CHIPPENHAM-based runner Eilidh Bell is celebrating a big breakthrough this week after ending her racing year with a startling performance in Spain, writes KEVIN FAHEY.

Lining up for just her fourth serious marathon, the 28-year-old Team Bath AC runner carved another big chunk off her personal best with a time of 2hrs 44mins 56secs to finish runner-up in the San Sebastian event on Sunday.

That represents a big step forward from her previous best of 2:50.24 set in the Greater Manchester marathon in April, and after just three years in the sport, Bell is now number one in the Scotland and South West rankings for 2018.

“I am absolutely ecstatic," said Bell.

“After my run in the Stroud half marathon (a PB of 79:31), I thought I might have a chance of running 2hrs 45mins in Spain. When I got there, I thought what is the worst that can happen – that I would blow up?

“I just decided to go for it.”

And go for it is what she did despite a mix-up with officials over her personal drinks and gels, which meant she was denied them on the course and had to resort to using the drinks supplied to the whole field.

That sort of last-minute hitch could have easily distracted her from the race, but Bell showed she has a strong mental ability to go with her physical skills and she just got her head down and went for it.

“I had a bit of a cry on the start-line, but then thought it is, what it is so get on with it,” said Bell.

“I wasn’t sure what was happening in front of me as regards the women’s race as I was surrounded by so many men in a big field.

“It was only when an official on a bike started following me that I found out I was second woman.”

The stats show Bell, who started her career at Chippenham Harriers before switching to Team Bath, judged her race perfectly going through halfway in 1:22.50 before producing a negative split in a strong finish that shows just how much she has improved since the turn of the year.

“I did more marathon-paced sessions than previously and also increased my mileage, although my maximum was only 65 miles a week, which I did three times,” added Bell.

“I would like to do more in the future, but it needs to be a steady build-up otherwise there is a greater risk of injury.”

At this point, it is worth recalling Bell’s progression since she made her competitive marathon debut in 2016 with a time of 3hrs 14mins 55secs to finish 21st in the Edinburgh race.

The following year, she smashed that time with 3:03.09 in London before going sub-three hours for the first time in Manchester earlier this year.

Now just 30 months after Edinburgh, Bell – who was born and brought up in Dunblane – stands proudly top of the rankings for Scotland and the South West and is 21st on the UK stage.

She said: “It has definitely been a very good year for my running and there is still room for improvement."