7 Jan

First Time First Run

Runners legs

It's that time of year when the ranks of runners swell. A US study estimated that 33% of people resolve to lose weight in the New Year, 15% by doing some form of physical exercise. As the most accessible of activities, running is the activity many turn to.

For some, it will be a brief flirtation with the sport as they soon return to a more sedentary existence. For others, the decision will be life-changing. They discover something they like, something they eventually love and finally something they cannot live without.

When running is already an integral part of your life, it's easy to forget just how big this step can be for other people. Running is now a major part of my day-to-day, it's impossible to imagine life without it. So, I really have to cast my mind back to when I started running to help me empathise with them.

I was 29 and worrying about turning the big 3-0. It all seems a little laughable now. I was not overweight and not unfit - I played 5-a-side once a week. But, physically, I was somewhat on the slide. My boozy student years, gap year and first few years on the career ladder enjoying office social life had begun to take their toll. I had gained a little pudge round my tummy. When I read it back, I sound like a total cliche.

Where I was luckier than most is that I worked in sport. I was surrounded by sporty people and good advice. Eventually this rubs off on you. A 5k was organised by the company and myself and a colleague - a bloke of a similar age, probably feeling the same as me - decided to give it a go. It was our catalyst for change.

It seems strange now, having completed six marathons, but those early lunchtime runs were a real struggle. We'd jog around the industrial estate where the office was situated, running a lap of the man-made stream. We probably only covered a mile and a half. But it felt further. We didn't have a clue about warming up, about recovery or about the right footwear. I think I even wore adidas sambas for those first runs.

But eventually, we started to really enjoy ourselves. The post-run buzz, the fresh air - even, the friendly competition we had struck up. We began to run further and further. We ran that 5k hard, both clocking a very respectable 20 minutes. And then we were looking for the next goal. Within a year we were on the startline at London Marathon.

It is easy to forget just how important those first steps can be. For some people, it will be much tougher than my fortunate circumstances. Some will feel uncertain, insecure, perhaps even a little paranoid?

But we all have to start somewhere. If you do know someone just starting out, make sure you help with an encouraging word. Or if you see a stranger who is clearly in the early stages of life as a runner, give them an approving nod. It could go a long way - just like they might. Just like you.