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How 'Fit' is now the new 'It'

Five years ago, fitness was the last thing on anybody's mind. Working out was seen as something only celebrities and gym bunnies did, and everyone was far too busy to consider taking time out of their hectic schedules of working, partying and shopping to think about their bodies' health.

Your self-worth was judged on how much you could drink, the 'It' bags you owned, and the kind of motor you drove. The aesthetic of the time coveted by young girls wasn't gym-honed and muscular, but skinny and sinewy like Nicole Richie, Lindsay Lohan and co, known as the Zoebots thanks to their uber-thin stylist Rachel Zoe. The old saying "you can never be too rich or too thin" was at fever pitch at the height of the boom.



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Nowadays, though, it's a very different story. Shrunken waif and skinny minnie is out, and strong and lean is in for women, while you're far more likely to hear lads boasting about the number of miles they ran that weekend than the car they bought, or the amount of Jagerbombs they sank.



There is almost a culture of shame about our excesses of past years, and I believe our greed and gluttony is being replaced with a more spiritual, cleansing process that takes us back to the earth and back to basics -- getting fit.

Herald readers will know that last Monday I started personal training with Ireland's fitness guru Pat Henry, responsible for a wealth of showbiz star's figures, from Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance era shape to Roz Purcell's strong yet slender brand of sex appeal. Up until last week, I was the laziest wagon you could meet.

I thought cardio was walking my dogs, and would reward myself with a takeaway or 10 biscuits if I thought I'd over-exerted myself. The weight had crept on to my formerly slim frame and I had quite simplym let myself go.

However, I was noticing more and more that I was in the minority. Even the people who I had regularly chowed down on unhealthy foods with seemed to be quite literally tightening their belts, shedding pounds through exercise and low-carb, high-protein diets.

They all started banging on about feeling better as well as looking good, discussing the 10k runs they'd done at the weekend and extolling the virtues of brown rice. I suddenly felt like the odd one out, eating biscuits for breakfast on my own and patting myself on the back if I took the stairs in Dundrum Town Centre instead of the escalator.

I noticed my Facebook feed was littered with progress reports from running apps, and that getting up to jog around the Phoenix Park on a Sunday morning was replacing hangovers, even among the most formerly boozy of my friends.

"What the hell is happening on this island?" I thought. Then it hit me. Being fit was the new cool thing. It didn't cost anything once you had the right gear, was an admirable pursuit and not at all a waste of time, and meant you ate less and therefore spent less money on expensive junk food. It was an excuse not to go out every Saturday night on the rip, and, at the end of it all, you'd feel and look great. I was beginning to cotton on.

Being just regularly fit, though, is not enough, it seems. We know the human body can do extraordinary things when pushed to its limits, and the new mentality seems to be to take it there. Anybody can run if they put their minds to it, but can you do a marathon? Pah, even a marathon is paltry compared to the exploits of some.

Celebrities such as Keith Duffy, Matt Cooper and Rosanna Davison are participating in Iron Man challenges, but one of the most amazing feats I've heard accomplished was that of Spin 103.8 presenter Brian Maher and Mike Sheridan, the editor of Joe.ie, who ran 126 miles from Limerick to Dublin this year non-stop in aid of Special Olympics Ireland.

You might think that an impossible goal, but Mike never set out running with the intention of completing such a task.

"Running to and from work was how I got started and I'm seeing more and more people with running backpacks in the mornings and evenings now. It's just a practical way to get fit," he said.

"Then it snowballed and I wanted to see how far I could push myself -- which turned out to be 130 miles!"

Brian added: "I was a member of a gym a few years ago, but when I decided I was going to run my first marathon in 2008, I found running outdoors was much more rewarding than on a treadmill in a gym.

"After completing my first marathon, I went back to doing 5k and 10k runs.

"However, it's harder to motivate yourself for something you have already achieved. That's why I started to create challenges for myself."

Since 2008, Brian has completed 18 marathons, as well as the mammoth trek he and Mike completed this year.

"After all those challenges I do still love running. It's the freedom to just go out your front door, choose a direction and run.

"Some days, I may only be in the mood for a couple miles, other days I can do 20-30 miles happily.

"The popularity of running has definitely increased over the past couple of years, because it's the most cost-effective way of getting fit. All you need is a pair of runners!"

So if you're a couch potato and can't afford a gym membership or personal trainer, there really are no excuses any more.

If you need a push, there are running clubs such as Run With Tina popping up all over Dublin where even the laziest of lazybones will be running 5k within a matter of weeks.

If you have a Smartphone, the Couch to 5K or Get Running apps help you get up off your bum and get fit by taking it slow and steady, and building on your progress.



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However, being fit doesn't mean exercising and then going home and eating junk

either.

Blow-out days are all well and good, but in order to really be at your peak, eliminate cravings and be able to run for miles without stopping, your diet needs an overhaul too. Be gone, expensive takeaways and high-sugar junk food, and in their place have lots of protein.

I'm not sure where my fitness adventure will take me. I'm not one for running outside (mainly because I look like a chimpanzee when jogging, limbs flailing), but who knows?

Maybe one day I'll be one of those smug feckers in your Facebook feed asking to be sponsored for the Marathon or sharing my Nike running apps progress report.

Hey, in this day and age it's a lot more likely than owning a Chanel 2.55 handbag, that's for sure.


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