My boyfriend and brother have, between them, run seven marathons - that's a staggering 183.4 miles. So they might well judge me for signing up to the outwardly less ambitious challenge of running just one, the Westminster Mile.
However, not long ago for me a mile might as well have been a marathon. While every time I watched one of their races I would feel overwhelmingly inspired to go home, dust off my trainers and hit the pavement. Always, a few days later, my trainers would still be exactly where I left them, my lack of self-belief in even being able to run a single mile stopping me before I even tied my laces.
It wasn't just the total lack of confidence I had in my ability, I was also plagued with concerns about how I looked when I ran. Gym kit can feel particularly exposing and I found it very easy to worry that people would see me running and think "look at that larger lady running".
I have a few people to thank for the fact that I've finally got my jog on in the last year. My first attempt was to try the "couch to 5k" plan and gradually build up my confidence with a local running group of similar ability and goals. However, an injury meant that I couldn't complete the final 5k race which rocked my confidence again. It took an introduction to accessible exercise programmes such as the Body Coach to get my fitness back injury free. And so slowly (in every sense of the word), I finally started running again.
My boyfriend was the first to sign himself up for the Westminster Mile a few months ago and I happily said I would go along and support. It was only when This Girl Can, the new campaign from Sport England to encourage women to get active, posted about their women only wave that I had my eureka moment and thought 'wait - even I can run a mile!'
I came across This Girl Can, probably like everyone else, when my Facebook newsfeed was taken over with friends liking and sharing the advert at the beginning of the year. As soon as I watched it I was amazed - there on the screen were women of all shapes and sizes, not just models or athletes, jiggling about and getting sweaty. It wasn't just revealing to the world what most women really look like when exercising, it was celebrating it.
It was staggering to hear that the campaign was based on research that two million fewer women were doing regular exercise compared to men - but it felt very close to home when I found out that most of them are held back by judgement barriers including concerns over ability, appearance and guilt on spending time on yourself (especially for mums). I think it's easy for women to recognise at least one of those concerns, I know I have had to overcome two.
I hope the This Girl Can wave of the Westminster Mile, just like the advert, will be a celebration of women overcoming their fears and ultimately, having a good time getting active. Everyone will have been on their own journey to get to that start line, and as far as I'm concerned, we're all winners before we even finish.
So while I'm no pro (yet), here are some top tips that helped me get my trainers on and pushed me out the door...
- Find some inspiration - whether it's a person, an event, an idea and surround yourself with that positivity so you can't hear the voice (usually out of breath) telling you to stop
- No one knows how far you've run - when you pass someone jogging in a park they could have been running for 10 seconds or 10 miles. There is no set distance and I love that you can do as little or as much as you want. Similarly, don't compare yourself to other people as we're all on our own journey, your progress is significant to you
- It's liberating - there aren't any complicated rules, competitive team mates or cumbersome bits of equipment. It's just you and your trainers, anytime and anywhere. Which also means that it's much harder to find excuses...
- Set a target to keep you focussed - a time, a distance, a new pair of jeans, a medal (my target!). It's easy to be put off when someone sprints past you, but the beauty of running is that you set the goals. You're really just competing against the part of you that doesn't think you can
- Finally, celebrate every run - if you've taken the time to put your trainers on and go for a run, no matter what the distance, celebrate it and be proud of what you're doing. You're putting your health and wellbeing first and that makes you a winner already, who cares if you're hardly Paula Radcliffe yet!