Welcome to WE ARE WONDERWOMEN, a series of short stories from inspirational women who swim, run and cycle amongst us. Ahead of International Women’s Day on Monday 8 March 2021, I’ll be celebrating the achievements, talking about the challenges and sharing tips from a variety of women across our sporting community.
Kerry is an Irish Olympian making her Olympic debut in Rio 2016. She is now focussing her efforts towards the Tokyo Olympic Games. She has an extensive running CV clocking up various appearances during her 27 years of running including representing Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games, going to the World Championships in Beijing and 2 World Championship appearances in the Mountains. She’s also a really good sports masseuse- scroll to the bottom for the evidence!
In her story Kerry talks about how discovering cross country at secondary school led her to the Olympics, what inspires her and what it feels like to step out onto the track at the Olympic games.
Hello Wonderwoman! Tell us a little bit about yourself….
My name is Kerry O’Flaherty and I am an Irish Olympian specialising in the 3000m Steeplechase.
I am from a beautiful coastal town in Co.Down Northern Ireland called Newcastle where I am spoilt for choice with amazing places to run. We have the backdrop of the Mourne Mountains, forest parks, a nature reserve and beaches so a variety of every terrain to suit every runner.
I have been running for 27 years now (since the age of 13) and started with cross country and road running and found my real love for running on the track. 800/1500m were my disciplines as a teenager but as I got older I enjoyed 5k/10k on the roads. In my late 20s after a short running career on the mountains (2 World Championship appearances 2004/2005) I discovered my sweet spot was 3000m. So at the age of 30 I had a go at the 3000m steeplechase – having never hurdled before.
I made my first major championship at the event in 2014 competing for N.Ireland at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, one year after this I ran the qualifying time for the World Championships (Beijing 2015) and the Olympics (Rio 2016).
That is a really impressive running career, tell us a bit more about what initially got you into running and how you got into track racing…
I started at secondary school with some cross country and found a love of road racing at the age of 13 when I competed in a local road race and beat most of the boys (only two in front of me).
The local club scooped me up and I would train with the seniors 1-2 times a week, my club was mainly a mountain running club and we live at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, so my first early international vests came on the mountains and also with school cross country.
Cross country became my bread and butter in the winter months and I have competed for Ireland in many European Cross County Championships, winning team bronze in 2015.
My school got me into track racing over 800/1500 in the summer months and that’s where I enjoyed being the most.
What is your biggest achievement?
My biggest achievement has been becoming an Olympian. It’s something I dreamed of, wanted so much and worked so hard for.
To firstly achieve the qualifying standard in a race in Ireland was something special, but to then step out onto that track in Rio with the crowds cheering took my breath away. I will never forget that day or the emotions that went with it. It was scary and exciting at the same time, it brought nervous tears that morning and happy tears that evening.
What inspires you?
I’m inspired by people everyday, especially since joining the AsicsFrontRunner Team. The variety of runners we have from different backgrounds who have all achieved amazing things in their lifetimes. Each members’ stories bring different elements to the table of what running has meant to them, how some use it for their mental health, others have battled great obstacles in their lives and running has been a life changing experience for them. I’m inspired everyday by the team and I love how we are like a family who support each other’s ups and downs.
What motivates you to get through a challenging session or tough point in a race?
During a tough session I use visualisation and self talk to get me through. I remind myself why I am doing this, I visualise that main goal and for me this year it is to make the Tokyo Olympics. I will focus my mind to that last lap of a steeplechase race or that finishing straight on the track. I tell myself “this is for Tokyo” and it gives me real drive and determination to work through those killer sessions.
What do you think the biggest challenges for women getting into running and what advice do you have to help overcome these?
I think the biggest challenge at the moment is not being able to join a running group with the pandemic. Over the past few years we have seen a running boom in our communities due to Parkrun and groups popping up all over the country. I think many women feel safer and more confident when they do go out running in small groups. We are allowed to run with one other person at the moment, so my advice would be to buddy up where restrictions allow. It is so much easier to get out that door when you are meeting a training partner, even taking the kids or your partner with you on a bike can give you that extra boost.
What are your top three tips for women getting into running?
1. Get yourself a quality pair of running shoes that are suited to your foot type – ASICS have some great information on their website to find the best shoe for you.
2. Walk before you run, ease yourself into any running programme with a walk/run routine to start, build it up gradually and set yourself challenging but realistic goals.
3. Buddy up where restrictions allow, running with company is great, it can even turn into a workout/counselling session in one as it’s always good to have a good old chat on a run and get things off your chest.
Do you have any final words of wisdom?
One of my favourite quotes,
“Believe in yourself and all that you are, know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle” (Itty Bitty Book Company NI)
You can also read the full We are WONDERWOMEN series here