HATTI Archer was quietly satisfied with her return to top-class athletics after finishing third in the McCain UK Cardiff Cross Challenge.
The 30-year-old former Radley athlete had only competed in a local league cross country meeting since missing out on a place at London 2012.
But she showed is still a force to be reckoned with a strong showing over the snow-covered 6.99km course.
Eventual winner Louise Damen made an early breakaway to create a 30-metre lead on lap one, with Emily Wicks (Aldershot), Archer (Hallamshire) and Andrea Whitcombe (Swansea) leading the chase.
Damen cruised to victory in 25mins 21secs, ahead of Wicks (26.27) and Archer (26.39).
“I think it was encouraging,” said Archer, who won the race in 2010.
“I have been used to doing better in that race, but it was still positive.
“Louise and Emily both did the European Cross Country Championships, so it is no disgrace at all to finish third.”
Archer added: “It was my first proper race for ages. I have just been training and getting back into it.
“It was a bigger race than I expected for my first one back, but that probably helped me.”
A hip injury and a frustrating selection policy saw Archer miss out on a place in the 3,000m steeplechase at London 2012 after finishing second in the UK trials.
But she feels she can still improve on the personal best of 9mins 30.19secs set while finishing fourth in the 2010 European Championships.
“I don’t think I have done all I can on the track yet,” said Archer.
“Whether it is this summer or the next, I believe there is more to come.
“I would really love to go faster.”
In the meantime, Archer is looking to make the most of the cross country season.
“Races bring you on,” she said.
“I am doing all the domestics. I have got the Northerns this weekend, then the Nationals and the Inter-Counties.
“I would love to do well in the Inter-Counties, but I guess it is all about the summer.
“Cross country is really good training, so it is all helping me.”
Oxfordshire cross country champion Frances Briscoe, from Wantage, finished tenth at Cardiff in 27.48.