Confession: I used to look at runners as if they were from another planet. Who were these strange creatures that enjoyed pounding the streets? And more crucially, how did they do it? To me, running always looked hard and uncomfortable (so much jiggling/sweating/rubbing). But one day, I decided to train for a 5km and something changed. Fast forward a few years - and three marathons later - and I love running, and think you could do. Here's what I've learnt along the way, plus some expert tips from personal trainer Ray Pitti at Virgin Active to get you started.
1. Let go of the bad memories from school PE
Unless you found sports easy, PE classes were likely to rate somewhere on the scale between 'Please make it stop' and 'Hell on earth'. Being picked last for a team? Not being able to hit the ball in rounders? Feeling self conscious in the changing rooms? Tick, tick, tick. But as grown-ups, we don't have to feel beholden to team sports and competing against others: running is great because it's all about you, and that means you're always the winner.
2. Build up slowly
My first race was a charity 5km with my sister. It was so unexpected that people kept sponsoring us out of shock. But when I ran, I found I could add a little bit more on each time. That is the amazing thing about running - progress is easy to see, and it's a huge motivator. I used the excellent Couch To 5k app to get started. It guides you through intervals of running and walking, building up slowly, making 5km suddenly seem possible.
3. Don't think you have to run a marathon one day
"All running starts with those first few kilometres," says Ray. "Start with a goal of, say, 5km or 10km, but don't force yourself to run long distances. The 'need' for long runs should come from curiosity. It has a lot to do with a certain mindset, rather than Fitness level. If you don't have that mindset, there's no need to chase something that's not part of you."
Let other people inspire you, but never let them make you feel you're not enough.
I used to run to 'get thin'. That never made me happy because I never got thin enough. Now I run because it makes me feel good (well, most of the time - hey, it is exercising after all!) "Regular exercise will lift your mood, help you sleep better, increase energy and is proven to be as effective as antidepressants in treating mild-moderate depression," adds Lucy Lyus from mental health charity Mind.
5. Don't forget to warm up
The first few minutes of a run always feel challenging. This is simply because my body is warming up (as opposed to giving up). Sounds obvious, but when you're chugging up a hill and your legs feel like lead, it's not always easy to have rational thought. So if it's hard when you start, don't despair - your body is adapting. "Aim for a warm-up that elevates your heart rate and starts the sweat," says Ray. "Work from head to toe, with dynamic movements, not static. Try star jumps, high-knees and walking lunges."
6. Remember that life isn't Instagram
Fitness isn't about what everyone else is doing - all that matters is you. "Comparison is the thief of joy," said Theodore Roosevelt. Let other people inspire you, but never let them make you feel you're not enough.
7. Run tall - but remember gravity
Run as though someone is pulling you up from a string on your head - this keeps the chest open, posture strong and helps foot placement. And swing your arms to help propel you forward. However, if you're finding things a little tough, Ray has this cheat: lean slightly forward. This makes use of gravity, and can help you feel you're moving quicker (just don't lean forward too much, obvs. You don't want to end up horizontal).
Distance doesn't qualify you for some kind of premium membership
8. Call yourself a runner
It doesn't matter if you run two miles or 20, you're still deserving of that title. Distance doesn't qualify you for some kind of premium membership - you don't collect loyalty points the more miles you do. Being a runner is just about putting one foot in front of the other. Simple.
9. Forget what you think a runner should look like
If you go to the gym, you will see all kinds of body shapes. But I still have self-conscious moments where I think that I don't look 'runner-y' enough - perhaps my bum is too wobbly or my abs are forever hiding behind a lifetime of Chocolate Digestives. But then I remember that I run, and therefore, runners look like me too. Worrying you don't 'look the part' is understandable, but never let it put you off.
10. Find motivation in different ways
I'm not a huge fan of those "Go hard or go home" motivational quotes that guilt-trip you into exercising. If I'm knackered or not in the mood, I'll happily go home, thank you very much. But I've also never regretted a workout. Tapping into how good I'll feel in an hour's time is often what gets me out the door. Ray suggests these motivation tactics: "Visualise your final goal, imagine your mates cheering you on, listen to some high-energy music. Plus, entering events can keep up motivation for a few months. Ultimately, always do a little if you can - it all adds up."
11. Don't just run
If you want to build strength and improve speed, switch up your workout. "Runners often underestimate the need for other type of exercises," says Ray. "Add some strength and conditioning exercises with weights or some form of resistance, such as weighted squats, lunges, deadlifts. And focus on torso/core stabilisation - this helps build your 'armour'. Aim for whole body exercises rather than static-hold positions, such as planks." Try mountain climbers: get in the plank position, then bring alternate knees toward your midsection for 30 seconds.