PHIL Healy had to radically readjust her targets for the World University Championships after a broken foot disrupted her preparations.
From eyeing up a medal in the women’s 200m in Naples, she’s just happy to be able to compete this week at her last world universities.
The Ballineen bullet will run in her heat on Wednesday and that will be exactly 12 weeks on from when she suffered the freak injury while on a warm-weather training camp in Malta.
The irony’s not lost on Phil that she was just after what she considers her best-ever training session and everything was on course for Naples next week. Then disaster struck.
‘We were walking through Valetta, which is the old town in Malta. It was one of those streets that has cobbled steps. I was walking down the steps, they were only small, and I went over on my ankle. It was a simple wobble off a step,’ Phil told The Southern Star.
She knew straightaway that she was in trouble.
‘The x-ray showed that my fifth metatarsal, which is at the side of the foot, was fractured. There was a crack right across it,’ she explained.
‘I was lucky enough because it was millimetres away from a different zone where I would have needed surgery.’
Even when she was in the hospital Phil was already plotting the quickest course back to full fitness and a chance to compete at the World University Championships. Two years ago in Taipei she finished seventh in the 200m final. Since then, these championships have been on her radar.
‘Prior to the injury, this has been a two-year plan since I came seventh in 2017. The podium was always the aim for these world universities but that’s had to be adjusted,’ explained the 24-year-old who was in flying form earlier this season and also represented Ireland at the European Indoor Championships in March.
‘I had my expectations sky high but I have had to bring them to rock bottom – because I’ve had a broken foot.
‘I had ran 23.04 back in April (just outside her national record time of 22.99 set last year) which would have me ranked very high. But I have had to adjust and it’s become about taking it by each round. The further I go, it’s bonus territory.
‘I probably shouldn’t even be in Naples next week. I remember sitting in hospital the day that I broke my foot and I was counting down the weeks to see if I would make it or would I miss out. Doctors were saying different things.’
Phil had to wear a protective boot for two weeks. On weeks four, five and six she travelled to Dublin to ease back into running on an antigravity treadmill. It was also on week six that she started running on full body weight, but on a lower intensity that she is used to and in trainers.
It seems bizarre to say, considering she is Ireland’s 100m and 200m women’s record holder, that in those initial sessions back on feet, running felt almost alien to her.
‘By week six I was back running at 100 per cent but it was the furthest thing from normal or even feeling normal. I am running every single day but it felt like I hadn’t ran in so long, just to relearn the pattern and co-ordination. It did take time,’ she explained.
Readjusting her targets for the World University Championships was another challenge.
‘Last week I was speaking to my sports psychologist around expectations. I would naturally put a lot of pressure on myself going into major championships. No matter whether it’s a major championship or another race I always want to perform to my best,’ Phil said.
‘When I broke it, I said, ‘Right, I can’t do anything about it, I have a broken foot and I have a new plan.” I would be strong mentally, I have a good group around me and my coach Shane (McCormack) was tailoring everything to make sure I was always ready to take the next step in my recovery.
‘It is what it is. I am lucky that I am able to make these championships.
‘I did find it harder in the past two weeks when, at times, I wasn’t seeing the signs that I wanted to see and time was slipping by. But there’s very little pressure on me and I can use it as a platform for the rest of the season.’
It will surprise nobody that Phil’s rate of recovery even surprised doctors and after the World University Championships she still has the World Athletics Championships in Doha at the end of September to aim for, as well as several national and international meets. The Cork City Sports on August 14th is on her to-run list too.
‘It’s like opening my season again,’ she said.
‘Before the injury this would have been the peak of my season and the rest of the year would have been about enjoying the events whereas now this is the start again and I have plenty of targets in the months ahead to aim towards. The plan had to change and I had to move on. I couldn’t magically heal my foot. I did everything I possibly could to help it and the doctors were surprised with the rate of recovery. I gave myself the best chance possible and we’ll see what happens.’