Balmoral Castle the backdrop to the race

EXCITING WEEKEND OF RUNNING AT BALMORAL - 21 April 2016

BANNERMAN LOOKS FORWARD TO BALMORAL AND SCOTLAND DEBUT

Inverness athlete Jenny Bannerman, will be all smiles when she competes in Saturday's ConocoPhillips 5km at Balmoral Castle as the North District 10km champion has just learned she has been selected to make her Scotland international debut in the Lillebaelt half marathon in Denmark on 7th May. S has been buzzing since hearing the news.

Bannerman, who was silver medallist in the Scottish 10 mile road running championships recently, returned from a spell of warm weather training in Portugal a few days ago and can hardly wait to pull on Scotland colours for the first time. She said:"I am very excited and very nervous at the same time. I am looking forward to it and I'm delighted that my dad, who is my coach, is able to come with me too."

More than 5,000 runners of all ages will take part in the Run Balmoral programme of eight races at the royal estate on Saturday and Sunday and Bannerman is looking forward to being part of the festival once again.

When she last competed there two years ago she finished second behind Great Britain international Rhona Auckland (Banchory Stonehaven AC). She said:"I really enjoyed the event in 2014 and I was disappointed not to be able to compete again last year due to the clash with the Scottish 5km championships. I am delighted to be back this year."

Bannerman is aiming for a fast time but admits Auckland's course record 15min 55secs is out of reach at the moment, saying:" I always like to race and get a fast time and finish as high up the field as possible. The course is not the fastest of courses so I am more likely to compare my time with what I did in 2014.

"Rhona's time is a first class performance and if I remember correctly she beat all but one of the men. I don't think anyone will touch that record for a long time. Rhona is one of the best Scottish distance runners of all time and I really look up to her. I would like to run under 17 minutes in the future but I think I would need the right course at the right time and good conditions.

"My training has been good. I have been very tired since the Scottish 10 mile championships so I've been careful about the amount of training I have been doing."

Kenny Wilson (Moray Road Runners), who has been unbeatable on the north 10km circuit this year, will start as favourite to win the men's 5km.

His rivals include Run Garioch 5km winner Callum Symmons (Aberdeen AAC), top north 800m and 1500m runner Stephen Mackay (Inverness Harriers) and Aberdeen AAC's Stewart Millar who won the Kongsberg Maritime secondary schools 2.5km race last year.

GAULD AND WETTON TO CHALLENGE RECORD

Aberdeen AAC's Nicola Gauld, and Central AC's Jenn Wetton could threaten the longest standing Balmoral course record when this weekend's festival of running goes ahead at the royal estate.

It's 10 years since Aberdonian Lynn Wilson (Carnethy Runners) recorded 36min 23secs to win the women's prize in the Stena Drilling Tartan 10km. No one has bettered that mark since then but there's no doubt Gauld and Wetton are more than capable of putting it to the test on Saturday.

Gauld, who has a best time of 33:58 set at the Garioch 10km eight years ago, came close at Balmoral in 2013 when she took the top prize. missing Wilson's record by 10secs.

Wetton also has the credentials to set a new standard for the challenging route which includes a fearsome uphill section which goes on for more than one kilometre. The former Scottish marathon champion's best time is 34:07 which she set three years ago. Injury forced her to pull out of last year's Balmoral race but she is edging back towards peak fitness and earlier this month recorded 35:30 in the Grangemouth 10km.

Gauld and Wetton also showed good form in the Scottish road relay championships at Livingston this month when they respectively posted the fastest two times on the 5.8 mile stage. Wetton's time of 34:07 on the final leg secured the title for Central AC  while Gauld's 33:36 gave Aberdeen AAC bronze medals for the first time in 25 years.

Gauld, who has been nursing a slight hamstring strain, is looking forward to the race.She said:"Jenn and I were both meant to be running at Balmoral last year but each of us pulled out with injuries, so that was disappointing. Hopefully we'll make it this time. I was thinking about doing the Buckie 10km last weekend but my hamstring was a bit tight so I decided not to take any chances. Hopefully a few days rest will allow it to calm down.

"This is only the second time I've run at Balmoral. When I won three years ago I was in the middle of a good spell when I think I won seven races in a row. I'm not so sure if I'm as fit now as I was then. I've only done two 10Km races this year, at Lumphanan and Garioch, and neither was very fast but the conditions weren't great.

"I was happy with my run at Livingston, however, where I think I performed better than I had done at the Inverurie Race.

"Balmoral always attracts a good quality field, so it should be a competitive race."

North of Scotland cross country league champion John Newsom (Inverness Harriers) is the leading entrant in the men's competition.

LOOK OUT FOR STARS OF THE FUTURE IN THE MPH PRIMARY SCHOOLS 1.5Km and KONGSBERG MARITIME SECONDARY SCHOOLS 2.5KM

Ten years ago Aberdeenshire athlete Robbie Simpson won the Kongsberg Maritime secondary schools 2.5km at Balmoral Castle. He has competed in the annual running festival here almost every year since then and has set record times for the 10km and the trail race on a number of occasions.

Now establsihed as one of the world's top mountain runners, 24 year-old Simpson loves competing at Balmoral, but will miss this year's event because it clashes with the London marathon on Sunday. Robbie will be in the capital, his mind firmly focussed on achieving a qualifying time for the  Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Banchory Stonehaven AC's Rhona Auckland,22, is another Great Britain international with Olympic aspirations who has competed at Balmoral on a regular basis since she was a 10 year-old.

Rhona holds the women's record for the ConocoPhillips 5Km, 15min 55secs, a time many men would be proud of achieving, but when she ran here as a youngster she didn't feature among the prizes.

So,we may be seeing more stars of the future taking part this weekend.

Aberdeen AAC's Rebecca Eggeling, for example, is one of the north east's top up-and-coming youngsters and she will be defending the girls' title in the Kongsberg Maritime 2.5km.

Aberdeen AAC's Stewart Millar has won the 2.5km boys' title for the past two years but he has moved up to the ConocoPhilips 5km this time, so we are likely to see a new champion being crowned.

Josh Benton and Ben Cameron, winners of the MPH 1.5km boys' title in 2015 and 2014 respectively, are competing in the 2.5km this weekend.

Similarly, Mia Lovie and Toni Shaw, second and third in the girls' 1.5km in 2015, have also setepped up to the longer age group race.

DAVIE DEFENDS TRAIL TITLE

Aberdeen-based doctor, Moira Davie (Forres Harriers), returns to defend the women's title in Sunday's Glacier Energy 15 mile trail race but she could be challenged by 2014 champion Veronique Oldham (Cosmic Hillbashers) and 2011 winner Clare Whitehead (Deeside Runners).

Men's course record holder Andrew Douglas (North Highland Harriers) is an absentee as he is preparing for the mountain running season in Portugal so Michael O'Donnell (Inverness Harriers) and Brian Bonnyman (Westerlands) could be among the front runners.

RUSSELL AND WOOD LOOK FOR DUATHLON DOUBLE

Aberdeen's Ian Russell and Laura Wood will defend their respective men's and women's titles in the Apollo duathlon which has attracted a field of 250.Competitors start with a 6km run, then cycle 16km before finishing off with a 5km run. They face some tough opposition, however, Russell’s opposition being led by Ballater's Dan Whitehead (Deeside Runners) who is a former Scotland hill running international. Whitehead has also excelled in the world of cyclo-cross, a sport which combines cross country running with off-road biking. Monymusk's Rob Brookes (Cosmic Hillbashers), a two-time winner of the 50 mile Highland Cross duathlon between Kintail and Beauly, is also another serious contender. Wood's victory in the women's race 12 months ago came in her first attempt at a duathlon.Her opponents include Banchory's Kate Sibley who was runner-up last year, and Dyce half marathon winner Kerry Prise.

JOGSCOTLAND CHALLENGE GETS UNDER WAY

The three mile Wee Trail race is, for the third year in a row the opening event in the 2016 JogScotland Challenge series.

A limited number of entries will be accepted on Sunday for the Apollo duathlon, the Glacier Energy 15 mile trail race and the three mile Wee trail race.

All Saturday races are full and no entries will be accepted on the day.

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