Elite sport, as every athlete knows all too well, is a brutal place.

Show me an athlete who claims never to have faced an obstacle and I’ll show you a liar.

Some, however, have it worse than others in terms of challenges that confront them and few, if any in a Scottish context, have had a rockier ride than Callum Hawkins.

But finally, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel for the 31-year-old.

Hawkins has long been viewed as one of Scotland’s most-talented runners, particularly when he moved up to the marathon at the unusually early age of 23, where he finished twelfth at the Frankfurt Marathon in 2015.

His best was yet to come, however.

Top-10 finishes at the 2016 London Marathon and Rio Olympic Games were followed the next year with a quite astonishing fourth-place finish at the World Championships.

In 2018, Hawkins seemed on-track to win his first major title; despite the searing heat in Australia’s Gold Coast, the Kilbarchan man looked a dead cert to win marathon gold at the Commonwealth Games. Just over a mile from the finish line, Hawkins looked home and dry but few observers will ever forget what happened next.

With a two-minute lead over the field, the final mile of the Commonwealth marathon looked like it’d be a procession for Hawkins but the reality could not have been more different.

First there was a wobble, then there was a stumble, then Hawkins collapsed at the side of the road.

Several times he tried and failed to get up before dragging his body back onto the road where he was making a clearly conscious effort to regain the feeling in his legs.

Hawkins, ever the warrior, stumbled on for another few hundred metres before succumbing to an inevitable withdrawal and ensuring he’ll forever be included in reels of the most dramatic marathon moments ever.

Hawkins is made of tough stuff, however, and the next year, in 2019, he returned stronger than ever when he secured yet another World Championship fourth place finish.

But it was after this second World Championships fourth place that Hawkins’ issues really began.

Injury after injury have plagued his past five years.

He made it to the start-line of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics but, having had his build-up severely disrupted by an ankle injury, he was forced to withdraw mid-race.

The Herald: Callum Hawkins

Surgery to rectify the ankle issue was successful but what followed was the stuff of nightmares for any athlete.

A stress fracture of his femur wrote off much of 2022 while 2023 included a hamstring tear and another stress fracture, this time in his pelvis.

But finally, after what must seem like a never-ending spell on the sidelines, Hawkins is back.

Today, he will be on the start line of the London Marathon for what will be his first outing over 26.2 miles since the Tokyo Olympics nearly three years ago.

There will be few more heartening sights than witnessing Hawkins on a marathon start-line but, even more significantly and assuming all goes to plan, crossing the finish line of a marathon, something he’s not done since his fourth place finish at the World Championships in Doha in 2019.

We all know that sport isn’t fair and elite sport in particular isn’t fair but my goodness, the past few years have been especially unfair to Hawkins and so if anyone deserves a slice of good fortune over the coming months as he mounts his competitive comeback, it’s him, who has been dealt one of the harshest hands in Scottish sport in recent years.

It is almost impossible to overstate how much of a once-in-a-generation talent Hawkins was and, I hope, still is.

The enormity of a Scot to be challenging for marathon medals at the World Championships not once, but twice, cannot be overstated. 

In an event that has been dominated by Africans, the number of Europeans who have made any mark at all are few and far between.

And the number of Renfrewshire natives making their presence felt is, unsurprisingly, even fewer.

To be competing, and beating, so many of the world’s best marathon runners at major global championships is indescribably hard yet, in his injury-free prime, Hawkins did it year after year.

It’s clear that it was not a lack of talent that robbed him of the chance to continue racing for medals; rather, it was his bad run of injury luck.

Of all the reasons for an absence of sporting success, this is the hardest one to deal with.

I spoke to Hawkins in these pages last month and he revealed that hanging up his trainers had never crossed his mind. 

This, to most, seems a remarkable claim considering the majority would have thrown in the towel years ago had they been faced with the challenges Hawkins has but perhaps it’s this unrelatable attitude that’s allowed him to go where no Scottish male has ever gone before in the marathon.

Which is why I’ll be watching out for Hawkins today and, as the year goes on, keeping a close eye on his comeback. Hawkins deserves a run of fitness to see if he can, as he believes, return to where he was previously on the world stage or, potentially, surpass it.

Doing so will require a monumental effort and would be one of the great achievements in recent Scottish sporting history and so only time will tell if it’s a feasible goal for Hawkins to harbour.

But there’s surely few, if any, who will be following Hawkins’ comeback both today and in the coming months and not be hoping against hope that he is indeed able to get at least close to the heights he’s previously scaled.