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#ThisGirlCan convince you to get running


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"She’s so unfit", "she can’t run", "she looks terrible" - the imaginary laughter rings in my ears whenever I picture myself, sweaty and red-faced, slogging along the pavement. Running used to terrify me, not because it was painful or even difficult, but because I always worried about what people would think of me. And apparently I am not alone.

According to Sport England, considerably fewer women than men exercise or play sport regularly – two million fewer between the ages of 14-40 – even though 75% of women say they would like to be more active.

The fact is, most women are like me - they feel they aren’t skilled enough, or are top embarrased to put themselves out there and look a bit gross.  

The launch of the This Girl Can campaign by Sport England seeks to undermine any social stigma once and for all and get women playing sport. It’s a celebration and encouragement of women who do sport at any level.  

With this in mind, I spoke to Catriona Graves, Mhari Maclennan and Steph Pennycook who, along with Louise Mercer form the mighty Edinburgh University Hare and Hounds Running Club Ladies A team.

Full time students at Edinburgh University, they have been running and competing since they were in primary school. Running is second nature to them, as Cat says, "I’ve just always done it."

Mhairi remembers what provoked her into taking up running as well as hill walking: "This girl said that I wasn’t sporty… "you’re not sporty, you don’t do cross country", and I was just like; fine then!"

Photo credit: Scottish Athletics 

They all balance full time degrees with full time training, Cat and Steph studying medicine and Mhairi in her final year of a Spanish and English Literature degree. Training and studying is, as Steph says, "like having a job as well as doing university".

She admits that "It’s quite long hours in the hospitals, because I’m in clinical medicine now, so you do have to get up early. But… there are always people to come with you on the morning run. I always meet people so it gets me out my bed, that’s the trick!"

For Mhairi it's more about fitting her studying around her training. She explains; "excercise enhances productivity, it always baffles me when you hear people saying I used to do sport but I stopped when I got to university because I don’t have time – I don’t have time not to run or not excercise because it makes me more productive in the time that I’ve got."

I ask them if they ever feel judged as a woman doing sport and they all agree that, as Steph puts it, "in amongst the student body it’s not such a big problem because a lot of girls are active… I think at school it was possibly a bit worse."

Mhairi remembers feeling quite conscious of the fact that she was a sporty girl: "As runners we don’t have boobs, they just don’t really grow, I always used to get called flat-chested and a lesbian and stuff because I did running’.

Of course, different girls have different experiences, Cat says: "My school was quite sporty anyway … it wasn’t such a weird thing for me to do running." But she does observe that "in running clubs there is a massive drop out when you get into your teens."

"There is a multitude of reasons", says Mhairi; "from changing body shapes, which actually causes injury because your body is not used to that new shape… it could also be boys, it could be that alcohol is introduced at that sort of age, you’re more self-aware and you don’t want to be sweating and looking gross."

Another aspect, which the This Girl Can campaign seeks to change, is that girls have precious few sporting role models to look up to.

"I think any publicity for women in sport is a good thing," says Steph. "The majority of sports media coverage is male… women don’t see other women play sport, so they are not encouraged to do it."

In the world of running however encouragement is only a few strides ahead. "The stars often come back to the grassroots and you get to interact with them; it’s quite nice to actually see your role models beside you on the start line," says Steph. "It is quite inspiring."

They all agree that active women are on the increase, even though running clubs and gym membership can be intimidating. "I think there is an increased participation in sport in general," says Mhairi, thinking of friends who used to find the idea of the gym terrifying but now attends regularly.

And of course, "the more women who are visibly taking part the more women are actually encouraged to do so," Steph points out.

"Anyone can go [running]’ she continues, "it doesn’t matter who you are or what size you are or what gender you are… I’d always, always encourage people to run and it might not be for everyone but if you can catch the bug, it is really good for you."

For more on the This Girl Can campaign, visit their website here or look for #ThisGirlCan on Twitter.

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