ROBBIE SIMPSON is more accustomed to running through the beautiful scenery of hills and mountains than enduring the boredom that comes with repetitive loops of a course.

But to secure a place in GB’s marathon team for this summer’s Olympics, he will be forced out of his comfort zone and into the world of lap running. On Friday, the Olympic Marathon Trials will take place with the results determining who will join the pre-selected Callum Hawkins in Tokyo.

Covid restrictions have determined that rather than the usual route around a city, the race will be held in London’s Kew Gardens, with the runners doing seven-and-a-half laps of a 5.5km course.

For someone who has made their name as one of the world’s best mountain runners, it will be quite a challenge, but not one that daunts Simpson.

“If I’m honest, I prefer a point-to-point race to laps, I find that kind of course easier to just switch off and enjoy the run rather than being conscious of the distance passing,” he says. “But I’ve had plenty of time to prepare for this so I can’t complain and say it doesn’t suit me.

“When you’re running hard, you often don’t notice what you’re running past anyway. When you’re hurting, you’re trying to overcome that rather than thinking about what you’re seeing.

“There are advantages to a lap course too. It can make it easier to know how far you’ve got left and it can be nice to tick it off in your head. It actually goes by pretty quickly so if you break it into chunks, you can get through it okay.”

While Simpson may have made his name as a mountain runner, he is no stranger to success in the marathon.

At the Commonwealth Games in 2018, he won bronze in a race run in brutally hot conditions, proving that the 29-year-old has the mental fortitude to overcome the challenges marathon running often presents. Any race is a psychological battle as much as physical and with the prize at the end of this one as sizeable as a spot on the Olympic team, it could be easy to get over-excited.  

The qualification time of 2 hours 11 minutes 30 seconds is faster than Simpson has run but having spent almost all of last year training rather than racing, the Banchory man is confident he is in good shape.

Over the course of the summer, during which no races were going on, Simpson spent almost five months running more than 100 miles a week and while lockdown conditions were not always easy to deal with, his previous spells training in the mountains in Europe, during which he was often alone for weeks at a time, did help him cope.

“I often go on a training camp where I don’t do very much or see anyone apart from if I’m running with someone. So it was similar to that,” he says. “That’s when I get the best from my training – having so few distractions but what I like is doing that for a period and then having a race at the end of it where I compete and see people. So last summer started to feel pretty long. 

“I never struggled with motivation though, it was never a struggle for me to get out the door. The trickiest bit was not knowing if I was going to be doing a marathon, a mountain race, a 10k next, but I never had a problem going training.”

At the end of last year, Simpson was able to get a few races under his belt, one of which saw him become Scottish Hill Running champion, but his lack of competitive appearances since then makes it difficult to predict how he will perform in London.

However, his refusal to put undue pressure on himself has worked in the past, and  so he intends to approach the Olympic trials in the same way.

“I’m looking forward to the trials a lot but normally I’d have a really good idea of what I’m capable of and pace it according to that whereas this time, I’m just not sure,” he says.

“Even the races I’ve done really well in previously, I’ve not expected to do well, I’ve just gone in trying to run as well as I can and that’s paid off.  I only start to think of the result closer to the end – then I might let myself think about that because that can help if you’re struggling to get to the line, knowing the prize can give you a boost. 

“But I think if you go in too pumped up and expecting too much, it’s easy to over-cook it early on so I’ll probably do what I often do, get to halfway without exerting myself too much and then start racing from there.”