Improving fitness and having fun - all at the same time
The hardest part of exercising is often making the effort to get out the front door. After a busy day at work, collapsing in front of the television with a packet of biscuits can be far more tempting than putting on a pair of runners.
However, support and encouragement from others can make a big difference. By joining a club or signing up to a challenge, such as our 100 FIT Days plan, its is easier to commit to a training routine and achieve a fitness goal.
Fit4Life is a programme for all runners, no matter what ability, that can help to improve fitness levels in a sociable and fun environment. Set up in 2006 by Athletics Ireland with an aim to increase the appeal of athletics to a wider audience, the programme now has over 130 clubs across the country.
Participants are grouped by ability and have the option to progress from walking, to jogging to running, allowing everyone to train at a level appropriate to them. Training sessions are set out by a qualified Fit4Life leader and each participant receives ongoing support and guidance, preventing boredom and helping to improve fitness levels.
Setting up a Fit4Life club is easy. Once a club has 10 members, two of whom are over 21, and has informed their county board, it can then apply to Athletics Ireland to become a member. An annual registration fee is paid by the club and each member pays a registration charge. After that, there's nothing left to do except get running.
Fit4Life member, Phelim Lynch, joined the Kilcoole Athletics Club branch in 2010. A lover of sport as a child, Phelim had let exercise slip over the years. He decided to make a change when he turned 30.
"I noticed a lot of people out running at the time and I was looking for something to do. I joined the club and set myself the challenge of doing the Dublin Marathon. I just took it from there," he says.
Four years later and Phelim has taken part in many more marathons, 24-hour races and is currently training for a seven-day, 170 mile, self-supported race across the Grand Canyon in September, in aid of Team Gavin Glynn.
He admits, however, that running wasn't easy at the start.
"I picked up a few injuries in my first year and it took me just over five hours to do that first marathon. I got frustrated with running as a result and contemplated giving it up, until others encouraged me to keep going and persevere."
Phelim says the support he has received from members of the group has been a great motivator and he now trains others at the club.
"People have really helped me over the years and given me words of support, now I'm trying to do the same for others," he says. "I do some runs myself now but the majority are with the club. If you are in a group there is always someone there to give you advice and help you along."
Running approximately 200km a week, Phelim says that it's important to find the balance between challenging yourself and pacing yourself when training.
Phelim has found that setting a goal, such as running a race or following a plan like 100 FIT Days, is a great way to boost confidence as well as fitness levels.
"Running has made me a different person. I feel more confident, healthier and I stand taller. Years ago, a marathon was my limit but now I am pushing myself to see how much I can do. I plan on running 100-mile races instead of marathons and my ultimate goal is to run across Europe."
Andrea Murphy began running with the Bray Runners Fit4Life group two-and-a-half years ago, at a time when she was looking for something to help her to relax.
"I used to walk and do yoga but I wanted something that would take me out of my head and really de-stress me. I used to suffer from anxiety and I thought that running would help," she says.
From her very first run with the club, Andrea was hooked and knew it was the perfect exercise for her. "We did a few laps of the park and I was just buzzing afterwards. I realised that for an hour, I hadn't thought about anything except putting one foot in front of the other. It was amazing."
A mother of six, Andrea says that while she always has the energy to train, finding the time to can be a bit of a juggling act.
"My eldest is 23 so I can leave the older ones to look after things while I'm out. It can sometimes be difficult to fit in the longer runs but for training in the evenings I usually get the kids fed as soon as I come in from work and then head straight out."
Andrea's training sessions with the group give her some me-time, away from the other demands of her life.
"When you are out on a run you are not a mother or a wife, just a runner and that's nice. It doesn't matter in the club what you do in your daily life, we are all there just to run. Runners are quite like-minded, we all understand each other," she says.
Joining the club by herself, was far from intimidating, according to Andrea. She says that the club couldn't have been more welcoming.
"It can be hard to enter a group by yourself when people know each other and you are trying something new but everyone was really friendly. Lots of people join by themselves, so everyone's in the same boat.
"I got an email from the leader after my first session, welcoming me to the group, which was really nice."
Andrea ran the Dublin Marathon last year for the first time and says that training with other members of the club helped, especially for the long runs.
"It can be quite lonely doing the long runs by yourself but when you are out with other people it's great. While we all take our training seriously, there'll be a few jokes and we'll have a laugh, too."
After 10 years of attending athletics events to support her son, Mary Hourihan decided to join the Bray Runners Fit4Life group three years ago, when she saw the group out training one evening in her local park.
"I thought I was too old to join and I when I approached the leader that night, I said it to him. He told me to take a closer look at the group and I realised there were all ages there, so I said I'd give it a go," she says.
Mary has been attending the club every week since and has completed many 5km races. However, she says that the races don't have to be about winning medals.
"I am not competitive but I do enjoy doing the races. When I ran my first Fit4Life 5km race, I came last but it didn't matter. Everyone was waiting for me and the cheer was phenomenal, I felt like I was at the Olympics and it was fantastic."
"I love being part of a group and even at the races, everyone is buzzing together afterwards and it's a great feeling. I look forward to the training every week, there's a great camaraderie. I do it because I enjoy it and that's important for all exercise," she says.
"Running has definitely made me more toned and I've had a lot of people telling me that I've lost weight and look great. It's funny because if someone had said to me years ago that I'd be a runner I would have said they were mad," she laughs.
'If you have a bad day, pick yourself up and keep going'
My training: I am training six days a week now but started on three or four days. I always take a rest day every week.
My nutrition: I can't recommend ginger or chillies high enough, they are great anti-inflammatories. I also swear by chocolate milk for recovery.
My tips for living 100 FIT days: If you have a bad day don't give up. Pick yourself up and keep on going.
My training: I aim for five training days and two rest days a week but sometimes I run six days if I am training for a race.
My nutrition: I try to eat porridge for breakfast to give me long-lasting energy. I also drink a protein drink when I come in from a long run.
My tips for living 100 FIT days: Exercise has to be fun, otherwise you are not going to do it. Find something that you enjoy and stick with it, even when you don't feel like going.
My training: I run three times a week. Twice by myself and once with the group. I also do yoga, which I find helps.
My nutrition: I try to drink protein drinks and to eat healthily. I recently lost 10lbs by following a healthy eating plan.
My tips for living 100 FIT days: I would advise people to join a group as it is easier to keep at something when you are not on your own.
Health & Living