Running is fun. It really is, I promise you!
People who don't run sometimes say the pained looks on the faces of runners they pass in the street or park convinces them that running is a decidedly unpleasant activity. This is nonsense! Many things we enjoy give us pained expressions – biting into a cold ice cream, a steep descent on a roller-coaster, watching a thriller.
Yet I too was one of those running-phobics, for four decades. I suffered from asthma and bronchial pneumonia as a child, and running round the school playground always ended abruptly in painful gasps. As a student I once joined some friends for an early-morning jog. I lasted five minutes before I gave up, exhausted.
I did learn to love exercise – I trampolined my heart out, cycled to work and back every day (12 miles!), and I enjoyed – yes, enjoyed – lunchtime aerobics classes. But running just seemed like a horrible chore.
The first time I allowed myself to run as an adult was when I joined a gym, at the ripe old age of 35. The instructor suggested I start each gym session with a few minutes jogging on the treadmill, to warm up. I did about 30 seconds, and to my surprise I found the feeling of being on a treadmill quite fun.
After a couple of years of regular gym attendance I was doing up to 10 minutes of warm-up running on the treadmill. But the idea of actually going for a run didn't even enter my head.
Until, that is, almost 10 years later, when my sister suggested training for the Women's 10K, a very popular race held each May in Glasgow. I agreed - not because I wanted to take up running but because my sister has such a busy career and family life that we hardly ever see each other, and I thought it would be a great way to do something together.
We started to follow the beginner's training programme on the event website, which helps you build up gradually over a few months. The first run was just 10 minutes, and I enjoyed it and the feeling of achievement after I had completed it. I went out and bought myself some decent running shoes and jogging strides.
The feeling of achievement continued to grow as I progressed through the training programme. I would sometimes run with my sister, though I usually went out alone and we would compare notes later. To my surprise I found I usually beat her times - very different from when we were children and she could easily outrun me in the playground.
When we first started training I used to take my inhaler with me, as I sometimes felt out of breath shortly after starting a run. On the internet I learned that exercising in cold weather could trigger shortness of breath in asthma sufferers. This slight breathlessness continued to be an issue in the few months leading up to the 10K, but I have never experienced it since then. If I ever find myself using asthma as an excuse for a poor running performance I have to remind myself that some of the greatest marathon runners, like Paula Radcliffe, are asthma sufferers.
On the day of the run, my sister and I agreed that we would run together for at least the first three kilometres. After that I could run off on my own if I felt like it.
The atmosphere was full of excitement, with radio presenters making motivational comments, mass warm-up exercises and a wonderful feeling of camaraderie with the other runners. As soon as the gun went for our section, I found myself struck with an overwhelmingly competitive urge. I managed to run alongside my sister for about a kilometre before she insisted that I ran on ahead, seeing my eagerness to compete.
I finished in just under an hour, and I enjoyed every minute. A photograph taken of me shortly before the end of the race shows my face full of enjoyment – yet I didn't even realise the picture was being taken.
My running times haven't improved much over the years, but I still get immense enjoyment from running. Certainly there are off days when you don't feel like it, or your body refuses to perform, but at the end of a run you nearly always feel better than when you started.
If you hate the experience of going for a run the first few times you do it, don't give up. It might be that you're carrying excess weight. If that is the case, running will feel uncomfortable, but the experience will improve as you lose the weight. And running will help you lose it. Think about it - carrying an extra stone is the same as carrying seven two-pound bags of sugar round your waist. Imagine how light and springy you'll feel once you put that load down!
Begin gently. Listen to a motivational podcast as you run. Don't try to do more than you feel comfortable with in the early stages - intersperse running with walking at first. This will help you build up the muscles required to help you run. As these muscles get stronger, running will start to feel easier and more enjoyable. You'll feel as if your body is carrying you, not the other way round.
Don't give up without giving running a good chance. It can get under your skin. You'll soon start to realise that a pained expression doesn't always mean you're suffering.