Gemma Steel is making her name alongside some of the country’s greatest distance runners and she spoke to Eilish McColgan about training and life

Jo Pavey inspires me. She has such longevity in the sport, is so professional and a great role model. She’s made me realise that age is no barrier and I love her fearless attitude. She is not afraid to take races on and is very humble and gracious despite her success. She’s taught me that good things come to those who train hard; with patience and perseverance anything is possible.

I’m meticulous with preparation on race day. I’ll get up and eat – usually porridge and toast – at least three hours before the start. I try to keep calm, focused and not drink too much coffee. I pack my bag, make sure my timing chip and numbers are on properly. The last thing I do is check for my sunglasses.

At the Great North Run, it was suggested that I’d forgotten my sunglasses were on my head. I did this on purpose and it’s become a bit of a superstition now. It’s a tactic I use to help me focus. If the sun comes out mid-race or I happen to hit a bad patch, it reminds me to get my “game face” back on.

I hate running fast reps on the track, especially with long recovery. My favourite is a pyramid session on Brockington Green beside Loughborough University. I do 3 minutes, 2 minutes, minute reps x 5, off 1 minute recovery. I find it gives me a good indication of my fitness.

Missing the 2012 Olympics is my biggest regret. I had a great cross-country season, but after a hard stint at altitude in Font Romeu I got ill. I wasn’t the same for a while and learnt a big lesson about training too hard. I realised I wasn’t invincible.

I love the Beach to Beacon 10km in USA. It is where I set my 10km personal best, a real breakthrough race for me.

Always do what you want to do and enjoy it. That’s the best piece of advice I’ve ever received. You have to please yourself before you can please anyone else; that is the key to success. It’s something I still have to remind myself of now and again, as I can be easily influenced.

I’m very creative. I have co-written three children’s books with my twin sister, Louise. She writes and I do all the illustrations. The first one Ziggy The Zebra is aimed at three-year-olds. The second, Chickendog, is a little more ambitious aimed at five-to eight-year-olds. It’s about a sheepdog who is scared of sheep. The latest book, Spots v Stripes, is my own idea and is written and illustrated by me. It relates well to running, as all the animals in the book have a race. I was inspired to write it during the Beach to Beacon 10km and so the book features the lighthouse within the illustrations. After my athletics career is over, I would love to do more books.

I’m an identical twin. But she is the complete opposite to me and doesn’t do any exercise other than walking. Louise is not competitive at all. She works as a journalist but is also a singer-songwriter. I am so proud that she’s found her passion, just like I have with my running.

My coach, John Nuttall, lives in Qatar. I rely on receiving my training via email and speak to him when I can on Skype. Communication is difficult as I’m not the best with technology, but we get there in the end. I made huge improvements within one year, going from 27th in the European Cross to a silver medal the following year, so it’s definitely paid off.

My next big target is the World Half-marathon. It’s in Cardiff this year and it would be great to compete on home soil in front of a home crowd.

Cross country is the purest form of running. Personally, I like it because it’s not based on time; I can focus purely on my position. And there’s no escaping the fact it’s very character-building in the wind, rain and mud.


Saturday – Hill repetitions – 8 x 2 minutes or 6 x 3 minutes

Sunday – 13 miles steady run

Monday – am: 7 miles; pm: 7 miles

Tuesday – Session such as 6 x 1 mile, 16x400m on grass or 5x (3 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute off 1 minute recovery)

Wednesday – am: 10 miles at 6:30 pace; pm: 5 miles

Thursday – am: 7 miles at 6:00 pace; pm: 7 miles at 6:15 pace

Friday – Rest

» The above sessions are specific to the individual athlete and may not be suitable for other athletes