KIERAN McCARTHY caught up with Ireland’s fastest woman Phil Healy to chat about her big plans for 2019
PHIL Healy can see the signs already – and they’re very promising.
The past year was good. Her best ever. Her quickest yet. Two national records. Ireland’s fastest ever woman. The queen of Irish sprinting took the throne.
But the Ballineen bullet, who turned 24 in mid November, is confident that the best is yet to come.
More magic is on the way in 2019.
That scintillating speed she finished last season with is giving her an ideal platform to build for the new season. Last season saw her work a lot on the 400m too, more than in previous years, so she started back training in September on a new level, higher than before.
‘In training I am running certain reps quicker than I was this time last year,’ Phil explains.
‘I am in a new comfort zone with the longer runs – the 500m and 600m training reps – and I can push on now and get faster in those reps.
‘I need to get outside the new comfort zone now.
‘There is room for improvement, whether that’s getting stronger in the gym or improving on the track, and one transfers to the other, it’s all linked.
‘Things look exciting for the year ahead, based on the signs we’re seeing this year compared to the signs we saw at the same time last year.’
Phil and her coach, Wexford man Shane McCormack, see the possibilities in 2019.
The World University Games in Naples are a target. So too are the 2019 world championships in Doha later in the year. Before that, she has the European Athletics Indoor Championships in Scotland at the very start of March. They’re first in her crosshairs.
At the world indoors in Birmingham last Spring she finished third in her 400m semi-final with the top two advancing to the final.
Phil wants to step it on at the upcoming Europeans.
‘If everything stays on track and if we can replicate the season we had last year, then there are very good signs for Glasgow and we’ll be pushing towards a European final. Anything can happen in a final then,’ she says, and Phil’s a big fan of the 400m indoors that’s run over two laps.
‘Over 400, I prefer running indoors because you cut in after 200 metres at the bell, so it’s all speed,’ she says.
‘I remember at the world indoor championships last year I had one of the quickest splits of all the girls throughout all the rounds. Speed wins. If you hit the bell first, you’re in a good position. That’s why I have been working on my speed with the 100m and 200m, to take it into the 400m.
‘If you get to the bell first, it’s hard to get passed from there. It’s all about winning to the bell, your speed getting you there, and then having that reserve to take you home.’
While she prefers 400m indoors to outdoors, it’s the opposite for the 200m; it’s outdoors all the way. And it was outdoors last July, at the Cork City Sports at the CIT track where Phil smashed the national 200m record. She ran 22.99 to become the first female Irish athlete to break 23 seconds for the 200m.
That came shortly after the Bandon AC track star set a new Irish women’s 100m record of 11.28 at a meet in Santry in June.
She also became the first Irish athlete in 40 years to hold both the 100m and 200m national records. Great times, on and off the track. There were so many positives to take from last season. Picking one highlight is hard, but she made huge leaps with her fitness. Phil explains.
‘I could manage the 100, the 200 and the 400 and run well across all three of them. We wanted to improve my endurance, we did, but we know there is more room for improvement there as well,’ she says.
‘The last 50 metres of my 400 was so much stronger last season compared to previous seasons. It was the same with the 200, my last 50 was a lot stronger. That’s what we are working on in every training session that we do. It’s always a big aim, to improve that last 50, and we’re working hard on that.’
Her work off the track is making Phil a better, more complete athlete.
Mentally, she’s stronger. Working with a sports psychologist at her training base at Waterford IT has been a help. She’s maturing. Learning to take the bad days in her stride.
‘I used to beat myself up before if I had a bad training session or a bad race. That would have a knock-on effect into the next few days, and training. Now, I just park it and move on. I reset and refocus for the next task. Everyone is going to have bad races. It’s part and parcel of it. I have coping mechanisms developed to help me,’ Phil explains.
‘Being in Waterford definitely helps too. If I was based in Cork still, like I was before for years, I would be on my own and beating myself up more and more whereas here, the training group and Shane snap me out it. The group is here for each other.
‘The sports psychologist has little ways to enhance a good performance and park the bad ones, push it to the next race. There is always another opportunity and you have to let certain things go. You’ll always get a new opportunity.’
Phil will admit though that she probably doesn’t use her achievements to date – those national records – as well as she could. Once she runs, the race is finished and she parks it. She’s constantly moving towards the next challenge, race, training session.
But there is confidence and belief to be taken from what’s gone before. She is Ireland’s fastest-ever woman, after all.
‘I probably don’t use those records enough,’ she admits.
‘It’s in the back of my head that I have two national records and I can use that, and what I have achieved, to know that I have so much more potential to achieve even more.’
Phil’s right. There is more to come. And as we enter 2019, it means the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo move that bit closer. The Ballineen woman wants to get there. The new Olympic qualification system kicks in on July 1st. It’s a new points system. It’s going to take a bit of getting used to. But Phil’s not worried. While her life revolves around times, Phil’s not going to go out and chase fast times for more points. That won’t work.
Her 100m time has improved from 12.28 in 2011 to 11.28 in 2018, her 200m time has moved from 25.21 in 2011 to 22.99 at the Cork City Sports meet in July, and her 400m has jumped from 53.98 in 2017 to 52.19 in 2018 – but she lets the fast times come to her, instead of running after them.
‘I won’t go out chasing times because that’s where you can run down a bad path,’ she explains.
‘You’re more focussed then on running times rather than running the race and that won’t work out well.
‘It’s the races where you go out and you can’t remember what happened in it, they are the quick ones. They are over in a flash. If you go out chasing the clock, you run tight and that will show in the time.
‘I will look to execute each race and the times will come. I have learned from previous years that if you don’t think about it, and you go out and race, and race the competitors, that’s when the magic happens.’
There was plenty of magic in 2018 from Phil. And there’s more to come. She’s just getting started.