21st November 2018


Ahead of this weekend’s European Cross Country Championship trials in Liverpool, Gemma Steel (coach: Liz Nuttall; club: Charnwood) is expecting it to go down to the wire for the automatic qualifying places on the British team.

The third leg of the Cross Challenge series at Sefton Park will pit the best athletes in Britain against each other over a testing and gruelling course.

Steel’s first outing of the Cross Challenge season ended prematurely as she failed to finish in Milton Keynes due to injury, but has been working to ensure she is in peak condition to challenge for a spot on the team that travels to Tilburg.

In her final training diary entry before this weekend’s race, Steel explained how she has stepped up her training in a bid to make another British team and how a more intensive training regime should stand her in good stead to fight through a stacked field.


“As the countdown to Liverpool continues, training has been stepping up once again with more key elements introduced. My focus has been on fine tuning my fitness as everyone aims to peak for the trials and earn a place on the British team heading to Tilburg.

“The last couple of weeks has seen tempo runs introduced for the first time before a session and a mile afterwards as well. Two two-mile tempo runs at 5:45 pace with three minutes recovery, then 12 times two-minutes off a reduced recovery of 45 seconds, have been added, which sounded daunting having been used to 60 seconds.

“I coped well off a solid pace and my recovery seems to have turned a corner as I managed a solid 5:30 for my last mile. The idea is to create an overload stimulus and get the lactic into the legs beforehand and see how fast you can clear it before starting the next reps.

“Some of my sessions last week provided a key indication of my speed with the aim of switching pace to a faster tempo, but I was pleasantly surprised by my pace. I feel like it’s another box ticked and that I have the capacity to switch up my speed when needed.

“Another recently introduced aspect of my training was an eight-mile tempo run at 5:50- 6:00 pace. I have to admit that I felt very tired on this session following Tuesday’s session and fitting an extra core session in on Wednesday for the first time in ages may be adding to the extra stress on my body.

“I ended up managing six-minute mile pace on the upper end of the scale and taking it a bit easier so as not to overwork myself ahead of a strong session on Saturday. There is no point in pushing everything to the limit all the time because you must listen to your body and back off if necessary.

“After rest on Friday, I hit Saturday’s hill session hard. This was a rare sprint session of 20 x one-minute off a fast jog recovery back down. It was much needed since my speed doesn’t get much attention these days.

“I felt pretty strong and powerful on this session, remembering to focus on my technique, posture and breathing. I was recovering well at the top and able to run briskly back down ready to go again once I got to the bottom.

“My speed is definitely a weakness having been one of my strengths in the past, but many of my best races have been won or lost in a sprint finish, most memorably the European Cross Country Championships in 2014, so hill sprints are really important as they really wake up my fast twitch fibres and get everything firing.

“Hill sprints are not only useful for a sprint finish, but also for lifting the race pace overall so an essential part of any runner’s training programme, whether you’re a track or Cross Country runner, and will be essential to be on top of in Liverpool.

“Tuesday’s session was my last before the trials, comprising of a course close to Loughborough University, a contrast to one of my regular routes.

“It is a more undulating terrain and will replicate race conditions in Liverpool as its set on a tiered football pitch. The aim behind running there was to run it at race pace, which hopefully sets me up in good shape into the weekend.

“With no five-mile recovery run in the evening (a rare treat!), it’s jogging once a day, five miles in total, followed by a physio session prior to the race on Saturday, in what I know is going to be a competitive race.

“Confidence is key going into Liverpool and there are some great young runners coming through, dreaming of their first British vest so I need to be determined in order to compete with them.

“In previous years I’ve been familiar with the people I’m running against, but as ever, nothing is guaranteed. It’ll be a real fight for the line in a bid to get one of the top four places on offer but I will give it my best shot to be in the mix.