Commonwealth Games marathon bronze medallist Robbie Simpson says taking part in the RunBalmoral races as a youngster was one of the factors which inspired him to become more seriously involved in athletics.
The 22nd edition of the popular Deeside running festival takes place over the weekend of April 27-28 2019.
Entries have now opened with organisers expecting more than 5,500 people to sign up for the programme of eight races catering for all age groups.
Simpson, 26, who was raised in Banchory, is now one of the world’s leading mountain runners and his Commonwealth Games success at Gold Coast in April confirmed his status as a top-class road racer.
He has a long association with the Balmoral races, having taken part on numerous occasions over the past 14 years.
Simpson said: “I took part in the secondary schools race in 2004 and it was one of the first runs I did.
“I went along as a few of my friends were going and, although I wasn’t all that keen to try running in the first place, I had a really good day out and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the run.
“I think my position was just outside the top 20. I started off really slow then caught so many people over the second half, which was nice as it gave me motivation to get fitter and to be nearer the front next time.
“Two years later I won the race, after being fourth or fifth in the year in between, after I’d started training properly.
“It was amazing to win in front of friends and family from the local area.
“At the time it was one of my biggest achievements and two years earlier I didn’t think it possible for me to get to that level.
“That day I remember seeing the 10km runners finishing and having it as my goal to win that when I was older.
“Every year from 2004 until 2015 I raced at Balmoral as it became one of my favourite races and the most prestigious in the area.
“Being from Deeside I wanted to bring out my best on home soil as lots of top runners came up to race.
“One of the highlights was winning the 15-mile trail race in 2012, which earned me a trip to Ethiopia.
“I had to work really hard to beat Murray Strain and I ran one of my best races that day. Breaking the 10km course record was another key stage in my career. I had a great battle with some top runners there and it gave me the confidence I could race well on the roads rather than just on the mountains.
“For me Balmoral is such a brilliant event because there’s a race for every age and ability and the courses run through some of the best scenery in Scotland.
“It has the feel of a really big race with thousands of runners and supporters at times, but some sections of the course through the forest are quiet and it’s a nice contrast.
“I’d recommend this event to anyone who hasn’t been before as it’s a classic event and a great day out for all the family.”