'Why would we throw in the towel?': For Phil Healy, there is opportunity amidst the frustration

Shortly before the Irish Indoor Championships last month, Phil Healy’s coach called it as he saw it.

'Why would we throw in the towel?': For Phil Healy, there is opportunity amidst the frustration

Shortly before the Irish Indoor Championships last month, Phil Healy’s coach called it as he saw it.

“This could be your last race of the year,” he told her. “Make it a good one.”

Four weeks on, Shane McCormack is less than pleased that his prediction will likely be correct, with yesterday’s decision to postpone the Tokyo Olympics until 2021 meaning Healy and all other budding Olympians are now left in training limbo.

Putting in the work, with no idea when it will pay off.

Yesterday she was continuing to adapt to the new normal, running a speed session on the beach at Curracloe in Wexford, where she has relocated for the past two weeks due to the shutdown of training facilities at her base in Waterford.

Her end goal may now be pushed far down the road, but Healy still operates with tunnel vision. Yesterday she ran nine sprints of 60-100 metres on the beach, three runs up a sand dune followed by three hill runs in the local forest.

“You adapt,” she says. “I’m not going to be one (who asks): ‘What am I training for?’ You’re either going to waste that time now or you’re going to use it and come out the other end better.”

Healy knew yesterday’s decision was a long time coming and in the end it was a relief. Back in January McCormack warned her to get ready for the impact of the coronavirus, and they’d moved her training base to Wexford before Ireland had its first case. The approach now is to find methods to improve amid the madness.

“It’s not about training for the Olympics, it’s just about training,” says McCormack.

I see this is as opportunity. You take the intensity out, you’re not trying to run as fast as you can and you can build a bigger engine.

On Monday McCormack joined a dozen Irish coaches on an online video call where they shared ideas — his presentation was titled ‘How to programme your way out of a pandemic’ — and he’s keen to make Healy even stronger for 2021.

“We have to make what’s not normal, normal,” he says. “Why would we throw in the towel? Athletes crave stability so as coaches we need to give that as best we can, even if it’s over WhatsApp, so we have some sense of routine.

Whether it’s a rowing machine or treadmill or out on the street, you have repeatability in training so they see improvement over time.

Down in Limerick, Thomas Barr has been following a similar approach, running speed sessions on the green of a local business park after the track at UL was closed earlier this week.

He cleared the couches out of his living room and turned it into a home gym, where he continues to train without a specific goal in mind.

“We’ll tip away, keep on top of rehab and gym work and whatever bit of running, we can tick over,” said Barr.

If we have to try come out and get fit and fast again for a couple of races at the end of the season, we can do that.

The European Championships are scheduled for late August in Paris and so Barr and Healy are continuing to train, and both are in favour of the decision to postpone the Games until 2021.

“You need to showcase the athletes’ ability when they’re at their best, when they can train properly,” said Healy. “Pushing it out will make it the biggest celebration in 2021 and it will be a momentous Olympics.”

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