Mark Gilleran (left) after completing a 100k cycle, with former Ireland, Manchester United star and all-around legend Paul McGrath.    
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Mark Gilleran (left) after completing a 100k cycle, with former Ireland, Manchester United star and all-around legend Paul McGrath.

Mark Gilleran, 38

Dublin, Ireland

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“When I was a kid, I was a bit of a pudgster. While memory is completely unreliable, my younger brother was a natural athlete, excelling at all sports and I barged around like Shrek, is the way I remember it. He started playing soccer and made the team first time round while I struggled to kick air.

My folks, I'm pretty sure, encouraged me to try different sports. I tried a wide range, from track running to soccer to kung fu. I'm not sure why, but I seemed to drop out with minimal fuss. Perhaps they preferred chasing the dream of me being a chubby academic with musical chops as opposed to the Karate Kid kind.

By the age of 10, I was showing little or no interest in participating in any sport other than mandatory physical education at school and I think it was beginning to show around the waistline. Action was needed, so we were taken to swimming lessons, taught how to cycle and I was enrolled in the local badminton club, no doubt to teach me to move more gracefully.

Swimming seemed to suit me and I start winning medals and local swim meets. Cycling ended up costing my folks more in dental repairs, but I loved it, and badminton got canned as soon as I entered [Ireland's] equivalent of junior high.

While my junior high had a pool, one of the guys in my class convinced me to give rugby a go. It took but a couple of weeks to shake off 13 years of being told not to run into people and to watch where I was going. I had finally discovered a sport designed for oafish men whose only other sporting use would have been ballast in tug-of-wars. Front crawl was replaced with rolling mauls and I played at a reasonably competitive level until the age of 23.

Then it all ground to halt. I entered the working world at a time when Ireland was experiencing a period of unprecedented economic growth.

When a group of friends hit their 20s, all start working and can spend their own money as they choose, beer generally tends to be top of the weekly expenditure list. When the majority of a country's population all hit their 20s at the same time, earn what seems like wheelbarrows of money, and have no responsibilities, going on a 10-year binge seems like the societal norm."

What inspired you to start working out? "Men are eternal dreamers. Every time I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror, I'd wink, do the gun fingers and think, ‘You still got it, kid!’ Fourteen years of indolence, slowing metabolism, increased alcohol consumption, and a relatively poor work-life balance begged to differ. The camera also doesn't lie. I can't look at photos of myself from anytime after 2000 without getting angry.  I had a few stop-starts, joining the gym, going for a few jogs then losing momentum. I probably added a few extra pounds after each failed attempt to get fit again. The breaking point came around Christmas 2011 when I stepped on the scales for the first time this century and discovered I had blimped from 180 pounds at 22 to over 300 pounds at 35!

I bought a bike, started cycling to and from work a few days a week and set up a mini-boot camp with my friends. My wife had started jogging again, so I decided to give this a go too. Smartphones introduced me to activity tracking apps and I moved away from worrying about weight and started obsessing over distance covered and the time taken."

What was the turning point when you realized you had transformed from an exercise hater to an exercise lover? "Just after I hit the wall during my first marathon in October 2014. I knew exactly what I had done wrong in terms of preparation and training and what I needed to change for the next one. That's when I realized I had fallen in love with exercise again, when at my lowest physical ebb from exercise, I was already signing myself up to do it again, only better. Weight loss has become a byproduct, not a goal."

What was your family’s relationship with exercise like?  "In the context of 1980s Ireland, I would say their relationship was pretty good and about the norm for the time. It was fashionable to join a sports club, but more for the social aspect than the sporting!"

What are your favorite workouts? "The long runs and bike rides as they give me an opportunity to explore new parts of my hometown. I also enjoy strength training, speed work and core training, as I always feel like I am making progress."

When it comes to exercise, are you a pack trainer or a lone wolf? "These days, I am a lone wolf. At this stage of my life, someone shouting at me to work harder will have the opposite effect."

What’s the piece of workout gear that you can’t live without? "Garmin — I am obsessed with my tracking my progress."

What songs are on your go-to workout mix? "I don't listen to music while working out anymore."

What’s your biggest workout obstacle, and how do you overcome it? "Getting enough rest, and I've yet to crack that one!"

What inspires you to work out? "Fear of regressing."

What do you do when you feel as if you’ve hit a plateau or rut? "I try a new routine or route. Variety is the spice of life after all."

What’s been the biggest benefit to becoming an exercise lover? "The most surprising thing is I now can't imagine my life without exercise."

What advice would you give to someone who hates exercise? "Yep, two tips.

1) Pick something other than weight loss or shape change as a goal. Progress becomes much easier to track and motivation tends not to wane as quickly.

2) Once you start exercising, don't try to eliminate all the 'bad' stuff from your life at the same time. Phase them out over the days weeks and months. Despite what we may tell ourselves, we are creatures of habit. Too many simultaneous changes sees us quickly revert to the old routine which, more often than not, does not include exercise."

Photo courtesy of Mark Gilleran