Briton will face London Marathon winner Tigist Tufa in Morrisons-sponsored half-marathon in September

Gemma Steel, the European cross country champion, will face Ethiopian distance star Tigist Tufa in the Morrisons Great North Run on Sunday September 13 and there’s a chance the race could act as a springboard to an autumn marathon debut for the Briton.

The 29-year-old Charnwood athlete finished runner-up in last year’s Great North Run to two-time London Marathon winner Mary Keitany of Kenya in 68 minutes 13 seconds.

Only two British women have run faster over the 13.1-mile distance: world marathon record-holder Paula Radcliffe (65:40) and 1991 world 10,000m champion Liz McColgan-Nuttall (67:11), the wife of Steel’s coach, John Nuttall.

In claiming second place in the prestigious IAAF Gold Label event in 2014, Steel also took some notable scalps, beating Ethiopia’s reigning Olympic marathon champion Tiki Gelana and Kenyans Caroline Kilel, the 2014 Commonwealth marathon silver medallist, and two-time world marathon champion Edna Kiplagat.

In Tufa, she will face a 28-year-old Ethiopian who beat Keitany by 18 seconds to win this year’s Virgin Money London Marathon in 2:23:22 – and who boasts PBs of 2:21:52 for the marathon and 70:03 for the half-marathon.

Steel, who won the Euro Cross title in Bulgaria in December, is used to mixing it with the best Ethiopians and Kenyans on the road, having finished runner-up to Ethiopia’s Olympic 10,000m champion Tirunesh Dibaba and Kenya’s African 10,000m bronze medallist Betsy Saina in the last two editions of the Morrisons Great Manchester Run.

“It’s something that’s given me a lot of confidence,” the Loughborough-based Steel said. “Not many British athletes can say they can mix it with the top Kenyans and Ethiopians on the road and it’s not something I ever thought I’d see myself doing.

“There’s the Kenyans and Ethiopians, and then there’s me. It’s a good position to be in.”

Steel’s rising road running stock has been pointing her towards a future at the marathon and she is contemplating an autumn debut at the 26.2 miles distance.

“Everyone says the marathon is what I should be aiming at but I am still wary,” she said. “The marathon is a long way. It took me a few years to master the half marathon and the full marathon is a different animal altogether.”