Paul Pollock ready for Euro Cross challenge as busy 2014 beckons
Paul Pollock is back on the big athletics stage in Belgrade on Sunday and the Holywood man is aiming for a busy 2014 of major championship action.
Pollock, 27, will race for Ireland in the Serbian capital at the European Cross Country Championships.
The doctor is then hoping for a 3,000m outing in March at the World Indoor Championships in Poland.
If all goes to plan, Commonwealth Games and European Championship appearances will follow for Pollock next summer.
The major championship bug has clearly bitten the now London-based Northern Irishman after his impressive 21st place in the marathon at this year's World Championships in Moscow.
Pollock had competed in previous European Cross Country Championships but the Moscow major and staying in the same hotel as Usain Bolt and his Jamaican team-mates was something just a little bit different.
The Moscow marathon took place some 10 days after the Irishman had officially put his medical career on hold in order to concentrate on where his running talents could bring him.
After his return home from Russia, Pollock packed up his belongings and headed over the London distance running enclave of Teddington where he has trained without a hiccup for the last 16 weeks.
"I've just been getting the miles done and doing the three sessions a week and the long Sunday run," Pollock told BBC Sport Northern Ireland.
"Training has just been very consistent and things have been going great."
Evidence of Pollock's good form was emphasised by his dominant victory in the recent Irish Inter-Counties Cross Country Championship at Santry, which doubled as the national trials for the Belgrade event.
"I went into that race thinking I would hold back over the first half and give my competitors the respect they deserved," recalls the 27-year-old.
"But when I got to halfway, I looked around and saw that the others seemed to be hurting that much more than I was so I just decided to kick on and got the gap and no-one was able to come with me."
Judging the form ahead of the men's race at the European Cross Country Championships is never an easy task but Pollock believes he is capable of challenging strongly on Sunday.
The Northern Irishman finished 24th at the championships two years ago but Pollock is a hugely improved athlete from 2011.
"I'm so much stronger than I was back then. I know what the Europeans are going to be like with people going out hard and fast and kicking one after the other.
"It will be 30 minutes of of tough hard running but hopefully the 100-plus miles per week I have in my legs will stand me in good stead.
"If I have the right race and conditions, hopefully I will be there with 1K to go and if you get to that stage, it's anyone's race."
Pollock believes his regular training colleague, Andy Vernon, the recent winner of the British trials will be in the mix while Spain's 2009 winner Alemayehu Bezabeh has also shown good form on the circuit so far this season.
But the Northern Irishman is careful to make clear that Sunday's event is "very much a stepping stone" towards his 2014 campaign.
If Pollock's plans come to fruition, his appearance at the World Indoors will be followed by a visit to the US in the late Spring which will see him chasing 5,000m and 10,000m qualifying times for both the Commonwealth Games and European Championships.
"Hopefully then I will run the 10,000m at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and at the minute I am thinking that I will probably do the marathon at the Europeans in Zurich."
But the Ulsterman admits that he is even mulling over the possibility of perhaps doubling up in Switzerland by attempting both the 10,000m and the marathon.
"The 10K is three days before the marathon so I don't know whether it's possible to double up or maybe just do the 10K."
While he has made his name as a marathon runner over the past 14 months, Pollock believes that the 10,000m will ultimately prove his best distance - even though he has yet to run a competitive track 10K.
"I see no reason why I couldn't go under 28 minutes and I'd like to think I could go in the low 27s and even though I haven't even broken 30 minutes for the distance on the roads, I'd be looking towards improving by personal best by two minutes."