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I Grew Up Thinking Sport Wasn’t For Girls. Now I’m Running A Marathon

Are we depriving young girls of the love of exercise through a lack of role models?

I can remember exercising when I was really little.

Before the age of 11, I’d gone to dance classes, gymnastics and trampolining, then onto swimming galas and even a brief (unsuccessful) stint in a football club.

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When I was a kid I can’t remember exercise ever being a sore spot. I also can’t ever remember being the slightest bit competitive – with other people or with myself. I was indifferent.

When the embarrassment of teenage-hood came around however, exercise turned from something I gave no thought into my worst enemy.

Boys watched football and rugby and idolised their favourite athlete, while every girl I saw on television had a perfect body, yet showed no real commitment to fitness or sport.

Without any sporty role models, as a teenager I started to exclusively connect exercise with losing weight.

I thought exercise was something middle-aged women did in a room together wearing leotards, because they’d had babies and now their bums didn’t look like they used to.

As a teenager, I thought exercise was something middle-aged women did because their bums didn’t look like they used to

With a naturally sporty brother, I placed myself as the academic one. He was the boy and therefore the sporty one, I was good at music, writing and history. Sport just wasn’t for me.

The problem is not exercising causes you to feel disconnected from your body. Feeling disconnected from your body causes you to not exercise. It quickly becomes a vicious circle.

I became totally at odds with myself, what I looked like and how I treated my body. At the time, I had no idea why.

Then when I was 16 a book changed my mind, because it featured a beautiful, funny, artistic and sporty female character.

This character look like a ‘very fit Marilyn Monroe’, could play football better than any boy and loved running in this magical, intense way.

It was my first experience of this kind of fitness from a woman’s perspective and it blew my mind.

If I hadn’t picked up that book, I probably wouldn’t have ever tried exercise at all

Suddenly exercise seemed like a very different animal. It didn’t seem like a claustrophobic quest for self improvement or a boy’s game, but instead a free-spirited release from everyday life.

I ran short distances around the block near my parents house, then longer distances through the fields a little further out.

Year after year, my miles grew longer and my love of exercise grew further and further away from my initial distrust.

Now training for my first marathon. I’m still very aware that if I hadn’t picked up that particular book, I probably wouldn’t have ever tried exercise at all.

Over the last few years, female athleticism has exploded in the mainstream media.

From the Olympics in 2012 to the This Girl Can campaign launched last year, girls growing up now have a much wider view of a woman can be.

Celebrities like Ellie Goulding and Lea Michele who talk about being sporty girl as a point of pride and magazines are picking up on this.

That is going to make a huge difference to a teenager needing someone to look up to.

Running is one of my favourite things to do and I missed out on it for 17 years.

As women, we need to be loud about how awesome exercise is and how it can have nothing to do with what our bodies look like, so all girls growing up know that sport belongs to them too.

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