AN Inverness winter is hardly the ideal preparation for a World Championships in the middle of the Australian summer.

The climate differential could hardly be more stark and Megan Keith is well aware that her past few months battling the Scottish winter is likely to mean that the 30 degree-plus temperatures she will encounter when she embarks on one of the biggest races in her career in New South Wales tomorrow will be something of a shock to the system.

Regular saunas have been as vital a part of her training regime in recent weeks as running, but when Keith toes the start line at the World Cross-Country Championships in Bathurst tomorrow, it will not only be the heat that tests her.

This event will see Keith make her senior GB debut, an accolade that is well-deserved bearing in mind the remarkable cross-country season the 20-year-old has enjoyed. Having become European under-20 cross-country champion at the tail-end of 2021, there was uncertainty as to how Keith would handle moving into the under-23 category.

Any scepticism about her ability to cope with the step up was well and truly quashed when she first became Scottish senior champion, then won silver at the British Championships before quickly following that up with her most impressive performance of the year in winning silver at the European Under-23 Cross-Country Championships in Italy.

Such form, inevitably, bolstered Keith’s confidence as she headed Down Under but she admits she remains somewhat apprehensive about what she will face over the 10km-long course, particularly as she has never raced on such a lofty stage previously as a senior.

“It’s going to be very hot and they’ve created a really demanding course too; it’s going to be very hilly and there’s different obstacles and jumps and mud pits so it’s definitely going to be tough. A course like that makes for an exciting race but it will definitely be a real test and push me to the limit,” she says.

“I’ve been using the sauna at home a lot in the past few weeks so hopefully that’ll have helped a bit - I’m not a natural in it but hopefully it’ll have helped prepare me a little bit for these Worlds.”

Keith is one of the leading lights in GB’s 17-strong squad in Bathurst, with only one other Scot, Giffnock North’s Hannah Ryding, who will contest the under-20 race, included.

And while the Inverness native has established herself as one of this country’s greatest hopes in cross-country running for a generation following her medal-winning exploits over the past couple of years, she remains adamant she will run with no pressure upon her shoulders in Australia.

“The big hope for this season was to make the Worlds team so it’s very cool to have done and it’s nice to feel like there’s not too much pressure on me,” she says. “I’ve not felt a great deal of pressure in terms of external pressure in the past few years but I’ve had goals myself of where I feel like I should be able to finish and how I should be doing. In contrast though, at these Worlds, I really don’t feel any pressure at all.”

Keith’s European under-23 silver medal in December was particularly impressive considering with whom she was battling for gold.

Eventual winner Nadia Battocletti is an Olympic 5000m finalist, with Keith now at a level whereby only truly world-class athletes are able to get the better of her over the mud and muck of cross-country.

Such an increase in level has, admits Keith, caused a significant shift in her mindset.

“Knowing I can perform on the big stage definitely boosts my confidence. I know I train hard but knowing I can normally find another level in the big races is a nice feeling, and definitely helps me a lot mentally,” she says.

“I do now have the confidence that, in cross-country, I can run with anyone. I’m not kidding myself on that I can beat everyone at the moment but I do feel like I can at least stick my nose in it. ”

The disparity between Keith’s cross-country results and track results is stark. Her highlight on the track is a fourth place in the 3000m at the European Under-20 Championships in 2021 and she is well aware she has room for improvement in that respect.

“I feel like I’ve got some unfinished business with my PB from last year so I’d like to put that right,” she says. “I’ve definitely been painted as a cross-country specialist but I’d like to think that my track speed isn’t bad.”