European cross-country champion Gemma Steel insists an increased confidence in her ability to match the very best in the business has left her aiming high this year.
The 29-year-old picked up her first senior individual title on in the international stage last month when she outsprinted teammate Kate Avery to win the European Cross Country Championships in Samokov.
And there was further success to follow before the end of 2014 as she recorded her third-fastest 10km time when she clocked 31.52 on the way to winning the San Silvestre Vallecana in Madrid on New Year’s Eve.
She also ended the year as the equal-tenth fastest woman in the world – and the fastest non-African – over both 10km and the half marathon.
Next on the horizon is this weekend’s Great Edinburgh Cross Country, where she will be aiming to defend her title from last year as well as put in a strong showing heading into the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Guiyang, China on March 28.
And while a planned marathon debut could also be in the pipeline for 2015, Steel believes she is starting to establish herself as a serious contender when it comes to long distance running.
“I want to be the best and I love being fearless,” she told the IAAF website. “I used to have too much respect for my rivals and now I feel I've earned their respect and am starting to see myself as less of the underdog, which has been hard to come to terms with.
“I'm gradually getting rid of the 'club runner who came good' tag and seeing myself as a genuine world-class athlete now.
“I am aiming to run well at the World Cross. A top-10 finish is a realistic target and a medal would be a dream. Anything is possible.
“The duel with Kate (at the Europeans) was a bit of a surprise. We had the race to ourselves and neither of us was giving an inch. I was glad I walked the course twice as every step counted and I couldn’t afford to put a foot wrong.
“It was just pure determination at the end and the sprint was timed perfectly. My tactics were to sprint from behind as I’ve learned rather painfully from past experience that it’s easier to win from there.”
© Sportsbeat 2015