By Joe Battaglia, @JoeBattaglia75
(c) 2017 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

OLOMOUC, Czech Republic – When Callum Hawkins got off the plane in Japan, he had quite the unexpected message waiting in his inbox.

It’s not often one departs home secure as a record holder only to be stripped of the title, through no fault of his own, when they touch down a half world away hours later.

Such was Hawkins’s reality in January when he learned his half marathon time of 60:24 in last October’s Great Scottish Run, a time which erased the national record, the Scottish all-comers mark held by Ethiopian legend Haile Gebrselassie and stood as the second-fastest ever run by a UK athlete, was nullified because the course measured 491.1 feet short.

“Because I was in the midst of traveling to Japan, I think that kind of helped because I was out of the loop and didn’t have all of the Scottish media that were trying to get in touch with me,” Hawkins said here of being dealt the blow.

But armed with some new motivation a week and a half later, Hawkins ran the fastest half marathon of his life, a no-doubt-about-it 60-flat in the Kagawa Marugame Half Marathon.

“I definitely went out and tried to prove that I could do it again,” Hawkins said. “That was a little bit of the motivation. But even without the Great Scottish Run (stripped), I knew that I had that sort of performance within me. At the time, I set all of my training paces to equal my PB and I was hitting them quite comfortably.”

Given the circumstances, a great deal of the outside focus around Hawkins in 2017 has been centered around times. But the 25-year-old, who will run his final race in preparation for the London World Championships marathon here in Saturday’sMattoni Olomouc Half Marathon, doesn’t spend much of his energy engrossed by the clock.

“I don’t usually go out there in races looking at splits,” he said. “It’s harder, more stressful, so I just go out and race, throw the watch away, and just run. If I go out and race, the time will come, the performance will come. Most of the time, I am Steve Jones-ing it out there.”

It is surely a mentality that has served Hawkins well to date.

Last summer, the former All-American at Butler University had an international breakthrough at the Rio Olympics, finishing ninth in the marathon in 2:11:52, the highest finish by a British marathoner a since Jon Brown’s back-to-back fourth-place efforts in Sydney and Athens.

“The Olympics really gave me the confidence and a belief that I could go out and compete with the big guys,” Hawkins said.

Despite having only returned to training for three weeks post-Rio – Hawkins said he did “maybe one or two sessions and both had been pretty bad” – his aim was to go for the win. He accomplished that, and the fast time came with it. Even though time wasn’t the primary goal, losing it undeniably stung.

According to The Telegraph, Hawkins posted on the event website “I’m really disappointed with Great Run getting this so wrong then taking as long as this to confirm the course was short.

“It was my second time running it and I smashed my PB trying hard to see how much I’d improved in 12 months, and now I can’t tell people my time!”

But by the time the shortfall was determined, Hawkins was back to mixing it up with the greats – and beating them. In early January, at the Great Edinburgh International Cross Country Run, Hawkins finished second to American Leonard Korir, but notably became the first British runner in seven years to beat Mo Farah at any distance.

Hawkins, who has been coached by his father, Robert, since age 9, said he only gained a small measure of confidence from his performance at Holyrood Park, acknowledging that Farah was not at his sharpest at the time.

“He was nowhere near his best and you don’t really want to beat someone like Mo just because he’s not fit,” Hawkins said. “You want to beat him when he’s at his best and you’re at your best. But I think the run itself gave me confidence because I beat a lot of quality athletes there. Some of them made Top 10 at World Cross as well.”

Since then, Hawkins ran his PB in Japan and followed that up with a runner-up finish in 60:08 at the New York City Half Marathon in March, arguably a more impressive performance given the difficulty of the course and quality of the field.

All of this, Hawkins says, stems from the post-Rio confidence surge and the subsequent rise in his own expectations, both in training and in competition.

“The goals needed to change,” Hawkins said. “Going into Rio, I thought Top 10 was possible, but that was my top-end goal if everything went right on the day. Since then, I just set a higher bar and keep going from there.

“After the Great Scottish run, I started doing tempo runs at 60 half marathon pace comfortably. Before that, if you would have told me that I would have said no way in hell I could do that. Sometimes I still hear some of the training paces and I am like, ‘No, that can’t be right.’ But you just go out and do it.”

Hawkins, who said he is well recovered from the illness that forced him out of the Manchester 10K and the hamstring tightness that knocked him out of the Payton Jordan 10K last month, is maintaining a levelheaded approach to Saturday’s race, where he will, of course, be looking to test his fitness but primarily to keep his racing chops sharp.

As for long-term goals, Hawkins acknowledges wanting to break Allistair Hutton’s Scottish record of 2:09:16 in the marathon, but he doesn’t expect to make a realistic attempt at that time before 2019. Before that, there is a World Championships on home soil and the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia next April monopolizing his attention.

While reluctant to make any bold predictions, his focus is well ingrained.

“You can spout your mouth and throw out these big goals and then wind up looking like an idiot because it is the marathon and you never know what is going to happen,” Hawkins said. We’ve seen it plenty of times before.

“But, to be honest, I would rather win a medal at a championship race than run a quick time. My dad has always instilled that medals mean more than times. Plenty of people have run quite fast but how many people have medals?”

PHOTO: Callum Hawkins after finishing second at the 2017 United Airlines NYC Half (photo courtesy of New York Road Runners)