Mo Farah will stride into Holyrood Park on Saturday with multiple Olympic and world titles under his belt, a newly-received knighthood, an avid following of autograph-hunting fans and the bulk of the media interest. But the man to beat in the Simplyhealth Great Edinburgh XCountry on Saturday is not Sir Mo but a modest, unassuming American called Garrett Heath.
The 31-year-old not only beat Farah in the same 8km race last year but he won the 4km at the 2014 and 2015 Great Edinburgh events, where he took the scalps of Kenenisa Bekele and Asbel Kiprop among others.
His name sounds like the kind that would be owned by a Wild West gunslinger and every January the Minnesota man rolls into the Scottish city for a shoot-out that, so far, he has never lost.
Sir Mo Farah might be a knight of the royal realm in the world of athletics, but when it comes to racing over the mud and hills of a course that sits in the shadow of the extinct volcano Arthur’s Seat, Heath is the king of Holyrood Park and the man with the Midas touch.
“I love the mud, I love the hills and I love growing out a beard at this time of year,” smiled Heath, after flying into Edinburgh from the US this week.
Despite looking for his fourth consecutive Edinburgh XCountry victory and up against a Brit who retained his Olympic 5000m and 10,000m titles in style last summer, Heath showed little sign of feeling the pressure. Instead he was full of light-hearted banter, such as joking that it’s hard to tell just how lean and fit Farah is until he removes a few more layers of his running kit.
There were even some friendly hugs as Heath and Farah huddled together for pre-race photos with (above) Laura Muir and Fionnuala McCormack. The friendly formalities will disappear once the starting gun fires on Saturday …