In the northern Slovenian town of Kamnik, Austrian Andrea Mayr will bid to win her fifth individual title at the 23rd European Mountain Running Championships on Saturday.
It is one of the toughest, thrilling and most spectacular of all events on the European athletics circuit, with courses often as picturesque as they are daunting. But the rewards can be wonderful – and it was back in 2014 after her success in Gap in south east France that Mayr revealed what drives her on the most.
"The finish line, that’s the best, it’s always the best," she said. "Seeing the finish line and knowing you are going to win, that is the best feeling. It is what I am training for."
It is a philosophy which Mayr, 37, will surely take with her in 48 hours’ time as she enters this race having been crowned world mountain running champion for the sixth time last September in Sapareva Banya in Bulgaria.
One of her great assets is her strength going uphill, as she aims to create a lead which can be hard to peg back and it proved that way as Mayr established herself as the only woman to this win this title three years in a row.
When she won in 2013 she triumphed by 65 seconds; in 2014 it was 70 seconds; and in 2015 it was a sensational three minutes and one second. Her glory at this European Mountain Running Championships goes back to 2005 when she won gold for the first time, fittingly on the Austrian hills in Heiligenblut.
Mayr is the most successful woman in the history of this event – along with being one of Austria’s greatest ever athletes.
She also holds national records for the half marathon (1:11:49), marathon (2:30:43) and the 3000m steeplechase (9:47.61) and when you put together that mix of speed, strength, flexibility and endurance achieved on the track and roads, it is no wonder she is the leading woman in the field for the 8.5km race on Saturday.
Great Britain’s Emily Collinge won gold in Arco a year ago and while she is not back to defend her title, Mayr will face stiff opposition from the Italians who came close twelve months ago. Alice Gaggi, who won silver, was the world champion in 2013, and Sara Bottarelli, who won bronze, are both in a squad that also includes Valentina Belotti, who was sixth 12 months ago and part of Italy’s gold medal-winning team.
The men’s race in Arco produced one of the most touching moments in athletics in 2017.
Italy’s Bernard Dematteis, twice a gold medallist, was heading for a third title when he slowed down and allowed his twin brother Martin to come through to be crowned individual champion. Together they stood at the top of the podium as Italy’s men won team gold too.
Neither of them will be in Kamnik, but Turkey’s legend of the championships, Ahmet Arslan, will be. Arslan, who was third behind the Dematteis brothers in Arco, will be going for his seventh title, having triumphed consecutively between 2007 and 2012.
And what birthday present it could be if he wins individual gold No 8 having turned 31 on Monday of this week. Originally a cross-country runner, mountain running has really been his forte but it could be a close race.
Brit Andrew Douglas, Italy’s Cesare Maestri and Czech Jan Janu were the three men home behind Arslan last year and should be in the mix again over the 12km course.
In the U20 races, Italy could gain more success over 8.5km with Daniel Pattis, 19, who was fourth last year in the men’s event and in the women’s, Britain’s 2016 bronze medallist Heidi Davies, 19, will be eyeing up the podium once more in race over 4.5km.
One thing is for sure: it is championships where age does not matter as the hosts Slovenia will prove. In the men’s race, Miran Cvet is the oldest at 49, while in the women’s, Mihaela Tusar is 50.
Live results for the European Mountain Running Championships can be found here.