“You will get bad knees”
“You must be mad”
“At least you can eat loads of cake!”
“Why bother?”

These are just four things that I have heard more times than I can actually count when I discuss my passion for running. I’m sure other people who tell their friends and family that they are going for a run will have heard the same thing, as well as some of the other classics (“Isn’t it boring?”, “How fast are you” etc).

First, a bit of background. Back in 2010 I was working at HMV in Oxford, and my colleague Chris came into work on the Monday and told me he had run a 7km event around the grounds of Blenheim Palace. My first comment was probably “You must be mad”. I was as guilty as many people when someone dares mention running! After hearing more about the event I told him that I would do it the following year. Early in 2011 the Blenheim 7k for that year was announced, and true to my word I signed up to take part along with Chris and his fiancé Verity. Complete with a new set of trainers I started to train around the streets of East Oxford, and something odd happened; I started to enjoy it. The day of the event was soon here, and I lined up with many others on a warm May morning and ran the race without stopping. Achieving this was something that I didn’t know I could do. Since my first event I have since gone on to run the Blenheim 7k five times, and I am looking forward to being back there this year. On top of this, I joined Headington Road Runners in 2013 and have completed four marathons, with five planned for 2018 including my first international marathon in Berlin.

You may be reading this as a non-runner and the thought of going for a run takes you back to your secondary school PE lessons where you are sent out to run laps and laps of the largest field whilst a teacher bellows at you from the distance to keep going (Mr Roberts, I’m looking at you here). I won’t blame you if you are thinking of these awful cross country lessons. I don’t know a runner who isn’t still haunted by the dreaded cross country sessions from their schooldays. Back when I was at school running was often taught incorrectly, and having spoken to some younger people this still appears to be the case. Children are told to just run, without much education into the techniques and the benefits of the sport. Admittedly, we are not all built to be the next Mo Farah or Jo Pavey, but learning how to run to help prevent injuries, and to help ensure the highest benefits are gained is very important.

So why do we bother running? The most obvious answer would be “because it’s healthy”. But what does that actually mean? The reality is that it means that benefits to all health, both physical and mental, can be massive. Most people focus on using running to lose weight, and it is a fantastic way to burn calories, but it can also help with cardiovascular health, creating a stronger body core and help build and tone muscle. Mentally, running helps release endorphins and boost your mood, an effect often named as the “runners high”. This can then be linked to gaining a clearer state of mind and help relieve stress. One of my favourite quotes is from a lady named Nicky Lopez, who said that “running is a celebration of the good times, and the therapy for the bad”, and this is very true.

If you are reading this and feel that you might not be a runner, I would like you to challenge yourself and give it a go. I am not going to hide from the fact that your first few runs might feel hard. The hardest run is the first. Getting on your trainers and heading out your door can take a lot of courage, and I have first hand experience of the feelings that you will feel. Once home though, you can class yourself as a runner. It’s not about how far you go, it’s not about how fast you go. You are not in competition with anyone at all. It will not matter if you walk a lot to begin with either. With each run you will get stronger, even if at times it doesn’t feel like it. Even the top athletes in the world sometimes don’t think that they have met their potential during a run, and many have been heard in interviews post-race saying that ”it didn’t go to plan” or “something didn’t feel right about the run” and having a bad run is entirely natural regardless of how long you have been running for.

The Blenheim 7k is a fantastic event, and one that I would highly recommend using as a target race to keep you motivated. The event is extremely well organised, located in stunning surroundings, with hundreds of people just like you running the course with you. No one will judge you on your time, and each entrant is celebrated at the finish line. You don’t have to do it alone either. Get a team together and work to reach your goals. One of the greatest benefits that I have gained from being a member of Headington Road Runners is the spirit of togetherness. Our club motto is “Running Together”, and having a team spirit creates a fantastic atmosphere to motivate you. Having people who are part of your team on the side-lines cheering you on really does help ensure that you reach your potential, and I spent a fantastic morning watching the Big Half in London cheering on my friends during the tough half marathon.

I promise that inside you is some unlocked potential, and one of the joys will be discovering just what you are capable of. You are not expected to be lining up for Team GB at the Beijing 2020 Olympics, but reaching a goal, however small and however you want to measure it, is deserving of a gold medal.

I look forward to seeing you, running with you, and supporting you at Blenheim this year.

How can I get into running?

I would recommend looking at a tailored programme for beginners. The NHS Couch to 5k programme is a tailored programme for beginners: https://www.nhs.uk/LiveWell/c25k/Pages/couch-to-5k.aspx

parkrun: These are weekly, FREE 5km events that take place each Saturday at 9am. You can run, jog or walk and bring your children or dog to join in. Here you will be part of a community who will encourage each step. Events take place across the UK, and in Oxfordshire you can run at Oxford, Harcourt Hill, Abingdon, Didcot, Bicester and Witney. http://www.parkrun.org.uk/

Local running clubs: Many running clubs host beginners groups where you can progress as a group over a well structured weekly programme. Sessions are led by qualified coaches, with club members joining in to run and support you each week. An example from Headington Road Runners can be found at http://www.hrr.org.uk/events/index.php?act=view&item=3881