18th October 2018


Gemma Steel (coach: Liz Nuttall, club: Charnwood) heads into the 2018/19 British Athletics Cross Challenge series as the defending senior women’s champion having claimed her second title last year.

After missing the curtain raiser in Cardiff at the weekend, she will begin her title defence on Saturday, 10 November in Milton Keynes.

As the meet edges closer, Steel tells us all about her preparation heading into the new season, tackling the Commonwealth Half Marathon and overcoming illness and injury…

“After a training week in Snowdonia at the end of last month to announce the start of my Cross Country season, I’ve been going back to basics again with my training with a time based session. I always enjoy running on the grass at Brockington at Loughborough University. This grass is so smooth and perfectly manicured for the cricket players and it’s great to take advantage of the soft surface for a fast-paced session.

“My signature training session is usually five reps of 3’2’1 minutes with a one-minute recovery in-between and it’s a good indicator of my fitness level. If I can pick the speed up and make progressive improvements then I know that it’s going in the right direction.

“Usually this is my favourite session to do in the build-up before a race for a good confidence boost. This week saw me hitting these times and feeling in control, not tiring and recovering well in between the reps. A good sign that I am getting better after a recent setback with illness.

“I was given the green light for the Great Scottish 10K that weekend I set off in the race with an open mind and no high expectations for myself. Finding out there was a hill in the first 100m was a bit of a shock but I just had to get over it and focus on running a sensible race.

“It felt great to tuck in behind Mhairi MacLennan because of the wind on the course but I was worried I might blow up in the final two miles after she set the stall out with a solid pace of 5:20 for the first mile, but I trusted my fitness from my sessions and sat in until I felt good, a tactic I use in Cross Country and this race felt no different.

“As soon as I felt brave enough to make a break, I did. Testing my opposition out until I got a gap and then kept going, pulling away for senior women’s victory in a course record 34 minutes exactly. It was a good sign of where I’m at, and the course record was an added bonus.

“In the sessions that followed in the week, my legs felt good and I was able to get straight into my running as my legs haven’t been great recently but I’m building back up slowly.

“I went through 10 two-minute hill reps on one of my favourite hills in Loughborough and I kept a consistent pace and my breathing controlled, showing me that I’m making some good progress.

“That was followed by the Commonwealth Half Marathon in Cardiff the weekend before last. I was feeling under the weather, making the build-up less than ideal, but it was such a great opportunity to race for Team England that I couldn’t turn down, plus getting race fitness is a priority at this point.

“With that in mind, I did my usual miles on Wednesday and Thursday with six one-minute reps at race pace off one minute recoveries, before going to see the physio to loosen my shoulders and back, making me feel more race ready, but I still didn’t feel in peak condition.

“In the race itself, I needed to be sensible. We settled into a pace of 5:15 for the first mile and I felt comfortable. I kept people in sight such as, my team mate Tracy Barlow who set off at a faster pace and it became clear that she was fitter than me and I had to run my own race.

“I eased back to 5:40 pace tempo and we went through 10km in 34:44 and I wasn’t losing too much ground on the group ahead, deciding that half way was the best time to kick. I felt strong and caught one Welsh runner at eight miles and by mile nine, I had my team mate Dani Nimmock for company, giving me a boost and inspiration to kick even more.

“I felt good but feared I’d gone too early as the last three miles are tough if you’ve overcooked it! There was no going back and I was now firmly focused on the two runners in front and a place in the top ten. Racing really is the best way to test your limits and I was definitely doing that.

“At mile 11, I checked behind and realised I had Lucy Reid gaining on me and having the race of her life on her England debut! This private battle spurred me on even and we caught the two runners in front.

“There were a couple of inclines in miles 11 and 12 (covered in 5:30 pace) which helped me to forge ahead slightly but such was the determination of Lucy and the Northern Ireland’s Ann Marie McGlynn that it came down to a sprint finish and from nowhere I managed to dig deeper in a desperate sprint from behind to edge them in a photo finish!

“That secured us a team bronze and a top ten finish for me, one of my happiest moments, but needless to say my whole body was aching! After a celebratory protein shake and plenty of hydration, my thoughts now turn towards recovering for the Great South Run, meaning training has to be very sensible in order to get the benefits from my half marathon.

“It’s been easing running after a few rest days before building until then (still twice a day and five in the morning and seven in the evening). It was a shame I couldn’t run in Cardiff for the opening of the Cross Challenge, a happy hunting ground for me in the past, but congratulations to all who took part!”