Growing up, Meryl Cooper never envisaged herself becoming an ultra runner. But this week, the 35-year-old heads into the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships comfortable in the knowledge that she can compete with the world’s best in her sport.

Cooper is one of 10 Scots selected for GB for the event which begins today in Chiang Mai in Thailand, with the conditions likely to make it one of the toughest races in recent memory.

That Cooper has established herself as one of the country’s most talented ultra runners is as astonishing to herself as it is to anyone else.

As a child growing up on a farm in Aberdeenshire, Cooper did every sport imaginable but never considered a career as an elite athlete, particularly not a runner.

As a trialist for the Scottish football team in her school days, it was the national game that Cooper thought was most likely going to be her chosen sport and, in fact, it was not until she hit her 13th birthday that she even considered going running.

“Growing up, I loved sport and did pretty much everything and anything,” she says. “Whenever I did any sport, I really threw myself into it but most of the time, it was just a phase and then I moved on.

“I was turning 30 and living in Dubai and wanted, in my 30s, to be the fittest I’ve ever been so I started running and going to the gym purely for fitness. That was in 2017 and at that point, I never thought anything would come of it, certainly not running for GB.

“When I got into ultra running, I thought this would just be a phase, too. But as it’s turned out, this is the sport I’ve stuck at the longest and it’s the first time I’ve focused solely on one sport.”

It quickly became apparent that Cooper had a natural aptitude for trail running, particularly the longer distances – it is 100km races she now specialises in – and her improvement was rapid; within just two years of her first ultra race, GB selection was on the horizon.

And although she is a relative newcomer to the sport, she believes that much of her life has, in fact, been the perfect breeding ground for her to excel in such a demanding event.

“I think what’s prepared me so well for this sport is that I’ve been so used to being on my feet for hours and hours at a time – as a PE teacher in Dubai, you work really hard and then I’d go and do a few hours of football training so, in a funny way, I was doing ultra training without even realising it,” she says.

“When I began running, I was able to up the volume pretty quickly and I think that’s been because I was so active in my general life.

“And growing up on a farm, I was running round fields and off road all the time so it makes sense that I’ve ended up doing this. Trail running is a very different skill to road or track running. Even though I’m not as fast as someone who can run a 2:40 marathon, over 50 or 60kms of trails, I’m as fast just because of the demands of the uneven terrain.”

Cooper will contest the 80km trail race this weekend in what is her second appearance at the World Championships after her debut in 2019 and it is, she admits, a relief to be finally within touching distance of the starting line.

Her initial selection came over a year ago but with the event having been postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic, Cooper and her compatriots were all unceremoniously deselected.

That period of uncertainty did not do her motivation any favours, but keeping her ultimate goal in mind ensured she is in the shape of her life at exactly the right time.

“These Worlds have been a long time coming so it’s exciting it’s finally here,” she says. “The uncertainty around when this would take place definitely affected my motivation but I had to remember what my goal was and to make sure I was rested and ready to peak at this very late time in the season. I feel like it’s all come together now.”

Setting targets is notoriously hard for ultra races, such are the number of factors that can affect each individual’s performance. And while Cooper is well aware that the conditions in Thailand will make this race particularly tough, she is also confident in her own ability and knows that, if all goes to plan, she has every chance of being in contention come the sharp end of the race.

“It’s tricky to set definite targets because it’s likely that the conditions in Thailand will open the race up to anyone who responds well to that,” she says.“But I’d absolutely love to be finishing in the top 10 – that’d be the dream. I’m aiming to pace myself well and have a really strong second half and hopefully catch a few people who might be struggling.”