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Gemma Steel

Gemma Steel ran to third in the UK half marathon all-time list at the Great North Run last week and she is looking for more success over the next two years on both the roads and cross country.

Steel’s time of 68:13 in the North East and second place finish behind the new course record holder from Kenya, Mary Keitany, was a breakthrough moment for Steel as she translated her fantastic cross country ability to the roads with a time which stands behind only Paula Radcliffe and Liz McColgan-Nuttall. Although Steel was pleased, she is still looking for improvements.

“I’m really happy with the race – well I say that, you are never entirely happy as I did want to go underneath 68 minutes. It (the PB) was long overdue and I’ve waited a long time for it over the half marathon

“I just wanted to sit with the lead pack for as long as I could but not get too carried away. I’m glad I didn’t go off with Keitany because that wouldn’t have been the right decision. I just wanted to stay with the two Kenyans who were with me and try to stay competitive.”

She was more than competitive as she raced away from the Olympic marathon champion Tiki Gelana and took a comfortable second place. The result appears to have given her the confidence to now set even faster times and go for titles, but she is not planning on getting complacent.

“I’m just trying to not get too carried away at the moment. I’ve run three PBs in my last three races, so it’s a matter of stepping back and revaluating things from here. I’ve spoken to my coach John (Nuttall) and he believes my focus should be on the Great South Run at the end of October and the European Cross Country Championships in December where I have unfinished business.

“I’d like to win the European cross country – it would be the first European title I’ve won but I’m trying not to get carried away and keep my form as it is. I think I’m eighth in the world over 10k this year and high up over the half marathon, so in Europe, it should be well within my capabilities to win the title. I am confident – if I go in with the same mind set as I do on the road it should be OK.”

Steel also went third on the all-time list over 10k in August after recording a time of 31:26 at the Beach to Beacons 10k in America. This was a major step forward for the Charnwood athlete and she credits her improvements as being down to two key areas.

“It’s my consistency in training and attitude overall. I’m more gritty and determined than I’ve ever been. Going to America, I feel like I’ve adopted their attitude, particularly from racing against Shalane Flanagan. I’ve copied what she has done over cross country and how she’s proved that she can do it on the roads too. I’ve tried to take a leaf out of their book and bring it back to the UK.”

However, Steel and her coach don’t think she needs to alter a great deal in the year ahead but instead insisted that keeping consistent will be the key thing. In 2015, she will be aiming for the World Cross Country championships in China and Steel wants to be competitive there.

“I’d like to think I could get top ten there. I’ve never done myself justice in that event. I seem to never be on form in the years when it is held.”

One of the first things asked of Steel after she crossed the line in South Shields was whether she would soon be taking on the marathon. She is considering embarking upon the 26.2 miles distance but insists she will approach it under her own terms.

“I’m looking maybe towards dipping my toe into marathon running. It’d be nice to do a 20 mile race first to see what it’s like. If I knew I could do 20 miles that would give me a lot of confidence. There are a few local races around which I could probably do. We are looking for something more low-key than the London marathon for the first marathon I do.

“If I can do all the training well then there is no reason why I can’t do it. I just need the team around me and myself to be confident going into it.”

Steel will be seeking the best professional advice as she decides whether to take the plunge into marathon running.

“I’ll probably have to talk to Paula Radcliffe – that will help. She’s been a big inspiration to me obviously. She got faster after doing marathons so I’m looking at the positives of running the marathons.”

“At the moment I am talking to the sports psychologist in Loughborough to try and get my head around it and to get my mind to catch up with my ability. I’ve gone from been a club runner to being in the top ten in the world in three or four years so it’s quite hard to adapt to that really.”

However, in the short-term, Steel’s focus will be on the Great South Run on 26 October and she will be aiming for another personal best on the south coast.

“John thinks I can go for a really fast time there and maybe even go for the British record (10 miles) but I’m not sure yet. It’s sort of like my ideal distance between a 10k and half marathon so I might run a good time there and even surprise myself again.”