Middle-distance runner Mari Smith has made a stunning start to the season with the world’s fastest time and an international win.
The 22-year-old is in a transitional year on the track as she steps up from a successful junior career into the senior ranks.
There is also the considerable matter, away from sport, of completing the final year of a masters degree in biochemistry at Birmingham University.
But Smith has so far taken it all in her stride, having set a blistering early pace.
At the start of the year she became the world’s fastest 800m women’s runner in winning an early-season race.
The mark may have lasted just a few days, and Smith was quick to add its proper context, but it offered plenty of encouragement after a winter of training.
“It was pretty cool, but it was very early season,” she said.
“My boyfriend messaged me after I’d raced – he’s a lot more into the stats of athletics than I am!”
She added: “It’s a nice confidence boost to know that I’ve still got some good speed, even though a lot of the winter training I’ve been doing is base work, so aerobic training.”
Of more lasting value, perhaps, was her call-up into the England squad for an international indoor meet in Bratislava, late last month.
There she controlled the women’s 800m, leading from gun to tape to win the race by six seconds in a season’s-best time of 2min 04.92secs.
“It was very much a time trial, but the time ranked me 15th in the world, so I was very pleased with this as an opener to my indoor season,” she said.
Smith, who grew up in Frisby, made her senior international track debut last summer, running and winning in the England vest at Loughborough and Manchester, but Slovakia was her senior overseas debut.
Yet delayed flights out to Slovakia gave a quick reality check of the not-so-glamourous side of competing abroad.
“It’s always an honour to run for your country, so it was lovely,” she added.
“It was fun, but there was a lot of travelling and unfortunately the flights were very late Saturday and very early Monday morning, with the race being on Sunday, so I didn’t get to see Bratislava at all!
“The older athletes in my group said ‘welcome to the world of international athletics’.”
Last year was the high water mark of Smith’s athletics career to date.
She claimed the coveted British Universities and Colleges (BUCS) 800m title and followed it with a national senior crown by becoming English 800m champion.
The Birchfield Harrier also ran her season’s goal of 2min 02secs, considerably lowering her 2017 PB by a second-and-a-half.
While athletes live and die by times on the stopwatch and titles on the CV, one of the biggest upsides of last season’s achievements was their effect on her self-belief, a concept she admits she has struggled with at times.
“I’d love to build on the confidence I gained last year, and really crack the British trials this year,” she added.
“Confidence, while keeping athletics fun, can be hard for me to gain and maintain, so that’s actually one of my main aims for this season.”
The student is also aware of the need for patience this year and the ability to put results into their correct perspective as she continues her education in senior track.
But it won’t limit her growing ambition.
“It’s kind of a stepping stone year for me I feel,” she explained.
“I hope to run a PB in the 800, and consistently run around that time – consistency is definitely key.
“Transitioning into the senior age group can be hard, so I’ve just got to keep working hard and trust in my training.
“The bigger picture is more important than this season alone, but I would like to try to get my name noticed for future selection.
“I’m really hoping to break through to compete at the very highest levels of UK women’s 800m running in the next few years, hopefully making some international championships.”