Running is a great way to get fit - it's fun, cheap and surprisingly sociable. But if you haven't run since you were at school, it can be hard to know how to get started. How do you pace a thirty minute run? What kit do you need and how many times do you need to train a week to see improvement? Our panel of five beginners reveal how they took their first tentative steps - and how to pick up the pace.
If you're already quite active you could head out for a slowish run straight away, but don't worry if you don't feel confident enough to run continuously from the get-go. Many new runners get started by combining running and walking and this is a great way to gradually build up your fitness. RW's Get Started Schedule is a brilliant place to start.
Expect that first run to be a challenge. "I felt sick, I struggled to breathe properly and it was hard. However I felt great afterwards and the next time I went out it was much easier!" says icclesuez. She built up her running gradually and within 12 weeks could run continuously for 30 minutes.
If you're not confident about running outdoors, you could start running indoors. Before Desi R lost five stone she found running difficult. "Initially I couldn't run for more than three minutes and I felt awkward and uncomfortable," she says. She built up her endurance gradually on the treadmill and only when she felt comfortable running for twenty minutes in the gym did she dare to brave the great outdoors - and she hasn't looked back.
Discover what works for you. It could be slavishly following a schedule, running socially with a friend or hitting the treadmill. Take days off between running sessions to help your body recover and progress gradually. And most importantly, enjoy your new hobby!
After your first few running sessions you might begin to realise why runners hate cotton and why having the right trainers is essential to stay injury free. Basic running kit doesn't have to break the bank - all you need are a pair of properly assessed running shoes, a technical t-shirt and if you're a woman, a sports bra. Discover what to look out for with our guide to choosing running essentials. It can make all the difference, as icclesuez discovered: "When I first started I wore a fashionable pair of trainers which weren't designed for running. Quite soon I started suffering with shin splints. I realised the hard way that it's better to invest in the correct footwear."
Fitting running into your life can seem like a challenge - but it needn't be. If you are determined to reach your goal then there are many ways to add training into an already busy lifestyle. Schedule runs in advance so you're more likely to stick to the plan. Be prepared to be flexible about when you train - whether it's before work, in your lunch hour or after dinner, find the time that works best for you.
Keep a running diary to boost your motivation. "Log every run you did - distance, time and how you felt. It helps to monitor your improvements and actually see how much better you are getting," suggests Shona Wilkinson, personal trainer and nutritionist at The Nutri Centre (www.nutricentre.com).
Find a training partner who is at a similar level or take the plunge and join a local running club. This can be a great way to meet likeminded people and ensures you'll train at least once a week. Find out what to look for in a club, and remember to check if it has a beginner community or special new starter sessions.
And perhaps the biggest incentive of all - set yourself a goal. Phil Sanders set himself the challenge of running a marathon, Kirsten Lodge a half-marathon and icclesuez simply wanted to run for 30 minutes. Whatever your final goal, a 5K race is a fantastic first marker of achievement once you start running. Whether you aim to run a specific time or just to complete the race, the sense of satisfaction when you cross that finish line will be immense - and you might find you catch the running bug along the way!