Exclusive by Owen Morgan
Welsh athlete Kris Jones will be on familiar ground when Great Britain take on the USA and Europe at the Simplyhealth Great Stirling XCountry this weekend.
The Swansea Harrier is based just an hour away in Dundee where he recently completed a PhD on the biomechanics of golf.
After spending the past couple of years taking part in the support races at the prestigious Scottish event, Jones is looking forward to competing on a par with some of the world’s top cross country competitors.
He told Dai Sport: “Stirling’s quite close, I’m living in Dundee at the minute so it’s probably only an hour away and it’s somewhere I’ve been quite a lot.
“When the event’s been in Edinburgh the last couple of years I’ve run the inter-district competition that runs beforehand.
“You would always run that then go to watch the international race afterwards and you think ‘I’d love to see what I could do against them, it would be a really cool race to do’.”
Now Jones has his place in the main event of the three-way international match alongside three other Welsh athletes – Charlie Hulson, Charlotte Arter and Matt Willis.
He says: “I just want to see what I can do, because I’ve run times that compare well in the inter-district race.
“In years past you’ve had the likes of Callum Hawkins running and some of the top Americans have been flying over those courses, so it will cool be in that race with some of those guys.”
Jones goes into the Stirling event on the back of a couple of wins closer to his home town of Swansea.
On Boxing Day he set a new personal best as he won the Glynneath Five Mile Road Race in 23:50. Less than a week later he won the 60th running of prestigious Nos Galan event in Mountain Ash.
It was a fitting end to a year which saw him excel across a number of running disciplines.
As well as representing Britain at cross country, the all-rounder also donned the GB vest at the World Orienteering Championships in Latvia and the European Orienteering Championships in Switzerland, where he won a bronze in the sprint event.
In the Welsh vest, he finished 13th overall at the inaugural Commonwealth Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff where he set a personal best of 63:55.
And on the track, he set another PB of 13:45 over 5,000m at the Loughborough BMC Grand Prix.
North of the border, he enjoyed something of a goldrush domestically winning the Scottish Cross Country Championships, the Scottish Inter District Cross Country Championships, Scottish Mid-distance Trail Running Championships, and the Scottish Athletics Championships 10 km road race.
And now he’s back in Scotland representing Great Britain once again, just a couple of months after being called up at short notice to wear the red, white and blue at the European Cross Country Championships in Holland.
Despite the late call-up, Jones excelled once again to finish 12 overall in the senior men’s race and the second Brit home as the team claimed a silver medal.
Jones says: “I’d finished sixth in the trial but they went for Andy Vernon, which given his pedigree as a multiple European medallist wasn’t a surprise, but then he wasn’t able to compete so I got called up on the Tuesday before the Sunday race.
“It was one of those where I didn’t have any reference to how it should have gone, so it was nice just to run a race with no pressure. Wherever I’d have come I don’t think anyone would have said ‘he’s done badly there’. It was just see what I could do. It’s nice to run like that and not worry about things.”
His performance in Holland led to his selection for Stirling and now he hopes to impress once again in the British vest.
“I’m running well and it’s just another race,” said Jones.” I love representing, whether it’s Wales or GB.
“I’ll just go out and try and do the same thing that I do in somewhere like Glynneath or Nos Galan, just try and race as best as I can, not treat it any differently.”
Despite his impressive performances across so many disciplines, Jones still considers himself an orienteer at heart.
“I’ve always been an orienteer. That was my main sport growing up. I’ve always dabbled in a bit of cross country and hill running and whatever other sort of running I could fit in, but it’s only in the last couple of years I’ve come on and started being really good at the others.
“I’m still always going to be an orienteer really. It’s a small sport and it’s difficult to explain, but it’s a really good feeling when you’re running as hard as you can, you’re on top of your navigations, you know where you’re going next and it really flows. It’s a feeling you don’t really get when you’re just running races.
“I just like doing new things and seeing how far I can go in different disciplines. I compete on lots of different surfaces and I enjoy doing that, there’s always something a bit different.
“At the moment I feel as if I’m still improving in everything. If that were to change I’d maybe take a look at it and focus on one, but as long as I’m still getting better I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing and keep enjoying it.”
It’s not surprising then than in a season of success, Jones picks out the orienteering bronze medal in Switzerland as one of his particularly fond memory in a year of highlights.
“That was a breakthrough because I’d been close to the medals before but never made that step. To get a medal was amazing.
“And getting selected for the European Cross Country in Tilburg. Running well in the race was the cherry on top, but just getting on the team was a big highlight.”
Looking forward, Jones is unsurprisingly keeping his options open given the possibilities. “I’m just thinking about the cross country season for now then I’ll sit down and try to plan out a bit more detail after February/March.
“It’s a bit different this year with the orienteering because they are splitting the world champs.
“The shorter urban distances are taking place every other year. The in-between year will be the traditional forest orienteering. I’ve excelled in the sprint distance which is normally in towns and city centres and there’s no world championship in that discipline this year.
“So I’m not sure whether I’ll aim for world champs this year. I’m trying to keep my options open at the minute rather than worrying too much about it. I like doing a lot of different things and having the variety.”
Away from running, Jones’ immediate future lies in Scotland where he has started a new job and set up home with his fiancée.
“The PhD is finished and I’m working full-time doing research in the same organisation. It’s nice to have that continuity. I’ve finished the PhD and I’m not having to search for a job. I find I can balance work and training.”
It’s a balance that suits Jones, who is happy to marry his sporting ambitions with a full-time job.
“For a lot of people who are trying to be a full-time athlete it’s sometimes a stressful career I guess because sponsorship contracts and funding can be short-lived and you may be relying on winning some races.
“Maybe because I didn’t excel as a junior and didn’t come up through athletics, I’ve never considered being anything other than amateur and doing this as an aside to a full-time job.”
You can watch Kris Jones, Charlie Hulson, Charlotte Arter and Matt Willis, help Great Britain take on the USA and Europe in Sterling on BBC1 on Saturday from 1.15pm.