Setting a model example with the Fit City Series drawing closer
Tanya Sweeney talks to Race Ambassadors model Michele McGrath and Raheny AC athlete Martin Kelly about their fitness routines
Given her near-slavish devotion to the body beautiful, it's almost hard to believe that model/dancer/club hostess Michele McGrath suffers 'gymtimidation'.
"Oh, I hate the gym," she states. "There's all these gym bunnies and massive (guys) in there, and I'd rather be doing an activity than going on a treadmill for 45 minutes anyway. I prefer going to smaller gyms ... in the bigger ones, I definitely get a little scared."
Happily, Michele has discovered that variety is the best way to keep herself motivated: these days, she likes to run along the Clontarf seafront, take Zumba and dance classes, and do kickboxing training alongside her cage-fighter boyfriend Cathal Pendred.
"Of course you want to be with someone who looks after themselves," she notes. "It's a huge thing for me. I don't want to go out with someone who sits at a desk and just eats everything in sight. I wouldn't find that at all attractive, and I'm not sure who would."
Kickboxing aside, Michele has found that living with an athlete has its fringe benefits: Cathal is a big fan of Fighter Food (www.fighterfood.ie), a home delivery service that provides clients with ready-made meals. Michele has followed suit, and has already noticed a dramatic difference to her wellbeing.
"I didn't do it for weight loss or anything," she explains. "It was more because Cathal was doing it, and it was just easier for me to do it too. Recently, I felt I could eat what I want because I worked out a lot, but in fact it's more 80pc diet, 20pc going to the gym to fine-tune things."
Based loosely on the Paleo diet, Fighter Food make meals using lamb, turkey, chicken, salmon, sweet potato, green beans, carrots, broccoli and other nutrient-dense foods.
"For breakfast most mornings I'll make a smoothie with berries, yoghurt, seeds, flax linseeds and a drop of honey, or I'll have natural yoghurt with nuts and berries and a cup of green tea," says Michele. "I'll snack on carrots and celery and hummus at 12, then lunch is chicken or tuna salad. Dinner is usually one of the Fighter Food ready meals."
Michele's current obsession with kickboxing is the latest chapter in a lifelong love affair with exercise; starting, incongruously enough, with GAA.
"Yeah, I used to play GAA with Skerries!" she laughs. "I was a bit of a tomboy, and GAA is massive in Skerries, where I'm from. Bryan Cullen (the Dublin team captain) is from there, too. It was a bit rough at the time but I really loved it."
Later on as a teen, Michele moved into dancing, competing for titles in Irish dancing, which effectively put paid to GAA playing: "When you're at the level where you're going for titles, you have to be careful of injury, which is why I stopped."
Still, her active youth stood her in good stead when she began modelling for Assets. Michele readily admits that scouts and clients prefer a healthy, athletic look in the Irish market: Amazonian invariably thwarts skinny, which is good news for Michele.
"That's what's great about Irish modelling, the fact that there was never any pressure to be a size zero," she muses. "I fluctuate between a size 8 and a 12 ... that's just the way I am. I do see some eating disorders in modelling and people getting obsessed with the perfect body image, so I'm lucky, I'm happy in my own skin.
"Trust me, I've had alcohol and takeways at the weekend and woken up on the Monday feeling two stone heavier," she adds. "I'm like, 'Jesus, what did I go and do that for?', but for the most part it's about a healthy balance."
And, when Michele spent five weeks in LA late last year in a bid to propel her fledgling music career, this sensible mindset came in fairly handy.
"It's all to do with how you feel about yourself in your own mind," she reflects. "But the thing about LA is that so many people are working out all the time. We did canyon running, then yoga every day, and then got to eat in really healthy restaurants. I found the people there more sparkly and positive and happy, and I'm sure lifestyle has a lot to do with that."
But what of balancing a music career – what with its pubs, clubs, touring and long studio hours – and a strict wellbeing regime? That's not to mention the part-time hostessing job at nightspot Buck's Townhouse that's also in the mix.
"I drink in moderation these days ... maybe one night out a month as opposed to every weekend," she smiles. "A lot of the musicians like to give off a rock 'n' roll image, but half of them are teetotal. I'm not sure how you'd even do any actual work as a musician if you were hungover all the time."
For now, however, Michele is mastering the tricky feat of achieving balance amid her chaotically busy life. "Investing in yourself is hugely important," she advises. "You just feel so much better ... it's that simple."
Now in its 35th year, the Dublin City Marathon has grown from small acorns into the running calendar's highpoint. And Martin Kelly (43) has been there every step of the way. As the youngest person to have run every Dublin Marathon since its inception in 1980, Martin recalls squaring up at the starting line alongside just 2,500 other runners on its inaugural weekend.
"I've never done anything else on the October Bank Holiday since then," he smiles. "I did a bit of running in school and thought, 'I wouldn't mind giving that a go'. It was just a really enjoyable experience, and at first I thought, 'maybe I'll get to 10 marathons', then it became 15, then 25."
Down the years, the Dublin Marathon has developed in stature, and has experienced something of a growth spurt in recent years; something, Martin contends, that has to do with running's 'recession-proof' nature. And, while many repeat marathon runners are hoping to better their personal bests, Martin, an ambassador for Skechers, is happy at this stage simply to cross the finish line. "I only broke three hours once, in 1992," he reveals. "At this stage, it's about chalking up another marathon more than anything. I'd love to do (the race in) 3:10, but I'm not sure I have the discipline for that any more. The thing with marathons is the more you put in, the more you get out. If you don't do the mileage, you won't get the times."
That said, Martin will get back into his regime properly around April or May; for now, golf is his big pastime. At the moment Martin runs a few times a week, but suggests to would-be marathoners to start running eight to 10 miles three or four times a week, and building up stamina from there. "By May, you should have built up to about 12 miles,
then 14 a couple of weeks later, and so on," he advises.
"I don't think you need to run more than 20 miles at a time in training, but it often helps to do a little bit of speedwork ahead of the big day.
"A few sprints during a park run on a Saturday morning will really stand to you from a recovery point of view."
Needless to say, Martin now knows the Dublin Marathon route better than most – something that's a blessing and a curse.
"The problem is that you know there's a horrible climb," he laughs. "Sometimes it's better to know what's not coming."
Michele and Martin are ambassadors for Skechers, partners in this years FIT City Series taking place on March 9 in the Phoenix Park and July 13 in Cork. Sign up for both 5k or 10k options at www.fitmagazine.ie/events