GEMMA STEEL is one of the common people at the Morrisons Great South Run.
And the European cross-country champion is aiming to use her affinity with Europe’s premier 10-miler to propel her to victory tomorrow.
Steel admitted the frustration of being beaten to the title by Ethiopian Belaynesh Olijara in a nail-biting finish last year will be an extra motivation for her, as she returns to the streets of Portsmouth and Southsea.
The 29-year-old has a strong connection with the Great South Run and pinpoints 2010’s fifth-placed finish as her breakthrough race.
That came after a night sleeping in a motorhome on Southsea Common as she was forced to rough it in the formative stages of her running career.
Steel feels that has helped her develop a special relationship with the event, however.
It’s one of the biggest races and it has a special place in my heart.Gemma Steel
He said: ‘My breakthrough came here in 2010.
‘I was sleeping on the common in a motorhome! I finished fifth and ran 53.34 so it is something I remember. Now I’ve graduated to the hotel!
‘I’ve done my apprenticeship really and worked my way up the ranks.
‘But the Great South Run was a big milestone for me and a big stepping stone towards better things.
‘I always look back fondly on that because it stood out for me.
‘It’s one of the biggest races and it has a special place in my heart.
‘This race was my motivation to win the Europeans last year.
‘It was close race and a sprint finish with Belaynesh Olijara, who just beat me by two seconds.
‘That gave me the drive, grit and determination to win the Europeans.
‘I owe it to this race really.
‘It gave me the real stepping stone into the winter and I’m hoping for the same this year.’
Steel paid tribute to the backing she has been given on previous visits by the thousands who line the Great South Run.
She is hoping for more of the same this time around as she looks to better her 52min 42sec time 12 months ago – a best for her over the 10-mile distance.
Steel said: ‘It was amazing to have the home support.
‘I wanted to win it for the home crowd and their support last year.
‘I couldn’t quite pull it off but that backing makes a big difference and it gives me the extra incentive.
‘It’s good to have these memories and use them to propel me forward.’
Steel goes into the race in good form after a second place at the Great North Run last month.
The Leicestershire runner is upbeat about her prospects tomorrow.
Steel said: ‘I have momentum going into the race.
‘I have to think about the weather.
‘If it goes bad the gameplan goes out of the window and you have to revise your tactics.
‘But I’m optimistic and I’m looking for a strong run against tough opposition.
‘That will bring the best out of me because it’s always a competitive race.’