IT'S the dawn of a new year. The perfect time for fresh challenges and goals.

You might be planning lifestyle changes, perhaps a new home or job or even setting your sights on a special holiday.

Or, like me, you might be preparing (with a heady mix of excitement and apprehension) for a major physical test... in my case a first-ever Virgin Money London Marathon.

The calender already seems to be hurtling towards my big date in the capital and, in the coming weeks, I'll be sharing my thoughts (and trepidation) in this column.

My training is already underway and I have a couple of key events in the diary - a gruelling nine-mile cross country championship later this month (more next time) and the Harwich Half Marathon, on April 5.

For my first column, though, I'd like to look backwards, rather than forwards, with an affectionate nod towards the catalyst that got me (and my family) into running... parkrun.

You may well be aware of this global phenomenon - a free, weekly, timed 5km run that takes places across the world every Saturday at 9am (with a junior spin-off on Sundays).

These runs (not races) take place at nearly 1,500 locations in 22 countries.

There are nearly 700 events in the UK, including several - Colchester Castle, Highwoods, Mersea Island, Clacton, Harwich, Maldon and Great Notley - right here in north and mid-Essex.

For us, parkrun has become a staple part and absolute highlight of our weekend.

It's where our love of running was born and myself and son Sam, 13, clocked up our 100th parkrun on New Year's Day.

My first was on April 1, 2017 and I've since brought up three figures thanks to 71 runs at Clacton, 18 at Harwich, two apiece at Colchester Castle and Burnham-on-Crouch and single outings to Abingdon, Highwoods, Kesgrave, Wanstead Flats, Hampstead Heath, Haverhill and Bushy Park (the home of parkrun).

If you're looking to try something new this year, get some exercise and perhaps shed some pounds then I'd heartily recommend getting along to your nearest event on Saturday.

parkrun can be as competitive as you want it be.

Club runners will set the pace and jostle for the top positions but, for most of us, it's entirely individual, a chance to measure your progress and strive for the holy grail of a personal best.

If you're not a runner, or have never run before, don't for a second be put off or intimidated because parkrun is about so much more than just running.

It's about joining a wonderfully supportive, inclusive community.

Everyone, to a man, woman, child and volunteer, is encouraging and I've never once come away from an event feeling anything other than inspired and positive.

Give it a try.

You may find it hard to start with.

Your heart will race and your legs may ache but I guarantee you won't regret it.

Looking ahead, I'd love this column to be interactive.

Are you, like me, taking part in your first marathon?

Perhaps you're hitting a marathon milestone.

Either way, if you have a special story to tell, drop me a line via