Former Leeds model Nell McAndrew tells how fitness freed her from shyness and why she still wants to be running when she’s 80

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The former model tells Gabrielle Fagan why now, at 44, she feels stronger than ever and why she still wants to be running when she’s 80

Nell McAndrew found fame as a model and TV presenter in the 1990s, even at one point posing for Playboy magazine and presenting on shows such as It’s A Knockout, but her life too a change of direction when she was in her early thirties.

Nell McAndrew with her son, Devon in 2009.

Nell McAndrew with her son, Devon in 2009.

A love of running led to her to becoming an accomplished athlete, taking part in six marathons and four Great North Runs, as well as producing fitness DVDs and a book.

She has a marathon personal best time of 2 hours 54 minutes 39 seconds.

The Leeds-born fitness star, now 44, who’s married to property developer Paul Hardcastle and has two children, reveals how a run in the park threatened her health and how strongman training has pushed her to her highest level of fitness yet.

So, just how important is physical training to her?

“It’s vital for me. Running has had a huge impact on my life and I aim to be still running when I’m 80.

“I’m really shy, but when I run or train, I come alive and can just be myself. Through it I’ve become so much more confident.

“My early career modelling was all about appearance, but I love the fact it doesn’t matter what you look like when you exercise.

“You can be sweaty and messy in gym gear and no-one cares. Exercise is a great leveller because it strips away barriers between people; there’s no thought of status, it’s just about sharing experiences and goals. It gives me a great feeling of wellbeing.”

Aside from running, how else do you work out?

“In the last year I’ve really pushed myself out of my comfort zone to shake things up a bit. I’m probably the fittest I’ve ever been. I’ve joined a gym which runs strongman classes, which are brilliant.

“They’re described as strength athletics, where you lift weights and test yourself in all sorts of ways. I can lift a 60 kilo Atlas Stone and my goal now is to now lift 70. I’ve also worked out on a gymnastics ring pulley system and it’s all really challenged me.”

What’s your diet like at the moment?

“I’ve never followed a diet or counted calories. I just eat sensibly and simply, with fresh foods rather than processed. I’m pescatarian and have lots of vegetables, nuts, eggs and, as a treat, dark chocolate. I don’t believe in quick fixes for anything. To achieve good things in life you have to work at them, and that’s the same for health and fitness.”

How do you motivate yourself?

“I just think of the people I can catch up with, or meet, when I go to the gym or run. It’s wonderful being with like-minded people who love exercise like I do, and I’ve made so many friends of all ages through it. Also, I know it clears my head, revitalises me, makes me positive and gives me a good perspective on life.”

Do you enjoy pushing yourself?

“I do, but since I had really bad flu last winter, I’ve realised I don’t need to put too much pressure on myself and constantly drive myself to get personal bests. Now I’m happy to simply enjoy running, whether I do 20-plus miles a week or only four.”

Have you ever had to really worry about your health?

“A couple of years ago I got Lyme Disease from a tick bite in my local park [a bacterial infection that can attack the joints, heart and nervous system, and cause severe long-term problems.]

“There were warning signs about ticks and I should have covered up, but it was summer and the weather was nice, so I was exercising in shorts and a vest.

“I noticed the bite the next day on my leg and went to a doctor a couple of days later, as it didn’t look good, and I’d started getting flu-type symptoms - a runny nose and feeling exhausted. Then I got a rash around the bite.

“I was really worried, but fortunately the doctors quickly picked it up and I was successfully treated with a 21-day course of antibiotics.”

How do you look back on your former career modelling?

“With great pleasure. I was always into fitness as a child and originally wanted to be a policewoman, but once I started fashion modelling at 17, it took off.

“These days I live in fitness gear and only occasionally dress-up, but I’ve got a box of photographs to remind me of that time. I’ve never really had time to look at them though because it’s been such a whirlwind, what with working and the family.”

Nell McAndrew was the first person to try out a new range of health and fitness tests from Medichecks, available at medichecks.com

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