I started off last year with the NHS 'Couch to 5k' programme, a series of podcasts that take you gently from a 'walk 5 minutes, run 2 minutes' start through to running continuously for half and hour. If you can't imagine yourself being able to run 5 km without a break I really suggest giving this a go - you can also have fun trying to work out which artists are being pastiched in the music specially recorded for the podcasts.
There's a solitary dimension to running, 'The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner' and so on, going off into your own private world or perhaps into a kind of nothingness: 'really as I run, I don't think much of anything worth mentioning. I just run. I run in a void. Or maybe I should put it another way: I run in order to acquire a void' (Haruki Murakami, What I talk about when I talk about running).
But running is also a social activity- after all almost two million people are estimated to run regularly in England alone. Whether you are interested in competition or not, running with other people is not only enjoyable but also raises your own game. And the easiest way into running like this is through the parkrun phenomenon - weekly timed runs in parks all over the country. Locally there are regular park runs in Hilly Fields, Crystal Palace Park, Dulwich Park, Greenwich Park, Burgess Park and Brockwell Park, among others.
You don't have to join an athletic club, you just go on to the Parkrun website and register once. You can then take part in parkruns anywhere.
You don't have to book in advance - just turn up and run.
You don't have to be superfit - the runs are for people of all levels of ability. There are club runners who tear off in front and others who run steadily at their own slow pace.
You don't have to pay any fees, either to register or take part in a run.
You do get a properly organised run, with a marked out course, volunteer helpers and timing of your run. How it works is that when you register with Parkrun you are allocated a barcode which you print out. As you cross the line at the end of the run you are given another barcode token which is linked to your finishing time. You then get this token and your personal barcode scanned on the spot, which generates a list of runners and times published on the website very soon afterwards.
I took part in the Hilly Fields run for the first time at the weekend and will definitely be going back. The course is three times round the park, the uphill bits are tough of course but they are balanced by the downhill sections! They meet every Saturday at 9 am near to the children's playground, with around 100 people taking part. Many people have a coffee afterwards at the Pistachios cafe in the park.
Get fit for free with coffee and trees - what's not to like?