THIS time last year Richard Morrell was recovering from a niggling Achilles injury and looking ahead to making his seasonal bow at a local multi-terrain race.
On Sunday he will pull on the England colours in Spain for only the second time - the perfect preparation for the first major domestic race of the winter term in a fortnight’s time.
Twelve months on and, from his own admission, the 26-year-old is a different athlete to the one who told SportMail about his plans for the last winter campaign.
And after a huge breakthrough at the back end of the last cross-country season, Morrell is looking to build on where he left off - and what better way to do it than an international call-up to kick off the mud-running months ahead.
So what’s changed?
“I think I’ve just started taking things a bit more seriously,” said Morrell, ahead of his flight out to Soria, in northern Spain this morning.
“I’m a different athlete to what I was this time last year and obviously I had the breakthrough after Christmas.”
The breakthrough he speaks of can’t be ignored.
At a mud-soaked sub-freezing Herrington Park, in Sunderland, in February, Morrell had undoubtedly the best run of his life, finishing 11th at the National Cross Country Championships.
With his confidence soaring another impressive run on the national scene followed at the World Cross Country trials which led to the Morpeth Harrier achieving a lifetime goal when he made his international bow at the Home Countries International.
Fast-forward again to this season and his soul target before Christmas remains the European Cross Country Championships trials at Liverpool in two weeks time but Morrell is extremely grateful for the opportunity of a world-class sharpener among some of Africa’s elite and the best Europe has to offer this weekend.
Morrell will be joined on the start line by his training partner and fellow Morpeth Harrier Jonny Taylor, now an established name on the international scene.
“I know I’m training well, I know I’m fit,” said Morrell, who lives on Hartlepool’s Bishop Cuthbert estate.
“I ran a local harrier league a few weeks back and that went to plan but the race this weekend will pull the very best out of me, that’s what international races do.”
And so on to Liverpool. Morrell is the first to admit a spot in the top six which would give him the chance of being selected for the European Championships may well be beyond his reach - but that’s not to say he won’t give it a go.
“If I have a good run I can’t see why I can’t finish in the top 15,” he said.
“It will be good to go there knowing I’m in good shape and hopefully it will go to plan on the day.”