IF conditions at an athletics event could ever be described as apocalyptic, Stirling’s Kings Park yesterday gave it its best shot.

For the hundreds of runners who took to the start line of the different age-groups at Run Stirling 2020, which included the senior Home Countries Cross-Country International, they could not have been more severely tested.

The heavens opened on Friday evening and did not relent until the day’s racing was almost finished, ensuring that the ground was sodden, and so muddy in some places that it was almost unpassable.

The star attraction was Olympian Andy Butchart, who is far more accustomed to the glitz and glam of Diamond League meets and major championships than slogging his way around a mud-filled park in Scotland in the depths of winter.

But having grown up in Dunblane and being a member of Central AC meant that King’s Park is Butchart’s local stomping ground, and so the 28-year-old could not resist the pull of competing for his country on home turf.

Butchart took on the mud, and the mud won. The 5000m specialist may be more at home on the track but an athlete of his calibre goes into almost every race as the favourite, despite cross-country not being his forte.

And when he hit the front midway through the 8km race, it looked to all that he would indeed notch up another win.

But the King’s Park conditions had something to say about that. No sooner had Butchart taken the lead ahead of Wales’ Kris Jones, he took a heavy fall. The Scot lost the lead, as well as all momentum, and he never recovered, ultimately finishing in fourth place in 25 minutes 50 seconds having been pipped in a sprint finish with England’s Adam Hickey, behind Jones who took the win.

Butchart, whose seemingly perpetual suntan suggests he does not spend much time training in Scottish parks on cold, January afternoons these days, was not completely despondent about his loss, but couldn’t quite bring himself to admit he enjoyed his run out.

“I took the lead then took a really bad fall and so as soon as I hit the deck, I thought ‘that’s it’,” he admitted.

“I wasn’t that keen when I saw the course with it being so muddy. It was just a matter of if you were fit and you could stay on your feet, you’d win the race.

“It was like an absolute mud bath so you don’t get any traction. For me, it becomes not really a running event.

“I haven’t done any training in the mud so it was always going to be a hard one. I can’t really say I enjoyed it.”

Butchart has his sights set on the Olympic Games in just six months time and so it seems quite a leap from Stirling to Tokyo. And he admits there were more than a few questions asked about his appearance yesterday, particularly from his fiance, Lynsey Sharp, who seemed baffled by his choice.

“Before the race, someone (from Scottish Athletics), who I won’t name, said you shouldn’t be here,” he revealed.

“My missus back home is very confused as to why I was here. But why not? I don’t care if I don’t win the race, that doesn’t bother me, it’s not the Olympic Games.”

Jones’ win may have come with a Welsh vest on, but it certainly can be claimed at least in part by Scotland.

The 28-year-old is a Dundee Hawkhill Harrier and crossed the line an impressive 10 seconds clear of second-placed Jamie Crowe of Scotland.

Jones’ background as an orienteer stood him in good stead for the testing conditions and he admits he was thrilled to take the win, as well as get the scalp of Butchart.

“Andy put a dig in with two laps to go and he got a quite a big gap quite quickly – maybe 10 metres – and I thought ‘that’s it, he’s gone’," said Jones.

"But over the course of the lap he started to come back to me and I thought that whenever you catch somebody you’ve got to go and push past them. I did that and I’m just really happy that was the win.”

The strong performances of Butchart and Crowe, as well as Lachlan Oates, who finished in ninth place, ensured though that the Scottish men took team gold, with the last time they achieved such a feat eight years ago.