Like many people, Mark Hilliard of Finish Line Fitness, had an unhealthy lifestyle until he hit thirty and realised things had to change. He talks to West Cork People about how he went from a couch potato to a marathon runner in less than a year and how he now helps his clients to achieve what seems the impossible.
What was the turning point in changing your lifestyle?
I remember distinctly the morning it hit me how unfit I was. It was a Sunday and I was attempting to kick a ball around the backgarden with my son Conor. As was usual for a Sunday morning I had a bit of a hangover and, as a smoker, I was soon out of breath – my three-year-old was running rings around me. I was only 31 and decided that something had to change, so I started to go for a little run around the block on Saturday mornings. I got up at 5am so nobody would see me suffering!
From such a modest start, how did you go to running marathons in under a year?
The block loop was only 2.6 miles and within a few weeks I was getting faster and started running with other people. A few months later I was at a family wedding when my brother, Bob, already a seasoned marathon runner, dared me to run a marathon and to finish faster than him. With that motivation I pushed myself and when I was 32 I entered my first marathon in Longford. I had only reached 18 miles previously so when I passed the 20-mile mark I got quite emotional. I felt very daunted but kept going and did indeed beat Bob!
Did this inspire you to become a fitness instructor?
I am a plasterer by trade and while out running one Thursday, which I would never have had time to do before, I was worrying about having no work lined up. I started thinking about what I was going do and I realised I’d love to run for a living; from then I began studying to be a fitness instructor. I love working with people and helping clients who want to change their life take that first step on the fitness ladder is fantastic. From my own experience I understand how daunting the gym can be when you are out of shape but I also know how quickly you can see huge improvements.
How do you go about helping people get fit and lose weight?
I coach in the gym at Ahamilla GAA Sports Complex in Clonakilty, which is a great gym for one-on-one sessions. I first do a free consultation to find out what personal goals clients want to achieve. They might want to drop a dress size, are recovering from surgery or looking to improve an aspect of fitness for field sports. I see clients of all ages and we need to establish that person’s current level to start improving from there. As ultra-runner Keith Whyte says ‘The only way to define your limits is to go beyond them’. My job is to help you do that.
During that first consultation people vocalise what they have been thinking and that’s the first step; think it, say it, do it, that’s the process.
We then start on personalised hour-long gym sessions of resistance training, finishing with cardio. Resistance training is very important for improving strength, tone and overall fitness; women in particular worry that this type of training will make them look like bodybuilders but it doesn’t, it just gives you great tone.
For runners, resistance training is beneficial, improving posture and strength, which to a stronger and more efficient running style. The body can get used to the rhythm of long-distance running and is no longer being pushed so you won’t see any improvements until you stretch it in another way. However, it is very important to do lift weight correctly, poor technique can limit your joint mobility or cause injuries.
Are you still running marathons?
I am, but as well as running them, I am a registered Athletics Ireland course measurer and have designed and measured the routes for the Clonakilty Waterfront and Back2Back Marathons and many of the 5k and 10ks around West Cork.
I’m busy planning the next Keith Whyte Waterfront Ultra Marathon in Courtmacsherry for July 19. This will be its second year and the day now includes an 18 miler and 10k so that more people can get involved in the brilliant atmosphere.
I’m involved in setting up clubs like the Clonakilty Road Runners, I train running groups such as the Ballineen FitforFun and I coach the under 9s rugby team in Clonakilty so I’m always on the go!
As well as providing fitness coaching, Mark is available for training running groups or teams. You can contact him on 086 608 2569 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.