Cape Elizabeth, Maine — With two former champions, including the course record holder, a world champion and Olympic medalist in the field, no one was more surprised to be challenging for the women’s win at the 16th TD Beach to Beacon 10K than Gemma Steel of Great Britain. Yet after moving up through the large pack of Kenyan and Ethiopian stars through the first five miles of Maine’s most famous race, when Kenya’s Joyce Chepkirui made her move for the Fort Williams Park finish, only the 27 year-old from Leicestershire could answer.
“I was just hoping my legs would hold up,” said the Charnwood A.C. runner in her charming, if speedy, East Midlands accent. “In fact, I wrote mesen (myself) off before the race. I thought, ‘they’re Kenyans, just let them go’. But let’s give it a go.”
Gemma reflected on her breakthrough performance at last night’s Lobster Bake, the final gathering at 1984 Olympic marathon champion Joan Benoit Samuelson’s hometown race. It was all a bit of a rush for Gemma who came into Cape Elizabeth off a 16:24 win at the Norwich Lord Mayor’s 5K on July 6th back home.
“I only found out I was coming last Wednesday,” she said with a little laugh. “I didn’t even know the name of the race. My coach John Nuttall set it up for me.”
Gemma has shown world-class potential in recent years, taking the bronze medal in the 2011 European Cross Country Championships in Velenje, Slovenia, finishing seventh at the 2012 World Half Marathon Championships in Kavarna, Bulgaria, then beginning the 2013 season with a 31st place finish at the World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland. But her road 10K PR had stood at 32:06 since April 2012 at the Great Ireland Run. She credits weekly massage treatments for her improvement.
“I called my fiancee. I couldn’t believe my time. At two miles I was still there, and I thought, ‘I can keep up’.
Gemma had an inkling that a breakthrough was near after a third-place finish at the Oakley New York Mini 10K in June behind Ethiopia’s Mamitu Daska and fifth-place B2B finisher Linet Masai of Kenya.
“Maybe I’ve been self-limiting meself,” Gemma concluded.
Not anymore. Yesterday’s piddling rain had the girl from the Five Boroughs feeling right at home. Next week she’ll take her newfound confidence south to Cape Cod for a go at the 41st Falmouth Road Race where, who knows, maybe the top step of the podium could await.
DOWN BUT NOT OUT
As fired up as Gemma Steel was with her second place finish at the TD Beach to Beacon 10K, that’s how disappointed 2010 champion and course record holder Lineth Chepkurui was after dropping out with a tight left hamstring.
“I knew the race would be difficult, that I might not finish,” she admitted while lounging pool-side at a post-race party at the home of Jeff and Kerri Berman, hosts for countryman Silas Kipruto.
With a superlative field that could well toe the line at next week’s IAAF World Championships in Moscow without causing a stir, Lineth arrived in Cape Elizabeth as one of the favorites. Not only did she hold the 2010 B2B course record at 31:00, but she’d recently won July 4th Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta, and the Utica Boilermaker 15K in upstate New York. But after feeling fine through the first two miles yesterday, at a small incline in mile three she felt a sharp pain in her left hamstring.
“I could not push off after that,” she explained. “The feeling was that maybe it would tear.”
Lineth has been dealing with this problem for several years now as she tries to limn that elusive line that separates excellence from injury. The hammy first pulled at an 8K cross country meeting in January 2011 back home in Kenya. She was just beginning her kick to the finish, pressing hard into her stride when the ground gave way — she’d inadvertently stepped into a hidden depression — placing all the force onto her hamstring.
“I won, but that race was just before the nationals, and there I got tripped in the first 300 meters and fell down on my left side. I took me the rest of the race to close up to the top 10. The top four places automatically qualified for the World Championships, and the other positions were selected by the federation.”
With her other wins that season she was one of the obvious selections, but though she received constant treatment at the training camp at Embu before the World Championships, the problem never fully went away. She finished eighth at the 2011 World Cross Champs in Punta Umbria, Spain, and began a long, on-again, off-again battle with her left side hip, back, and hamstring.
She has already taken treatment several times this year in New Jersey. First after a second-place (to B2B champ Joyce Chepkirui) at the World Best 10K in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and did again before the B2B, flying in a week before the race.
“In February the doctor looked at my running, and we changed my ticket so he could work on me. My lower disc was tearing, and he referred me to another doctor who gave me a shot. After that I felt okay, because before that I couldn’t even bend down to wash my clothes.”
Returning to Kenya with a new pair of orthotics, her training went well, and she returned to the U.S. in fine racing form, winning in Atlanta and Utica last month. But the flights to and from Kenya may have tightened her back, which affected her hamstring yet again in Maine.
“Last Friday I went to New Jersey to see the doctor once more, but after treatment my muscles were tired, and knew the race would be difficult. I didn’t feel the same as before Peachtree and when I was back home.”
By 5K in yesterday’s race Lineth was already trailing the lead pack in Cape Elizabeth, and finally jogged in to the Ft. Williams Park finish at the 36-minute mark with a noticeable limp.
“I am thinking of going to Falmouth (next week),” she said despite her 111th overall placing, “because I can see a massage therapist there. But if I don’t feel good, I won’t race.”
She finished runner-up in Falmouth in 2010 following her course record win at Beach to Beacon. Those results are now just a long memory of better days when her body would respond to her every request. It’s a feeling that 27 year-old Gemma Steel is now experiencing in full as 25 year-old Lineth Chepkurui fights to re-balance her body and find the magic once again.
And so it goes.