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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - You may think running is just for elite athletes and amateurs brave or mad enough to take on Sunday's London marathon, but one English group would like to introduce you to the transformative joy of hitting the trail.
Run in England has already persuaded more than 1,500 people to lace up the trainers in the last year alone and aims to get a total of 50,000 people turned on to running in four years.
"Our strapline is: any size, any age, any ability," Run in England Area Coordinator for the south and east Brian Corbett told Reuters. "It's definitely not about elite runners ... it's just about people getting off the sofa, getting fit and getting healthy."
The organization grew out of the Women's Running Network and has been given some support from Sport England through England Athletics to help it in its mission to reverse one of the modern world's less attractive byproducts: the sedentary lifestyle.
Corbett said Run in England has been working with local authorities and other partners to spread the word about running at events, on its website (www.runinengland.co.uk/), in local papers and on Facebook to people who might consider the sport too strenuous or high impact, haven't any information on how to begin and may lack the willpower to do it on their own.
There is no specific target range, though he said that teenagers around 15-16 worryingly dropped out of sports and fitness because they became too self-conscious. Run in England was also keen to attract older people in their 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond who may have gone years without any exercise.
Run in England organizes courses for leaders and then provides support and advice to them on starting and maintaining running groups among their friends, workmates or neighbors.
So far Run in England has had its greatest success with women, though the age demographic varies widely.
The key to getting going, according to Corbett, is to set easily attainable goals, make warm-ups and cool downs part of the program and avoid the kind of shock training you might see shortly after New Year's day.
"With a new running group, the first thing is you start off very gently," Corbett said. "Whereas your typical male runner getting back into it in his 40s will probably go for a six-mile run and never do it again because he is in agony."
Run in England has been working with local authorities to implement its 3-2-1 project to have permanently marked routes where challenges and events can be held or where groups can measure their progress.
Corbett, who is a runner and rower, said he's watched the positive power of running at work among members from beginners delighted to discover they are absolutely burning off the sofa surfer flab to ex-smokers who have become serious marathoners.
Harrogate beginners group leader Abbie Scott started running in 2004 after she gave up smoking.
"I showed no promise in any sports at school. But in spite of this have now completed two half marathons in my 40th year," Scott
Corbett said one group leader was originally persuaded into running by a friend, who subsequently died of a terminal illness. Running got her through the grief of losing her friend and that's when she also became a leader.
"She wanted to help other people the way her friend had helped her."
Editing by Patricia Reaney