At last, you can be bad at sport and still love it

If I'd been offered rugby at school, instead of boring, boring netball, I might have got into playing in the mud with friends

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The Independent Online

In a significant victory for the advertising industry – and a sign that I may be even more suggestible than I thought – I saw Sport England’s TV campaign to get women into sport last week, and then on Saturday I ran 500 miles. Well, not quite, although getting up at 7am and stepping into freezing rain certainly felt like it. Having seen the “this girl can” advert, though, I heaved myself around a muddy “park run” as Sport England’s dream person: a grown-up woman who enjoys exercise. Yesterday, reader, I clocked up my 500th mile since I started regularly running, and it made me feel so happy.

Some substantial research went into the Sport England campaign, and its findings chime exactly with my experience. Children enjoy sport, especially if they have decent facilities; my three-year-old niece and nephew certainly understand me when I say that I’m putting on my trainers because it’s fun to go outside and run around.

Teenage girls mostly hate sport, because PE kit is “uncomfortable and embarrassing” and changing rooms are the most humiliating places on earth. As someone who was always picked last for netball, I can confirm that school PE is the most efficient method ever invented for making geeky girls hate sport for years. Older women, meanwhile, are put off by their fear of appearing “incompetent” and “unfit”. Guess what? That super gorgeous girl in the gym is not judging you; she’s too busy looking at herself. Being slow and unfit has benefits, too, including being able to run to the beat of Kylie Minogue’s Your Disco Needs You without falling off the back of the running machine. And if I occasionally throw in the odd dance step, well that’s my business.

Personally, I fell back in love with running when I read Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley, who is right when she says that putting on your trainers and going out of the front door is always the hardest part. I parted company with it when Heminsley started running marathons, and I lose interest in the Sport England advert when it comes to the team sports, but the basic idea that running around is fun can still apply to everyone. And maybe, if I’d been offered rugby at school, instead of boring, boring netball, I might have got into playing in the mud with friends.

What I love most about the TV ads is the lesson that you’re allowed to be rubbish at sport and still enjoy it: a dangerously iconoclastic message from an organisation that’s in charge of sport. It makes me happy to confess that it’s taken me two years to clock up those 500 miles, that I still walk up the steep bits and stop completely to watch deer in the park, and I don’t care. Thank you, Sport England, for giving geeky girls the permission to do sport – and also to run away from sporty types and play our own game instead.