Mari Smith is targeting more major international competition after winning team gold at the European Cross Country Championships.
The 20-year-old was one of the youngest runners in the under 23s women’s race, having made the step up from under 20s just a few weeks before.
But she held her own in a physical race to finish 25th in a 53-strong field in Chia, Italy, as a strong British quintet claimed the gold.
Smith, from Frisby, was fifth of the British team to complete the 6km course, in a time of 20min 38secs, but she finished less than a minute behind leading Brit Alice Wright (19.42) who was third overall.
“I was really pleased,” she said. “I came 22nd last year in the under 20s race, but I think 25th as an under 23 was an improvement.
“It was really good standing on the podium and hearing the national anthem. I was fifth counter, but our team was so strong.”
While the age category might not sound a huge leap, there were clear differences to adapt to.
Mari, a University of Birmingham student, added: “Some people say the under 23s category is not necessary, but I wouldn’t have made the senior team.
“For people like me, it’s a great stepping stone; you learn so much from these trips.
“It was a very physical race and there was lots of elbowing going on, especially in the first part.
“I was planning to be in the top 30 and push through, but everyone was in a massive group.
“It was a typical European cross country course; very flat and fast which suited me.
“I paced it well; the last lap was hard, but I couldn’t have given any more.”
The next big winter season milestone for the biochemistry student is the British Universities and Colleges (BUCS) Cross Country Championships.
But she is yet to make a decision on the National Championships, at Wollaton Park, Nottingham, on Saturday, February 25, as she looks to give herself more preparation time for the track season.
A strong cross country campaign 12 months ago propelled her into a profitable summer.
It saw her substantially lower her PBs over both 800m and 1500m, and her good form also earned an invite to the Olympic trials.
“I’d like to run a few quick times early in the season so I want to make the transition to track sooner this year,” she said.
“Last year the cross country season was pretty long and I started thinking about track pretty late.
“I’m going to do a couple of 5ks which I haven’t done before. I thought as may well give them a go because I did well over 6km at cross country.
“In the back of my mind I would like to make the European Under 23s Track Championships.
“I thought it would be impossible to make the European cross country team so you never know!”