When Callum Hawkins was first granted the opp-ortunity to pit himself against the cunning of Mo Farah, the then-teenager from Kilbarchan Athletics Club had to show stealth of his own.

"He mostly keeps to himself with no distractions, but I do remember playing Scabby Queen with him - which is a card game - on a trip," recounts the Scottish prospect. "I can't recall who won."

Money, he says, did not change hands. The real profits were reaped from studying the soon-to-be double Olympic champion from close range as he went through the fastidious preparation that can separate the great from the merely very good.

"The main thing that I took from being around him was the attitude you need to run at that level, the focus, and the way he handled himself in that environment," Hawkins says.

On Saturday the pair will be reunited as both rivals and colleagues in the Great Britain & Northern Ireland team at the annual Great Edinburgh Inter-national cross-country, with Farah returning to the terrain of mud and snow for the first time since his victory in Holyrood Park in 2011. A lot has happened in the interim for the 31-year-old Londoner with one title following another, including the world championship golds that he will aim to defend in Beijing in August. All of it was fuelled by a move to the United States that provided a finishing school for his talents and pushed him into the stratosphere.

Hawkins, nine years his junior, also crossed the Atlantic, but not with such satisfactory returns. Recruited in 2010 on a scholar-ship to Butler University in Indiana, the teenager cut himself loose from the cosy familial structure headed by his father Robert, a respected coach, and from his sibling Derek, who had running aspirations of his own.

Criss-crossing a continent amid the jammed schedule of NCAA competitions while cramming for classes and credits proved trickier than he had foreseen. Temptations, as they do, got in the way.

"My first year I probably got a bit too much into the college lifestyle," he admits. "My grades slipped and I couldn't get them back."

Out training one day, he slipped and banged his left knee off a rock. It seemed innocuous at the time. "It didn't seem to affect me too much until I went on to the indoor circuit with the tighter bends and it all seemed to flare up." Scans showed a tear in his meniscus. It seemed nature's way of pointing him homeward.Reluctantly, he said farewell to his American dream.

"It was a good exper- ience in that it taught me a lot," he says. "I didn't handle myself the best academically, but it did teach me how to be a bit more self-reliant when it comes to running. From that spell, I did really get a better handle on what it is you need to do to prepare and race consistently."

Now completing his engineering degree at West of Scotland University, he is back on course following two knee surgeries in 2012 that left him with time to ponder. Robert is his mentor once more and results are on the up. Victory in the Liverpool Cross Challenge six weeks ago sent him onward to the European Champ-ionships in Bulgaria where he disappointed himself despite coming fifth in the Under-23 race.

For Edinburgh, he is among five Scots selected, including Andy Butchart and Luke Caldwell in his own field, junior Jonny Glenn, and Euro gold medallist Rhona Auckland in the senior women's event. The televised event, that also features squads representing Europe and the USA, is another shop window at the outset of a year that could shape Hawkins career.

Already, his agent has received an abundance of offers from road race promoters around Europe. That he came sixth on his half-marathon debut with minimal preparation hints at where his future specialism might lie.

"It's a really tough decision because there is maybe the poss-ibility of the marathon in Rio," he says. "So do you take your chance now or do you hold off and go for the track?"

In his two significant 10,000 metres appearances in 2014, he was 20th at the Commonwealth Games and a non-finisher at the European Cup. There is unfinished business but also a career to consider.

"With the marathon, you usually need to qualify the year before so it's hard to call. Times are changing with the marathon. People are going for it a bit younger even though there's still the old school that says you don't, until you've fulfilled your potential at 10k."

Farah, from harsh experience, might agree. Despite the cross-country cameo, he seems settled once more on the track. Yet with the Olympics closing on the horizon, the time may be fast approaching for Hawkins to pull out his trump card and go all in.

o The Great Edinburgh XCountry, Saturday, Holyrood Park, 1pm.