Ireland’s fastest woman Phil Healy received a West Cork Sports Star Award recently and KIERAN McCARTHY caught up for a chat about her great season
DÁIRE Bohane had one question he wanted to ask Phil Healy: when do you stand up?
He might only be nine years old but he’s already a student of athletics – and a big fan of Ireland’s fastest-ever woman. He knows her personal best (PB) times better than anyone else. He can list them off as fast as she charges out of the starting blocks.
A member of Skibbereen Athletics Club, Dáire even left football training early last week when he heard she was receiving a West Cork Sports Star Award at the Celtic Ross Hotel. He wanted to meet his hero.
Still dressed in his training gear, and armed with a Cork City Sports programme that he asked Phil to sign, Dáire stole the show at the awards presentation as Phil and himself talked athletics, fastest times and when exactly she stands up in her races.
The Ballineen bullet was impressed with the line of questioning, but you can’t help but me impressed by Phil as well.
As Paudie Palmer said in his short few words before the Bandon AC sprint star was presented with a deserving monthly award, ‘Not only are you are a world-class athlete but you’re a genuinely lovely, honest and down-to-earth West Cork person too, and everyone here is so proud of you.’
Paudie hit the nail on the head, as he does. She’s a hit on and off the track.
Phil’s broken record after record this year but her new-found fame and success hasn’t changed her. She’s as personable as ever. She’s also as driven. She’s not one to rest on her laurels.
With her exploits of 2018 already behind her, Phil’s back training this month and she’s confident that she can build on a season that saw her set national records in the 100m (11.28) and 200m (22.99). She’s the first Irish athlete in 40 years to hold both the national 100m and 200m women’s records at the same time.
As her coach Shane McCormack says, from now on whenever Phil runs a PB, it’s a national record.
That blistering speed that she finished the past season with is also giving her an ideal platform to build for next season.
‘I am finishing the season on 11.28, 22.99 and around 52 seconds, so compare that to last year the times would have been slower so I’ll start back with new markers,’ the 23-year-old explains.
‘I have had my down time and you’ll lose little bits along the way but I’m starting back at a new level and new fitness, higher than it was last year, which was higher than the year before that.
‘I remember starting back in September last year after the World University Games in August, and I wasn’t as fit as I am now heading into this season.
‘I know I’m fit going into this season. We had built a lot of the 400m work in this year compared to previous years so I’m starting on new ground, up another level and I want to take that on year on year.’
Starting with a higher base than before is a reason for optimism for Phil, who hit all her targets in the past season, including reaching semi-finals at both the world indoors (400m) in March and the European outdoors (100m and 200m) last month.
‘Absolutely, I can go faster,’ she insists.
‘Even discussing it with my coach Shane there are areas that we can push on. The 400m is the long-term game and this year the longer runs, those 500m and 600m training reps were new to us, but I am now comfortable in those sessions. It’s about going through those reps quicker now – trying to go marginally faster in each of our 100m splits of those 600m. You are upping the intensity of each session.
‘There will be times when it could plateau. I could have already ran the fastest time that I ever will – but I don’t think that’s the case.
‘There will always be little things along the way, it could be niggles, race conditions, if you’re racing indoors someone might cross in front of you at the bell, anything can happen.
‘I know that it’s not going to be a case of getting faster year by year. That’s the aim of course. Everyone wants to improve but it’s not going to be an upward slope all the time.’
Whenever Phil wants to double check her times, she pulls out her little book of times. Every track session and race she has run is included in this book. It’s the ideal reference.
‘I had a book from about 2015 that I lost last year,’ she says.
‘I have no idea where it is. It’s gone. It’s a new chapter now. When I moved to Waterford it was a fresh start and I started with a new book again.
‘It keeps an eye on every run so I can see what I was running coming up to races and I also use it to look back on sessions and different target times. If a session was good, I can still target what rep wasn’t, stuff like that.’
But while her life revolves around times, Phil doesn’t chase them. 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 (that was her highlight of the year), and her 400m has jumped from 53.98 last year to 52.19 this year – but she let’s the fast times come to her, instead of running after them.
‘You’ll know the signs in training if you’re going well because you are hand-timing your different reps so you have an idea of where you are,’ she says.
‘But times have to become irrelevant because you have your lane, your race – you have to focus on that and executing your race. The times will come automatically then.
‘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.’
And there were plenty of fast times and runs for the Waterford IT student in the past season, performances that have elevated her to the top of Irish athletics. She’s the fastest Irish woman ever. She’s the current queen of Irish women’s sprinting. And she’s confident that there’s a lot more to come yet.
Dáire Bohane thinks so too. And as Phil goes on to conquer the sprinting world, he has the photos and autographs to show from the evening when it was the Bandon AC star that was trying to keep up with his knowledge.