week before when I didn’t do so well so I wanted to redeem myself at Scone. It was only 3K so I wanted to go at it as hard as I can and it turned out pretty well on the day.

“Cross country is my favourite discipline, as you never know what it’s going to be like and every course is different. We get all sorts of weather and terrain here – washing your clothes after those races is never nice!         

“My goal for next year had been to qualify for the world cross-country championship in Australia in March but that’s already been postponed for a year.

“But the European cross-country event is looking like it will be on next winter so that will be the main target for 2021.”

Keith has also made additional use of her newly-found spare time by passing her driving test but will let dad Alec take the wheel of the family campervan when they head south this weekend for her final race of the year, Keith’s primary role to prepare a festive playlist for the long journey.

She added: “I’ve got permission from Scottish Athletics to go to the north of England this weekend for an elite cross-country race. My dad and I are taking the campervan so we’ll head down in that which means you can be pretty self-sufficient and stay safe without having to stay in a random hotel.

“I passed my driving test two months ago but I’m not insured for the campervan yet! So my dad will drive and I’ll just sort out the music, maybe put on a few Christmas tunes.

“It’s just nice to be able to fit in a few extra races before the end of the year. And then hopefully there will be more opportunities to get back out again next year.”