Interview by Ciarán Ó’Lionáird (as published in the ‘Evening Echo’)
Much has been said in the past few weeks about Irish athletics
performances this summer, both good and bad. But it seems one
remarkable achievement was amazingly overlooked; the gold and silver
medal-winning heroics of Leevale woman Carmel Parnell at the World
Masters Track and Field Championships held in San Sebastian, Spain,
this past August. Grabbing silver in the 5k after being out kicked to
the line in the O50 category, Carmel returned to the Anoeta stadium
just three days later and her gutsy front-running tactics in the 10k
were too much for her competitors to handle, earning her the title of
World Champion, an honour not many Irish people can boast of nowadays.
Here, she reveals the roots of her successes this summer, her World
championship experience and her hopes for the future:
Not many Irish people in 2005 can call themselves World Champion. Can
you tell us how that feels?
It feels good. I’ve put a lot of work into my athletics over the years
and I feel that I am now reaping the benefits of that work. I really
enjoy competing abroad against athletes who have been training and
competing as long as I have. I’m lucky to still be training and
competing without injury. I really enjoy the buzz of competition.
When did you first start running seriously?
Well, I joined Leevale in 1983 but my first race was the previous
year. I raced the Cork Marathon in 1982 with no training really and
then in October of ’82 I completed the Dublin Marathon. At the time I
was playing squash and the team decided to train for the event. That
was my first real experience of training for an event. In 1983, at the
age of 28, I became more serious when joining Leevale. Leevale is a
great club and have given me tremendous support over the years. I
began to train harder with them. I met my husband, who was training a
group at the time, and fell right in with them. My first Irish Cross
Country International was in 1984. I came 5th in the inter-Counties
Championships and represented Ireland again at the Home Countries
International that year.
How difficult was it to re-focus on the 10k with the mental and
physical fatigue of the 5k race?
It was quite difficult because the 5k was a real hard, tactical race.
I had two days to recover though, and jogged for 15 minutes on the
Friday (The 5k final took place on Thursday) and took Saturday off. I
was really going for gold in the 10k after being out kicked in the
five. I simply stayed relaxed and stuck to my plan and it all worked
out in the end.
Did the weather play a big part in the level of performance. How did
you deal with that?
It was very humid for the 5k. It had rained earlier in the week so it
wasn’t so much the heat as the humidity. The 10k was raced later in
the day compared to the five and I definitely felt the humidity having
a greater effect in the 5k rather than the 10k.
Do you think your victory received the publicity it should have here in Ireland?
It didn’t get much but to be honest I didn’t expect it to get a lot
given the fact that it was a masters event. Locally it did get a bit
but not a whole lot. It doesn’t bother me to be honest. I’m not
running for publicity; I do so because I enjoy it. In general
athletics doesn’t get enough coverage. The young athletes should be
getting a lot more publicity and encouragement.
Do you receive any support financially? Do you believe athletes today
deserve better backup and support?
I don’t get any support but I wouldn’t expect it. In athletics, only
those at the top at senior level get anything significant. The
youngsters coming through are not getting enough, for sure. It’s tough
for young athletes today as everything is much more expensive. Think
of all the expenses; food, travel: it all adds up. Athletics is a very
fulfilling sport, yet there is nothing being done to make the sport
more attractive to young people.
What has been your inspiration to continue training hard and competing
after all these years?
Simply the enjoyment I get out of running. I love training and as I
said before the buzz of competition is fantastic. At the age of forty
I thought I’d be finished by forty-five. I get great satisfaction out
of running and it is this satisfaction and enjoyment, together with my
achievements, that keep me motivated to continue.
Could you give us an insight into your basic training schedule?
I’ve got my husband, Hugh coaching me. When I began running, I didn’t
know a lot about schedules and long-term preparation. Hugh has all the
knowledge regarding the training side of things. In the winter I clock
up the miles but I make sure to include some kind of speed session,
perhaps speed endurance every two weeks at least, for example 5×800
with short recovery or a two mile tempo run. Closer to big races and
in summer I would do something like repeat 300s at a fast pace with a
longer recover, and in summer I incorporate 200s and sprints also. I’m
in a peak phase for most of the year as there are a lot of masters
races, but I am careful to ease off before every race. My only period
of rest is late spring where there is a slight lull before the track
season. I try to limit road races because there are so many races over
the course of the year. Recovery is also important. I have been lucky,
as I said, with injuries. I think swimming plays a big part in that. I
try to get in a swim as often as possible after my runs as I feel it
loosens the muscles, preventing injury. I’m not a huge fan of
stretching, but I do believe that the swimming is key to injury
Is it difficult to find time for everything; family, training, time to
relax? You must live a pretty hectic life!
Not really; I just go out and run. In general, I always find time for
everything. Running has been a part of my life for so long that it is
now just part of my normal day, like everything else. There are no
problems with time management really. My family, my husband and two
sons, have given me great support over the years and a lot of my
success is down to their input and sacrifice as well as my own.
What do you regard as your greatest achievement thus far?
That’s a tough question! I suppose either my World Masters successes
or representing Ireland at senior level during the 1985 cross-country
season. That was a great achievement. And of course getting hooked on
running in 1982 at the Cork Marathon. That first experience was great!
What is next for you? Do you plan to continue competing
internationally as a vet?
I plan to keep going as long as I can. Short-term I have the British
and Irish Masters XC in Dublin. Next summer, I will hopefully run in
the European Masters Track and Field in Poland. If he timetable allows
I would like to double up. I will continue running as long as I enjoy
it. It’s tough, and I believe that running is a sport that you have to
enjoy in order to succeed. But while I continue to enjoy my sport, I
will stay running. If, of course, the injuries are kept at bay!
Carmel Parnell is truly a fantastic role-model for competitors, young
and old. Her hunger and desire to succeed and her unparalleled enjoyment
of her chosen sport is something to be admired. In an age where less
and less emphasis is put on sport in school, and participation is low
amongst girls, Carmel stands out as a terrific example of how
fulfilling sport can be, and indeed the big part it plays in keeping
fit and healthy. We wish her the best of luck in her next big race in
Dublin at the British & Irish Masters XC and in the future.