BY KIERAN McCARTHY
PHIL Healy admits her frustrating winter training plummeted to such depths that she even contemplated if it was the end of her athletics career.
The Tokyo Olympian says training hit an all-time low, leaving her questioning her future in the sport.
‘There were five weeks when things were really hard,’ Healy tells this week’s Star Sport Podcast as she opened up on her rough few months that saw the West Cork trailblazer miss most of this indoor season.
The Ballineen Bullet made her 2023 debut at the recent national senior indoor championships where, while bringing home silver, she relinquished her 400m crown – but just getting to the start line represented a mini-victory in itself, given how she struggled to get her body going during the winter.
Healy knew she wasn’t going to post a fast time at the nationals but turned up to help the Irish 4x400m women’s relay team qualify for this weekend’s European Indoor Championships in Istanbul – and they did. She has been named in the relay team that also includes Sharlene Mawdsley, new Irish indoor 400m champion Sophie Becker, Cliodhna Manning, Miriam Daly and Niamh Murray.
Irish women’s 100m record holder Healy had the qualifying standard for the women’s 400m individual at the Europeans but has opted to focus solely on the relay. This will be her first major championships since 2016 that she won’t compete individually, but admits she is not in the form or shape that saw her finish a fantastic fourth at the 2021 European Indoors.
‘I could easily have hid away from the nationals. I didn’t. I could easily have done the 200 instead. I didn’t. I raced the 400 because I wanted to do my part for the team because I knew Ireland needed to post four good times to qualify the relay team for the European Indoors,’ Healy explains. She played her role in qualifying the team, and it also marked an important moment in her fight back to top speed.
Only those in her inner circle knew about her struggles during the winter, she says, as her body didn’t respond to training. An injury would have been easier to deal with as she would have had a road to recovery and clarity – but health issues slowed her down and disrupted her training.
‘Go back further, it’s been since I got Covid a week before the World Indoors last year (March 2022) – and my body hasn’t been the same since,’ Healy explains.
‘Throughout the last outdoor season I couldn’t get the consistency in training, and performances are built on consistency. One day would be good, the next would be chronic. The Europeans (outdoor championships) last August were chronic individually. I ran a good relay leg in the heat but wasn’t happy with the relay leg in the final; that shows my body is good one day, but not the next.’
She took a break after the Europeans. It let her body settle as she had issues with her Achilles and calf during the summer. She thought the complete switch-off worked. Healy returned to training and felt everything was going well – but it took a sudden and dramatic nosedive.
‘In November things took a turn,’ she reveals.
‘Everything was just so much harder than it usually was.
‘I was hitting times that I ran when I was 16 years old and it was a struggle to hit them. If I was running 400m pace I would run 150 in 18.2 seconds, that would be my usual 400 pace, but whereas now I was going 100 percent effort and it was 18.6 or 18.7. If anyone knows athletics they know that is chronic.
‘There were five weeks when things were really hard. I definitely contemplated whether it was the end, if my body was ever going to come back, was it worth continuing on? It’s because I didn’t have the answers.
‘Week after week it was a struggle. It wasn’t just the winter, it had been going on since the previous March.
‘If you weren’t at training, and you weren’t Shane (McCormack, her coach), my psychologist, my physio, you wouldn’t know what’s going on because I didn’t share it with anybody. I was constantly getting blood tests, my white cells were really low at one point, my thyroid has been a bit all over the place. There has been one thing after another and my body wasn’t responding, but we stuck with it.’
On her revelation that she contemplated her future in athletics, Bandon AC star Healy expands: ‘It was an all-time low and it was going on for so long that I didn’t have the answers on why things were so wrong.
‘When you give so much to the sport it is your job. If you’re not performing in your job, whatever it is, for a year, you’re not going to enjoy it and will ask why am I in this?
‘This is sport, you have to stick with it and things are slowly coming around. It is important to highlight that not every day is a good day. It has been a struggle but we are coming around the right side of it now.’
Unfortunately I have withdrawn from competing individually over 400m at the European Indoors next week. Disappointing but thats how it rolls.
A little honest explanation for those wondering why I had not raced throughout the indoor season like usual 🏻 pic.twitter.com/L5lqYBBxLZ
— Phil Healy (@philhealy2) February 23, 2023
Healy took to social media after the national indoors to explain why she hadn’t raced in the indoor season prior to the championships. She wanted to be honest and transparent. It’s easy to share the good days, she says, but it’s important too to share the reality behind sport. Success isn’t linear.
Healy also dismissed the theory that her decision to start a full-time job as a software engineer late last year has had an impact on her training.
‘Work has been a great balance and it has been really beneficial. It’s not stressful. I work from home. It has been a great addition, to be honest,’ she insists, and while it’s been a tough year, Healy is fighting back. She has the European Indoors this weekend and competing at the recent nationals, even though she knew she wouldn’t be fast (her recent 53.97 was a huge 2.2 seconds outside her winning 400m time of 51.75 in 2022), it was a step forward.
‘Things are coming around. I had a really positive session (before the nationals), it was the first time in months that I felt like myself,’ Healy says, as she wants to build consistency for the upcoming outdoor season that also has the extra carrot of the 2024 Olympic Games qualification window opening.
‘There was no training block in the winter that was clear. I was either not able to do the session or I was sick. There was just something all the time. Now it’s about putting the work in, continuing to build that foundation,’ she says.
‘My strength has definitely increased. All the bits are there, they just need to gel together in their own ways. It will all come with consistency so hopefully by the summer I will be back to my best.’
Fans will see Healy dip into the 100m and 200m in the outdoor season, as well as the 400m. It’s going to be an old-school summer, she says, because if she is in PB shape over 100 and 200 it will help her run a faster 400.
This weekend it’s all about the European Indoors and the chance to remind everyone of her talent.