It may be the current crop of Scottish athletes who are grabbing the spotlight at the moment but there’s one particular individual leading the charge of the next generation.

And already, she’s showing signs that she can scale heights comparable to the likes of Laura Muir and Josh Kerr.

Natasha Phillips is just eighteen years old and has only been taking running seriously for a couple of years but already, she’s a British and European junior record holder and has shown more than a few glimmers of potential that indicate she has exactly what’s needed to rise to the very top of her sport.

Until very recently, Phillips considered herself a triathlete rather than a runner.

Which is why her form this year, which saw her become Scottish Half-Marathon champion in Inverness in March before setting a British and European U20 half marathon record in Antrim and becoming a GB U20 internationalist on the track earlier this summer, as well as being crowned Scottish U20 athlete of the year, has come as something of a shock to the teenager.

“It’s been a good year. Inverness really kick-started the season for me; running 71 minutes was totally unexpected and completely exceeded my targets,” she says.

“The records have just kind of happened, I really wasn’t going for them. Before I raced in Antrim, I knew about the European record but I thought I wasn’t going to get anywhere near that kind of time anytime soon. 

“So when I crossed the line and looked at my watch, I was amazed because I really hadn’t set out to run that fast.”

Phillips began her sporting life as a competitive swimmer, reaching national level but when her peers all enjoyed a growth-spurt, Phillips was left behind physically and despite being a member of her home city’s most prominent athletics club, Dundee Hawkhill Harriers, her attempts at representing the club at cross-country events was purely for fun with triathlon becoming her sole priority.

But when the pandemic hit in 2020, Phillips’ access to swimming pools was severely limited and so, as a result, she found herself donning her running shoes more and more regularly.

She soon realised she had a new-found passion but a mystery illness, which turned out to be an iron deficiency, left her increasingly lethargic and almost put paid to her athletics career just as it was beginning.

And she has one of Scotland’s current superstars to thank for giving her the inspiration to continue through the tough times.

“Just over a year ago, I was pretty close to giving up running completely,” Phillips reveals. 

“I felt like I didn’t have the energy to do anything.

“One of the big things that helped me push through was last October, I went to a talk by Eilish McColgan and she was saying how even when she was having a really tough time, she still turned up to every training session and just kept grinding. 

“I found that very inspirational and it really encouraged me to keep showing up.

“Then I started taking iron tablets, I got my energy back and I began to race again. I did a half marathon last November and that was a real turning point because I felt so good again.”

Phillips’ return to health has reaped quite remarkable rewards – this summer, as well as her impressive half marathon records, she also finished in fourth place in the 5000m at the European U20 Championships on the track before winning the Great Scottish Run last month.

And so, as a result of her stunning year, she goes into the coming months with significantly increased expectations.

However, the University of Dundee student has a somewhat unusual set-up, particularly for one so young, in that she is self-coached and so must rely entirely on her own drive and determination to ensure she’s undertaking the training that’s required to compete with the best distance runners in the world.

Her lifestyle is quite a contrast to her peers at university but having no one to answer to other than herself is, she believes, a seriously character-building set-up.

“During lockdown, I did everything by myself and I still do a lot of triathlon training, which I also do by myself,” she says.

“It can be tough mentally to train alone. But the good side of that is that if I’m racing and find myself on my own, I’m ok with that and I know I can push myself.

“I do have a lot of self-motivation and I feel like doing it this way is character-building and it shows that I really want it.”

Phillips’ short-term goal is the cross-country season, with a place in the GB team for the U20 World XC Championships an immediate goal.

And as she heads into next year, the 5000m at the U20 World Championships is a goal on the track while breaking the 32-minute barrier in the 10k on the road is also in her sights.

Having such lofty ambitions at such a young age could feel like a burden but Phillips is, she insists, almost entirely oblivious to any pressure being heaped upon her.

“I don’t transfer the pressure from other people onto myself,” she says

“Maybe because I’m still so young, I don’t think about pressure. When I’m lining up for a race, I’m normally so nervous that I don’t even think about whether other people expect me to do well.”