One of the reasons I love running is because it's not gender-specific. Nor is it the preserve of a certain social class. Being affiliated to an athletics club reveals nothing about religious persuasion or political leanings. Runners have many reasons for running and each our own preferences for terrain and distance. You might be able to split us roughly into sprinters versus endurance runners, but one thing we'll share is the willingness to rise to a challenge. We've a can-do approach. Some may say they were born with it; some will say they've gained it via their progress from couch to 5K, to 10K, to ultra-marathon or fell running. We might still carry around insecurities but we're not about to let them define or limit us. Appearing in public in short shorts and light vests doesn't mean we feel confident in the aesthetic of our bodies. We're probably relying upon running fast enough for people not to notice thread veins on legs or wobbly arms. However, with each step runners build self-respect for what our bodies can achieve. I am not beautiful, but what my body can do is beautiful and utterly amazing.
At the moment there's at least two TV ad campaigns trying to get us moving more and eating better: Change4Life & This Girl Can. The latter is a marvellous celebration of real women - striving, sweating, jiggling and giggling. Truth told Couch-to-5K programmes are full of women nowadays. Helping with one last night, I estimated a 4:1 ratio of women to men and when I asked a couple of the men what prompted them to sign up they said "My wife". Any single men need not remain so for long! For several couples both were beginners; for others an established runner had persuaded their partner to come along and was acting as a mentor. After a cold, wet run they were all beaming as they headed home - challenge met, experience shared, hopes being realised for longer, healthier lives together. Of course the sharing of achievement was wider and included new friends, old friends seen in a new light and parents with teenagers. Even better, recent research allows us to be very hopeful that everyone heading home with a runner (whether newly emerging or established) will be motivated to healthier lives themselves. We most certainly can.