After her huge breakthrough at the Great North Run, Gemma Steel thinks she could get close to Paula Radcliffe’s mark in Portsmouth on Sunday
The woman heading the startlist at the Bupa Great South Run this Sunday will be a name that has become synonymous with Nova’s road races.
Gemma Steel has won 11 of them since the start of 2011, while in road races in general the Charnwood athlete has been beaten by British athletes in only three out of her last 30.
The 28-year-old’s half-marathon PB of 68:13 for the runner-up spot at the Bupa Great North Run last month took her to third on the UK all-time list and every indication is that when she finally makes her long-awaited step up to the marathon she can run a time that only Paula Radcliffe among British athletes has beaten.
However, despite her remarkable road record and great potential Steel sinks a little below the radar relatively speaking. A British record in the 10-mile race in Portsmouth on Sunday would go some way toward changing that. The holder of that mark is Radcliffe with her 51:11 in winning the 2008 event and as long as the frequent problem of windy conditions in the Great South doesn’t materialise then Steel is capable of at least going close.
Even approaching the PB of Britain’s world marathon record-holder at an albeit rarely run distance would constitute a remarkable rise from obscurity. As the unassuming Steel herself says: “I never thought I’d be the quickest in Charnwood and now I’m the quickest in Britain!”
On threatening that UK 10-mile mark, Steel adds: “If the weather is right, the way I’m training at the moment if I went off and didn’t think about anything else I think I could get close to the British record. It’s just having that confidence to do that like Paula Radcliffe used to.”
Her success at half-marathon and the fact she seems to get better as the distance goes up is astounding given she says her long run is only around that distance at 90 minutes. Her total weekly mileage, which includes two sessions, is 80-85 miles per week, which she admits is not huge by comparison with some.
The two-time European Cross medallist has not given up on the track despite not reaching a major championships on that surface. Her 5000m and 10,000m PBs are 15:47.21 and 32:34.81 respectively.
“I wouldn’t say it’s not my strong point but I’ve always favoured cross country and road running as it’s all I’ve ever known, but it should be easier on the track and I think it will be if I do 10km. It’s just not something I enjoy,” she says.
In the meantime, her big goal for the winter is completing her collection of individual Euro Cross medals in Samikov in December.
“I’ve got bronze and silver,” she says. “People forget I won silver. No one remembers second place. It’s not the same as being the champion. I was a bit disappointed last year as I just missed out and got a bit boxed in at the start. I need that breakthrough where I have titles to my name.”
» This is an extract from a four-page feature on Gemma Steel included as part of a 32-page Great South Run special section in the October 23 edition of Athletics Weekly magazine which is available on newsstands now, to order here, or view digitally here