27/01/2017 09:13 GMT | Updated 28/01/2018 05:12 GMT

Running Without Fear: Breaking Down The Barriers To Participation

The first run I went on back in 2008, I half-walked, half-jogged for 1.1km and it took me 14 minutes. I was by no means a fast or confident runner back then, but I loved the sense of achievement I felt after a run. Even though it was hard, I knew I was doing something good for me, both physically and mentally.

I've been running for almost nine years now and have since qualified as a Running Coach, a personal trainer and Run Leader to help other women discover a love of running. In the past three years I've led hundreds of women through my two local RunTogether groups in North London (Finsbury Park and Hampstead Heath) know as 'Lazy Girl Running' (see groups.runtogether.co.uk/LazyGirlRunning). We go for weekly runs with a focus on having fun and feeling great.

Most of the time, we aren't bothered by harassment, but occasionally you'll get someone who thinks it's acceptable to make a derogatory comment or yell out something to our runners. However, there's solidarity in a group, so it's much easier to ignore any comments that might come our way.

It angers me that runners, both women and men, are subject to these types of comments when they're out trying to do something to improve their health and happiness. England Athletics revealed the results of a study that found that almost two-thirds of women feel anxious when running on their own. I know how hard it can be to start running, and encountering harassment in those early weeks is only going to make it harder.

When I'm running in my groups, if I see someone up ahead that looks like they might say something to one of my runners, I run ahead and tend to acknowledge them with a 'hello' or a nod. I've found that much of the time, this deters any potential remarks that might be made.

If anything is said to anyone in our group, we'll chat about it after our run, and that's one of the great things about running in a group - the sense of camaraderie you have with your fellow runners. Running is the second most popular sport in England and those who start running with others are more likely to stick to it. It's something that I see in my groups all the time - people may start my beginners groups as strangers in week one, but by week 10 they're regularly meeting up with each other outside of the weekly sessions to run together and encourage each other to complete longer races.

I don't want to discourage women from running on their own, and I hope whatever heckles they've encountered won't either. But if running alone makes you feel vulnerable and a group isn't for you, there are a few things you could try to make yourself feel safer - plan your route, take your phone with you or let someone know where you're going and wear high vis if you're going out for a run in the dark.

For those who are just getting started jogging or running, or looking to get back into it, I'd recommend starting slowly, set yourself some short-term achievable targets and just get out there. Whether it's to meet new friends, enter your first race or to just get fit, there are RunTogether groups like mine running all over the country where you can expect a warm welcome. To find a group near you, go to www.runtogether.co.uk and to read more about my running advice and tips, visit www.lazygirlrunning.com.