Rising star Gemma Steel looks to take marathon step

‘Podium potential’ cash opens new doors for brilliant distance runner

As a 28-year-old who had not previously received a penny in public funding, Gemma Steel has discovered that being placed on UK Athletics’ podium potential programme opens up whole new worlds. That of regular deep tissue massage, for example.

“Previously I could just afford a light massage once a week,” Steel explains. “Now I can get proper treatment, it’s making a real difference. If you get too tight in certain areas it affects basic things in running, like stride length and balance. That doesn’t just affect performance, it leads to injury.”

She shakes her head. “In some ways it feels like I’m only beginning to find out how many areas I can prepare better. On the other hand that’s encouraging, because hopefully it means there is plenty of improvement I can make.”

Given that she recently ran the UK’s fourth-fastest 10K, finished second in the European Cross-Country Championships in Belgrade and earlier this month won the Great Edinburgh Cross-country at a canter, the prospect of there being much more to come is an exciting one.

Paula Radcliffe, whose time of 30min 21sec is still the world record, Liz McColgan and Helen Clitheroe are the only British women to have run 10K more quickly, and it is what that reveals about Steel’s marathon potential which is focusing attention on the Leicestershire athlete.

She may make a full marathon debut around the streets of London on 13 April. “It would be great to have home support,” Steel says, “so we will see how things go in training. London may be a bit soon, and a marathon later in the year like New York or Berlin could be better timed.”

According to McColgan, who has been advising Steel alongside coach John Nuttall, she has the ability to be world-class. “Gemma has the best marathon potential of her generation of British runners, that I’ve seen anyway,” said McColgan. “She has such a natural endurance base, and now she’s starting to build and develop her natural strength, and is really maturing as a person, she’s realising what she can achieve.”

By inclination a road and cross-country rather than track runner, Steel only began to compete nationally after joining the Charnwood Athletic Club near her Leicestershire village home in 2009. She made the British cross-country team for the first time the following year, and as well as making her mark in road races up and down the country, took bronze in the European cross-country championships.

Forced to miss the 2012 event with an Achilles injury picked up at the world half-marathon championships, she returned to action in February  last year and finished on the podium in a series of major road races before her 31:35 in the “Beach to Beacon” 10k in Maine in August. After that she focused on Belgrade, where she finished a close second to France’s Sophie Duarte – an athlete she left trailing far behind in Edinburgh last weekend.

“I was looking forward to the Euro cross-country championship after having to miss 2012 and I didn’t want to get distracted by looking beyond that too soon,” admits Steel. “But the marathon is a natural step, and obviously the event which will become my main focus. In terms of increasing my mileage I’m still finding my feet; at the moment I’m probably only averaging around 80 miles a week.”

For marathon specialists a weekly average of 120 miles is not uncommon but, with the pressure of needing to race for money lifted by Lottery funding, Steel can afford to build gradually. In recent years she has had to work part-time, sometimes as a cleaner, while also being supported by her boyfriend.  She also illustrates children’s books written by her twin sister, Louise. “It’s a relaxation in a way, it takes me into another world,” she says. Their latest title, Spots and Stripes (left), has just been published.

While the pressure is off Steel in one sense, however, it is increased in terms of expectation. “I do feel lucky because some very good athletes didn’t get funded for next year, and it is up to me to justify it by performing, by hitting my programmes. It’s now all about the Olympic cycle and Rio, which is a really exciting thought,” she says.

McColgan makes the point it would help Steel to run an Olympic qualifying time this year and, though that time has not yet been set (the London 2012 British women’s ‘A’ qualifying time was 2hr 31 min), does not think it will be a problem. “She’s capable of running close to 2:20, but she needs to be confident of running the race she is capable of running,” McColgan said. To put that in context, the Ethiopian Tiki Gelana won the 2012 Olympic Marathon in a Games record 2:23.

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Full Stack Developer (.NET 4.0, ASP.NET, MVC, Ajax, WCF,SQL)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Full Stack ...

AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - Investment Management

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - I...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?