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Fortrose-based Inverness Harriers coach Ross Cairns named Scottish Athletics development coach of the year at 2023 ceremony in Glasgow


By Andrew Henderson



Fortrose athletics coach Ross Cairns was named 2023 Scottish Athletics development coach of the year at an awards ceremony last weekend.

Cairns has a number of Inverness Harriers athletes under his tutelage, and they have had a string of success over the last 12 months – perhaps none more notably so than Megan Keith, who won the 5k title at the Under-23 European Championships, made her Diamond League debut and qualified for the World Championships.

Other accomplishments include – but are not limited to – Mhairi Maclennan setting multiple elite half-marathon times, son Lucas breaking a 40-year-old club record over 5k, Angus Smith becoming the North 5k Road champion and the likes of Andrew Baird and Caitlyn Heggie earning schools' internationals and national championship experience.

Dingwall Academy pupil Caitlyn Heggie is just one of the athletes Ross Cairns is helping to success. Picture: James Mackenzie
Dingwall Academy pupil Caitlyn Heggie is just one of the athletes Ross Cairns is helping to success. Picture: James Mackenzie

Cairns previously won the same award in 2020, when the ceremony was online.

This time around he was also nominated for performance coach of the year, and although that category did not go in his favour it was still a very memorable night.

"I was really pleased to be nominated in these two categories," he said.

"To be nominated as performance coach of the year was special, as I had always seen that as being out of reach coming from club coaching – with Megan rising to a new level you have to pinch yourself to be working at that level.

"It was great to be nominated in the same category as Liz Nuttall and Angela Mudge, who are not just brilliant coaches but global ambassadors for our sport.

"Last year Megan won and collected her award in front of peers, so to follow up on that a year on was really special. Having my wife Joanna in attendance was brilliant too, as we were married 20 years in September and being a coach's wife is hard – it was special that we could share the occasion on a rare weekend together, even if it did involve athletics!"

With such a string of success under his belt as a coach, it is only natural that others may look to what Cairns is doing as a template.

One of the main things he works on is difficult to teach, though – the virtue of patience.

"For me, coaching is about bringing that 'I believe in you' type of attitude," he reasoned.

"From that you sow a seed, from a first time running a national race in the central belt athlete to years later seeing the same people turn out as seniors for many clubs in the same place. That is our coaching legacy.

Ross Cairns was named the 2023 Scottish Athletics Performance Development Coach of the year. Scottish Athletics Awards 2023. Picture: Bobby Gavin Byline Must be Used
Ross Cairns was named the 2023 Scottish Athletics Performance Development Coach of the year. Scottish Athletics Awards 2023. Picture: Bobby Gavin Byline Must be Used

"What I quickly understood in endurance athletics is it’s a long pathway sport, and to really develop you basically have to not peak in juniors while at the same time becoming a sponge to soak up all the experience you get in the early years and take it for what it is.

"Two things nearly all the athletes learn with me is that patience equals longevity in our sport – at whatever level that takes you to.

"Megan is the epitome of trying loads of sports when you are young, smiling, enjoying them, developing and having fun.

"Then when you want to invest more of you into your sport grow and thrive with the same attributes as above in what is an amazing sport to be part of at the moment in Scotland."

While Cairns had a rare moment in the spotlight last weekend, he is happy to keep making his impact in the background, adding: "To be recognised by your coaching peers and national governing body in athletics is special, but it is how I am regarded by the athletes that cross my path that is really important for me.

"They are the ones that bought into a young, inexperienced coach several years ago, and unconditionally trained to become not just better athletes but good people at the same time as all pulling for each other.

"I see athletes now really enjoying our sport and now in a multitude of various club vests!"


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