It was a muted 30th birthday celebration for Scott Stirling earlier this month, but for good reason; today, Stirling will make his long-awaited GB debut.

It’s an international honour that’s been literally decades in the making for the Falkirk native, who is part of the 22-strong British team who are in Serbia for the World Cross-Country Championships, which take place in Belgrade today.

There are four Scots in the squad this weekend – Alice Goodall, Natasha Phillips and Craig Shennan – but it’s Stirling in particular who has been in the form of his life over the past few months.

In December, a lightening-quick 10k on the road of 28 minutes 40 seconds which saw him become the fifth fastest Scot ever over the distance was an indication of his fitness before the new year allowed him to make his mark on the cross-country circuit, finishing second in the Scottish XC Championships before claiming the overall British Cross Challenge Series title.

His exploits this winter were enough to secure his maiden GB selection and despite Stirling knowing his results have more than justified his position in this weekend’s team, he admits having to wait until his thirties for British honours has ensured he feels particularly satisfied about his achievement.

“It’s been a crazy couple of weeks,” he says. 

“When I first saw the selection policy, I was running well and I knew that it was something I could achieve but having said that, it still feels surreal to actually be picked for GB. 

“For a while, a GB vest has felt like something I maybe could achieve but to actually do it is pretty special.

“Me getting to this level shows that, in athletics, you can come at it from a lot of different angles and don’t necessarily have to be one of the very best juniors to come through in the longer-term.”

Stirling’s route to this point has been far from orthodox.

As a teenager, athletics took a backseat to football and rugby so it wasn’t until he began studying medicine at Edinburgh University that he started to take running even close to seriously.

However, life as a trainee doctor is far from complementary to life as an aspiring elite athlete and although an under-23 Scotland vest came Stirling’s way, he remained a good, but not exceptional runner.

Over recent times, however, that’s changed.

A stint working in A&E a few years ago was far from conducive to a consistent training schedule but over the past 18 months, with Stirling working first in psychiatry and now as a trainee doctor in general practice, it’s allowed him to enjoy more regular working hours and therefore, a more regular training regime. And the consequences of this have been spectacular.

“The winter of 2022, when I was in A&E, it was pretty impossible to juggle everything. I was trying to train as I had before but I exhausted myself,” he says.

“But now, it’s more regular hours and so I can fit in my training and races that much easier. 

“In amateur sport, with everything else you have going on in your life, you often go through peaks and troughs in terms of enjoying it and wanting to do more.

“But my improvement has come from the consistency of training. So while it might look like a breakthrough getting this GB selection, it’s come from two years of hard, consistent training. 

“It’s about keeping showing up and hopefully the results come.”

While Stirling is evidently thrilled at the prospect of donning his first-ever GB vest today, he’s conscious that his biggest danger is becoming overwhelmed by the occasion.

The World Championships field includes the likes of Jacob Kiplimo and Joshua Cheptegei from Uganda, who have won the past two men’s world titles and who are athletes Stirling has admired from afar for years.

So, to be on the start list alongside men of such high calibre is a daunting prospect but Stirling is adamant he’s not going into today’s race happy to settle for merely participating; he wants to really make his presence felt.

“Although getting onto the start line is a big achievement for me, I don’t want it to stop there,” he says. 

“It’d be good to be first British guy across the line. 

“It’s unbelievable to be in the same race as guys like Cheptegei and Kiplimo but it shows my progress. It’s a huge privilege but I need to make the most of these opportunities.

“A big thing for me will be to make sure I don’t get star struck and instead, focus on what I want to do as an individual.”

This World Championship appearance is Stirling’s career highlight to date but there is, he’s certain, more to come in terms of improvement.

Cross-country may be his personal preference but, at 6’3”, he admits his build is perhaps more suited to the road and track.

And having moved on considerably this winter in terms of performance, Stirling is keen to show he’s far more than a one trick cross-country pony over the spring and summer.

“I want to use the strength and endurance I’ve gained over this winter on the track this summer,” he says.

“It’s incredible to be doing these amazing things like running for GB but there’s always the next race to look forward to and so while I want to savour this experience, I also want to push on and get stuck in going forward."