Records could tumble at Balmoral this weekend - 25 April 2013
Top athletes are expected to set a series of record-breaking performances in what promises to be the biggest and best Balmoral road running meeting held so far.
Close to 5,000 runners of all ages will flock to Deeside for the exciting series of six races to be held over the weekend.
Great Britainmountain running international Robbie Simpson (Deeside Runners), 21, is favourite to win the Stena Drilling Tartan 10K which is the biggest race on the programme with a capacity field of close to 2,500 runners.
Simpson's opponents include Robert Russell (Central AC) who holds the course record of 31:23 set in 2006 and title-holder Andrew Douglas (Inverclyde AC).
Russell and Douglas have been struggling to reach full fitness recently, so the biggest threat to Simpson's hopes could come from Great Britain under-23 international Scott McDonald (Central AC).
Corstorphine's Keith Hood is another who is sure to feature in the leading group. A regular competitor at Balmoral, he won in 2009 and finished third last year.
Aberdeen AAC's former Scottish 1500m track champion Nicola Gauld, 31, is expected to test the Stena Tartan Drilling 10K women's record of 36:23 set by mountain running international Lyn Wilson seven years ago.
Gauld's fastest time for the distance this year is the 35:28 she clocked when winning the Nairn 10K last month.
The Balmoral course, with its infamous 1K hill, is generally recognised to be tougher than most routes, but Gauld still has the potential to walk away with the bonus.
As usual the 10K also offers special awards for the first kilted male and female runners to complete the course.
In the ConocoPhillips 5K, which has attracted a record entry of 1,000 runners, Great Britain junior cross country international Rhona Auckland (Banchory Stonehaven AC), 19, will attempt to break the women's record of 17:16 which she set at Balmoral last April.
Thurso twins Emma and Oonagh Dunnett, who have consistently finished in the top four in this race in recent years, and Aberdeen AAC's Gemma Cormack, who was third in 2012, will be among Auckland's challengers.
Commonwealth Games 1500m runner Ali Hay (Central AC) set a men's record of 14min 57secs in last year's ConocoPhillips 5K and he's returning with the aim of being even faster on Saturday.
Hay faces some tough opposition, however, led by his clubmates Andrew Butchart and Sean Reilly.
The local challenge will be spearheaded by Aberdeen-based Kyle Greig (Forres Harriers) who set a record time in the Garioch 5K last month and Sam Burgess (Aberdeen AAC) who finished second in 2010 and 2012.
Burgess's Aberdeen clubmate Jordan Chapman, who represented Scotland in the British schools cross country international last month, is also in the field.
A new feature of the ConocoPhilips 5K and the Stena Drilling 10K this year is the battle for the Corporate Team Challenge title.
Teams of eight runners, four in each race, will do battle for the privilege of becoming the first proud possessors of the fine new antler and elm bowl trophy.
Robbie Simpson plans to return to action in Sunday's St. James's Place Wealth Management 15 mile trail race.
He has won the trail run for the past two years and holds the current course record of 1hr 21min 11sec.
That mark could certainly be tested if Robbie has recovered sufficiently from his 10K exertions on the Saturday.
Top international ironman triathlete Scott Neyedli, from Aberdeen, is also competing as is teenager Gregor Young, from Kemnay, who is a member of the Great Britain ski squad. Young won the Kongsberg 2.5K secondary schools race in 2012.
One of the furthest travelled entrants is New York University English student Brandon Wernette.
Former world mountain running champion Angela Mudge (Carnethy) is the clear favourite to win the women's division of the race and to take the record of 1:37:46 set by Fife AC's Morgan Windram-Geddes last April.
Mudge, 42, is now in the veteran classification, but remains a formidable competitor.
In February she won the women's prize in the prestigious Carnethy hill race for the 14th time.
Windram-Geddes will also compete as will Shetland's Scottish 100K champion Charlotte Black and last year's Balmoral 10K champion Carolyn Milne (Alford).
Aberdeen AAC's Steven Murray is one of the top entrants for the Kongsberg Maritime secondary school 2.5K race but he faces some good opposition.
North cross country league age group champions Joe Arnaud (Inverness Harriers) and Liam Barnsby (East Sutherland AC) should also be challenging for the top positions.
Aberdeen AAC's Finlay Strachan and Stewart Millar, winner of the primary schools races in 2012 and 2011 respectively, should also be well to the fore.
Aberdeen AAC's Lucy McLeod defends her title in the girls' race which also features Naomi Lang (Grampian Orienteers) and Jodie Sutton (Huntly) who were second and third respectively last April. North champion Constance Nankivell (East Sutherland) will also hope to do well in her first Balmoral appearance.
Banchory's Frances Sealy and Claire McGarvey finished second and third in the MPH primary schools girls’ race last year and both should be in contention for the top prize again.
North cross country league champion Catriona Scott (East Sutherland) could, however, also be a strong contender.
The boys' race appears to be wide open with none of last year's top three in action on this occasion.