Monday 23 July 2018

A Bald Mountain to climb

Fergus McDonnell developed a healthy lifestyle, but having fallen off the wagon he has now got back on his bike - in a big way

Fergus McDonnell: Planning is vital to the success of the programme and as the training is ramped up, commitment is an absolute necessity
Fergus McDonnell: Planning is vital to the success of the programme and as the training is ramped up, commitment is an absolute necessity

It's five years now since I first came into contact with Shane Lyons. At that stage I was approaching my 50th birthday and, like most people at that stage of their lives, panic was setting in.

Everyone knows that you can't hold back the tide of time, but I had decided that the least I was going to do was to try to slow it a little, try to get to a point where my chest was further forward than my stomach and, if nothing else, delay the onset of real old age - the one where you can't walk up the stairs without panting - for as long as possible.

In Shane I found not just a willing ally, but a man who actually knew what he was talking about. Where I had woolly notions around exercising and eating 'properly', he had sound scientific facts about fat burning and muscle development.

I embarked on a programme of supervised exercise three mornings a week, which ironically resulted in extended periods of not being able to walk up the stairs - or sit down for that matter.

The nutrition plan took a bit of getting used to as well. Out went my two most favourite foods, bread and potatoes, and in came omelettes for breakfast, chicken fillets for lunch, and no potatoes for dinner.

I didn't realise at the time just how big an influence this new regime would have on my everyday life. I vividly remember running for a bus one day and realising, once I had paid my fare and found a seat, that I wasn't out of breath. It came as quite a shock.

A relatively recent escapee from the prison of smoking at that stage, I went from someone who was convinced he couldn't run to completing four half marathons, two three-quarter marathons and running the Dublin Marathon twice.

Over time, convinced that I had this fitness lark cracked, I drifted away from the pre-dawn torture chamber and back into the welcoming embrace of my old favourite food friends. Not every day, mind, but often enough to start allowing the belly to nudge in front again.

And like so many of my contemporaries I bought a bike. Running remained part of my weekly routine, but not such a big part. No more long distances, no more marathons, or even fractions of marathons.

Now a new target has loomed into view. At 1,912 metres, Mont Ventoux is a towering presence in the French Alps and an iconic climb of the Tour de France. It last featured in the race in 2013 when Chris Froome took the stage on his way to the yellow jersey, and will challenge the peloton once again in this year's renewal.

But Mont Ventoux is most famous as the scene, in 1967, of the death of British cyclist Tom Simpson, when illness, heat, exhaustion, alcohol and amphetamines combined to end the 29-year-old's life during the 13th stage of the race.

So The Bald Mountain, as it is known thanks to its bare landscape near the summit, stands as a challenge that has to be taken on, if for no other reason than the fact that it is there. The flights and the hotel are booked for the end of May, the bikes are hired and the target of completing the climb from each of the three 'base camps' at Bedoin, Malaucene and Sault has been set.

In order to ensure that I would have some chance of completing the task in something approaching a reasonable time, and without doing long-term damage to an aging body, I turned once again to Shane.

While he still runs his strength and conditioning classes from two location in Dublin - Navan Road and Leixlip - he has also launched an online programme, GNS Lift-Off, specially designed for those who, because of their location or their lifestyle, are unable to get to a gym at a specific time.

The idea behind the plan is as simple as it is effective. And while it combines an excellent nutrition plan and easy-to-follow workouts (with very little equipment required) the most important ingredient is the personal commitment of the participants.

GNS Lift-Off offers the opportunity to begin a fitness or weight-loss journey without having to sign up for long gym memberships or incur great expense. So long as you have a Facebook account, a pair of runners and workout clothes, you can achieve great results without dipping too far into your pockets.

And after you have completed the initial eight-week programme, there is an option to continue through the Shooting Stars maintenance programme.

In the week before the programme starts, you receive instructions about what will be involved so that you can prepare by getting your hands on the few pieces of equipment you will need, emptying your cupboards of the food that you don't need to tempt you, and taking a trip to the supermarket so that you can plan your meals in advance.

Planning is vital to the success of the programme and as the training is ramped up, commitment is an absolute necessity. Starving yourself is not an option - you have to eat the right quantities of the right food and nipping out for a sandwich or a takeaway is not part of the deal.

After four weeks I have lost seven pounds and three inches from the belly. My strength has improved noticeably and I'm really looking forward to achieving more.

Mont Ventoux, here I come.

Five Top Tips

1. Get your exercises done early in the morning - you will enjoy the sense of achievement and you won't have it hanging over you all day.

2. Embrace the nutrition plan fully, or at least as fully as you can without losing your sanity. Although strictly speaking alcohol is off limits, I still enjoy a few pints at the weekend. It is important, however, to get the balance right between exercise and food so that you keep your body fueled and burn fat, not muscle. l

3. Be well organised. Plan your meals carefully, get your shopping done early in the week and cook several meals at the same time so that you can store them for later. And keep your food diary up to date because it's harder to complete retrospectively.

4. Don't lose sight of your goals. There will be times when the pain of exercise or the effort of meal planning and preparation will be hard to bear, but remember that the results wil make it worthwhile.

5. Record your progress. You will be asked to submit measurements along the way. Comparing these to your starting point is a great source of encouragement.

Check out to find out more. The next programme begins on May 5.

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