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Saturday 30 August 2014

How Wexford's fittest woman stays in shape

Published 07/01/2014 | 05:38

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Jackie Carthy

JACKIE Carthy must be the fittest woman in Wexford.

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The petite dynamo modestly suggests that there must be many other contenders for the title but Jackie is the one who holds both senior road running and cross-country titles.

She is the one who runs for her country as a valued member of Irish 'Masters' panel. She is routinely quicker to the tape than rivals half her forty-something age and is clearly still in the prime of her athletic life.

So what is the secret of her enduring success? Here are some of the ingredients that make Jackie Carthy Kilmore's pocket sporting rocket.

It's in the genes

Jackie was born to run. Daughter of Peggy and the late Jimmy Stamp, she was reared in an area with a strong athletics tradition. Her father encouraged her to take an interest in the sport and her uncle Seamus O'Keeffe was a noted performer in his day.

She reckons that she was no more than eight or nine years of age when she contested her first cross-country event in a Kilmore AC singlet. She was later good enough on the track to contest Community Games finals at 800 metres in Mosney as a teenager but cross-country has remained her principal obsession.

She did not have to blaze any trails. Inspiration flowed from the example of women such as Mary Doyle. It was a real thrill for Jackie to be able to compete with her idol Mary when she came up through the ranks to participate in adult grades, her talent nurtured by sessions on The Burrow in Kilmore.

And then there was the fellow feeling which grew from having club mates and class mates who also loved to race. The gang included Clodagh O'Brien, Catherine Corish, Marguerite Doyle, Kathleen Doyle and Helen Doyle, their names and their achievements in the eighties still preserved in Jackie's thick pile of press cuttings which continues to grow fatter deep into the new millennium.

Coaching

Toddy Moore, the sage of Kilmore, observed recently that Jackie Carthy is running better now than she did in her twenties - and this is measurably the case. She was into her thirties before she emerged from the shadow of rivals such as Ann Sullivan of the DMP club to claim her first County Wexford senior title. She waited until she was into her forties to post her personal best time for the standard five kilometre distance. Maturity seems to suit her.

She has also enjoyed assistance on her way to prominence from coach Pavel Kolesnikov. Even after an association and a friendship which has lasted a dozen years, she still stumbles over the pronunciation of a surname which comes to Ireland from far off Kazakhstan.

She and Crossabeg's Niall Sheil turned to him when he was working as a fitness trainer at the Ferrycarrig Hotel. The Kazakh gave the Kilmore woman some surprising advice when he told her that she was over training.

The concept of over training came as a surprise to someone used to racking up huge mileage. Pavel suggested that the hard work should be delivered on race days rather than squandering unnecessary energy on endless training. He finally convinced her that this old-fashioned approach tended to extinguish the spark needed to reach the highest step on the rostrum.

Pavel also persuaded his talented protégée to examine her running technique, quite a radical step for an already seasoned athlete who had been competing since a young girl. And he encouraged her to consider factors such as proper rest and an appropriate diet as factors which have a bearing on performance. Jackie continues to heed what he tells her, as his advice has always borne fruit. The relationship has taken years to build up a reservoir of trust.

Lifestyle

Jackie Carthy admits having eaten her share of sweets and biscuits over the Christmas holidays but she does not generally have a sweet tooth. Someone who burns off calories for fun is allowed snacks. In her case this means not so much a chocolate bar and more a handful of nuts or an oatcake.

She subscribes to the view that breakfast - with porridge or a poached egg - is the meal not to be missed on any account - and she is looking well on it. She watches out to make sure that lunch and tea provide the necessary balance of protein, carbohydrate and vegetables but insists that there are no fads governing her diet.

She knows what a glass of wine looks like and even, occasionally, what two glasses of wine look like when out with friends or at a wedding. However, alcohol is a no-no in the countdown to each race, so her total consumption amounts to very little compared with the national average.

Regime

Though she continues to campaign in the colours of Kilmore athletics club, Jackie resides with husband Danny in the Barntown area. As she prepares to compete in distances across the spectrum from five kilometres to half marathon, much of the hard work is carried out in Crossabeg and around Ferrycarrig.

At this time of year, while the emphasis is on building up stamina, Jackie clocks up close to 50 a week. That's 50 miles not kilometres. Even in summer, she logs close to 40 miles a week. She works with her husband as receptionist at Slaney Glass in the Westpoint business park in Wexford. Some days, a morning run demands a 6.30 a.m. start.

She trains seven days a week and even has a small improvised gym at work where she puts in a few minutes exercise at lunch hour. Danny professes no interest in such hardship: 'I couldn't keep up with her,' he chuckles.

Outlook

'Cross-county running is not the real deal - it's the raw deal!' laughs Jackie. 'You do it for the love of the sport and the sense of achievement when you finish.' She acknowledges the validity of the phrase 'the loneliness of the long distance runner' but then speaks warmly of the convivial nature of club athletics in Wexford. Team events where everyone's efforts count down to the last of the minor placings breed a treasured camaraderie.

'I love it and I do not find it a chore,' says Jackie of the sport which has won her friends all over Ireland. She pays particular tribute to Ann Sullivan, still a highly competitive runner in her fifties: 'Ann is amazing. She's got courage and drive.'

The Kilmore woman has a stack of hard-won trophies but confesses that there is nothing to match the emotion of lining up for your country. As a result, the most treasured possession in her collection is the gold medal she earned in 2012 as the leading woman in her class at the international masters' cross-country in Belfast in 2012 when the Irish finished runners up in the team standings.

Running and work allow Wexford's fittest woman some little time for hobbies. No, not stamp collecting or knitting, but cycling and walking, so perhaps she may move on eventually to the triathlon. She certainly has no desire to trudge her way around the 26 miles of a full marathon.

She still prefers good old-fashioned cross-country and relishes that fact that it demands a ration of toughness. On days when other sports are driven indoors, runner brave wind and wet around fields, bogs and ditches. The only time a cross-country meet falls foul of the weather is when the roads to the venue are impassable.

- DAVID MEDCALF

New Ross Standard

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