A COLLEGE athlete will set off tomorrow on a gruelling 9km (5.6 miles) race across Swiss mountains in the World Mountain Running Championships. Ricky Challinor, who studies sports science at Deeside College in North Wales, is competing in the under-20s competition after combining his college work with training four or five times a week.
Ricky, 17, who represented Wales in the under-20s Home Countries International in London earlier this month, practises his runs at Moel Famau country park, building the strength to climb 1,000 feet over the course of the race, as well as control for high-speed descents.
He said: "It's a big challenge and it's hard on different muscles, your quads and hamstrings. It's different from every other kind of running. I didn't know if I was going to be any good when I started, but you've just got to keep trying."
The teenager began competing as an athlete five years ago in school, taking up distance and cross-country running. He started mountain running just two years ago at the suggestion of his uncle, Chris Jones, an enthusiast of the sport who runs for a local athletics club.
After impressing selectors at a race in South Wales, he was chosen to compete against about 50 other runners from 20 countries in tomorrow's race.
As well as mountain running, Ricky runs cross-country and track events such as 3,000m and 2,000m steeplechase. He also came eighth in the London mini marathon, over the last 2.65 miles of the marathon course.
His performances meant he was chosen to spend the summer at a UK Athletics' elite training camp at St Mary's University in Twickenham, south-west London. There he had the chance to quiz former and current top runners such as London Olympics chairman Seb Coe and long-distance star Craig Mottram.
"Craig told us how he didn't start running until later on, whereas we had been running for years," Ricky said. "But he still got to the top. It was good to hear that you don't have to do everything at once and that you can build up."
Ricky has completed one year of his BTEC sports science course, and hopes to continue his studies at university, preparing either for a career as a professional athlete or as a coach.
His first aim is to compete for the Great Britain athletics team by the time he is 20. His international selection is one of Deeside College's first successes for its sports scholarship programme, launched last year. It gives promising athletes pound;1,000 a year to help them concentrate on their training and studies, without the need to get a part-time job to get by.
Other scholarship students include Sam Chamberlain, a swimmer who is deaf. Sam has represented Britain in the European Deaf Swimming Championships and has won six gold medals and two silver medals in the disability championships and now has his sights set on the Olympics for the deaf.
"This scholarship has helped me with travelling to sports competitions and buying new equipment," he said.