An athlete in form… Kelly Neely (by Lee Maginnis):
Commonwealth Games finalist, former Northern Ireland record holder, netball player, World F35 Champion, coach and mother! We catch up with Kelly Neely to find out how she juggles her many responsibilities, is thriving in motherhood, and how after a short absence, is now a regular sight once again on track and road. Now accompanied by her own mini fan club, supervised by husband/coach Ian!
Q. You retired from athletics after a successful International career in 2016, but seemed to be back within months. Was that the plan, or did you miss competing too much?
A. I retired from track racing in August 2012 to start a family. During 2013/2014 I ran a few road races to keep fit and my husband and I were blessed with a baby girl in September 2014.
I didn’t run past 16 weeks with my first pregnancy as I had some groin pain and I
didn’t feel comfortable or feel it was necessary to push through it as I had no thoughts of returning to competitive training/racing. Sarah was born by cesarean section so I spent the first few months taking it easy and enjoying being a mummy!
It wasn’t until January 2015 when an athlete I coached challenged me to compete at the Irish Indoor Masters Championship in March, that I started to train more consistently. I finished 2nd in the 800m in a time of 2:16 and I enjoyed it so much that I decided to set myself a goal, to try and medal at the World Masters Championships in Lyon, in August, which would be less than a year after Sarah was born.
Lyon went better than I could have imagined, and I was delighted to win the gold and went on to finish off the 2015 season with a season best time of 2:08 in the 800m.
I enjoyed being back racing and wanted to improve so I put in a good winter’s training and in 2017 I found myself being competitive again in the senior category, picking up a bronze medal in the senior outdoor championships and finished the season with a 4:15 1500m and unknown to me, eight weeks pregnant with baby number two!
Hannah was born in April 2017.
Thankfully Hannah was born naturally and I felt more comfortable to return to running a few weeks after she was born. I was able to run up till 30 weeks pregnant this time so I felt my fitness return much more quickly and was competing again in May.
I have just finished a successful winter block of training/racing and am looking forward to the outdoor season.
Q. You had been interested in returning to netball, did this ever happen?
A. I returned for one season in 2013/2014 and had a blast playing for Causeway Netball Club, alongside Irish international sprinter Anna Boyle. Though I found the late evenings/travel difficult to maintain with work, so it only lasted one season.
Q. In your senior career, what do you rate as your highest achievement?
A. Difficult to choose between making the final of the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002, or breaking the Northern Ireland 1500m record in 2009 running 4:10.30. Though the latter didn’t last long as a young Ciara Mageean broke it the year after!!
Q. Were you coached by Sean Kyle?
A. Yes I was. From 2001 until 2007. Fabulous coach and such a kind generous man who is greatly missed.
Q. How many senior titles did you win?
A. IRISH CHAMPIONSHIPS:
2002 2nd 800m
2003 1st 800m
2004 2nd 800m
2005 2nd 800m
2007 1st 800m indoor
1st 1500m indoor
2nd 800m outdoor
2008 2nd 1500m
2009 2nd 800m
2010 1st 1500m indoor
2012 3rd 1500m
2016 3rd 1500m
2018 2nd 1500m indoor
Q. What is your favourite training session?
Has to be speed endurance work!! No better feeling than running fast, in circles on a hot sunny day with the legs filling with lactic!!!
Particular favourite is 4×400 off 4-5 mins
Q. How has becoming a mother to two lovely kids affected your time and attitude within the sport?
A. Oh my goodness it has made such a difference, my priorities are completely different now. Before the girls it was all about running, and now my number one priority is being a good mummy and role model to my girls! And of course keeping my husband happy! ?
My attitude to running now is to enjoy it, before I would have been devastated for days after a below par performance, but now I just shake it off, see my beautiful girls and the race becomes a distant memory! Also before a race I don’t have time to think much about it as I’m usually running around, bathing, feeding and changing nappies etc. Sarah and Hannah have been to 99% of my races so they keep me distracted and help reduce the pre race nerves!
Q. Where do you get the motivation from to continue training and competing at such a high level?
A. Being a mum has definitely helped me, I want to be a good role model to my girls. Showing them that having a passion or goal in life is important and with hard work you can achieve it and have fun along the way!
Being a coach, pacing/training with the athletes I coach, keeps me focused on staying in the best shape possible so I can continue to train with them and motivate them to improve their personal bests.
And still running fast, helps too I guess!!!!
*Note* Kelly has just run 16:48 at the Queen’s 5K, a new PB by 47 seconds!!
Q. Have you had to adapt your training much compared to before you became a veteran?
I work as a full time personal trainer, coach and Mum to two small girls. I don’t have the same amount of time and energy to commit to the amount of training I did before. For me it’s all about consistency, listening to my body, training smarter and learning from mistakes that I have made in the past!
I no longer do double days and i take one full rest day each week. Listening to my body more now than ever allows me to take unplanned rest days if I’m tired instead of pushing through, which is what I would have done previously.
Q. Are you now self coached?
A. It’s a joint effort, my husband and I sit down together and plan my training and racing schedule, though with such busy lives we have to be very adaptable, so it works well as Ian understands how busy my week is and doesn’t expect crazy miles or sessions from me!
Q. Your performances have been phenominal. Have you any idea how you can come back so quickly after pregnancy and how you are keeping your speed so well with increasing age?
I was very lucky to be able to run until 30 weeks pregnant with Hannah so I didn’t lose too much aerobic fitness and I continue to work on my speed drills and strength and conditioning work in the gym. I’m also very fortunate that my husband Ian is a great coach and kept me right with my running technique.
Q.What (if any) are your targets this coming season? Or maybe that is classified information?
A. Ha no, not classified! My target is to enjoy my running,anything else is a bonus!!
Note: Photo of Kelly Neely used for this article was taken by PATRICK CROSSAN.