THE attraction of cross-country might be entirely lost on those recalling reluctant trudges through malevolent mud or hurtful hail. By contrast, those who embrace its testing nuances earn life membership of a robust clique who survive, then live to recount a rapturous tale.

Former exponent and current IAAF president Seb Coe was proclaiming its developmental benefits yesterday. Mhairi Maclennan accentuates its virtues.

“That’s where I fell in love with running,” she says. “It’s where my passion comes from. But there is a skill to it. A lot of folk dismiss it as not that important. But some people are good on the track and not on cross. It’s a different skill set and mind-set.”

Recent attempts to diversify and broaden the appeal of the biennial world cross-country championships have

spirited the event to the dirt tracks of Uganda and a racecourse in central China. The 2021 edition will be held, oddly, in Australia’s late summer.

Yet this afternoon, tradition will be upheld in Aarhus, Denmark. Mud, glorious troughs of it, has been cultivated for this year’s global bog trotters, a course deemed so examining that it has been christened “The Beast”.

Maclennan – who joins fellow Scots Luke Traynor and Eloise Walker in the British squad – applauds the attention to detail.

“If you want to race a road race, go do that,” the 24-year-old from Inverness says. “That’s not what cross-country is supposed to be.”

A gold medallist at the 2017 Europeans, she has enjoyed her best days on the turf. The Danish venture is her loftiest step yet. She craves more. Which is why she has opted to place the prime of her career in the hands of the former European indoor champ-

ion, Helen Clitheroe, in an attempt to feel equally sure-footed on the track and roads.

It is partly necessity. She will soon migrate south to Lancaster to begin lecturing in Spanish at the university. Her long-time mentor in Edinburgh, John Lees, will be too far removed; Clitheroe, based in Preston, will be nearer at hand.

“I really wanted to make that next step up and that might require something more personalised,” Maclennan says. “John is an amazing coach – he’s really good at developing athletes but I felt I wanted something very individual now.”

That Clitheroe is a woman was also an appealing attribute. During two decades of competing at the top, the 45-year-old – like every female sportsperson – has had to cope with the period pains which so often remain unspoken and taboo.

“It means she understands a little more about the female cycle, how things can affect you in different ways,” says Maclennan. “John was more old school and that’s no disrespect to him but there are nuances in a female body which need to be incorporated into how you train.

“You might be feeling a little uncomfortable discussing that with a male coach. So that’s helpful. Plus Helen is young enough to be your friend but old enough to be experienced and have the wisdom from what she’s done.”

Eventually, that will likely guide Maclennan towards the marathon. She believes it is a natural fit. First, however, the groundwork which is already under way.

“She’s put in very specific paces for runs now. It’s all very tailored to me, rather than being a group training. That coach-athlete relationship is important and I like to speak to my coach most days. I’m probably a bit needy. But she’s giving me an opportunity to have that.”

Clitheroe will review Aarhus with interest in the weeks ahead. As will the competitors, with organisers in Denmark constructing a challenge with gargantuan puddles, vicious climbs and a scenic stride across a museum roof. Africans, as is habitual, should dominate.

“It’s going to throw up some unexpected results,” Maclennan forecasts. “People who are marked as favourites might not end up there.”