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Just minutes after finishing a charity “fun run” (surely a contradiction in terms) Stirrer columnist Ros Dodd dreams up a novel method of helping deserving causes raise cash, and heffalumps lose pounds…

Today, two days after my 44th birthday, I achieved a personal first - I took part in a 5km race around Birmingham city centre. In fact, I did more than take part; I managed to run the entire course without stopping, walking or collapsing and clocked a respectable time of 34 minutes 54 seconds. What's more, my efforts raised in excess of £600 for the John Taylor Hospice in Erdington.

Until I started training, some eight weeks ago, the furthest I'd ever run was about a mile, and that was 20 years ago when I was at university. My adult life has been - how shall we say - somewhat dissolute. I don't do gyms, I hardly ever go swimming and I've always loathed any type of competitive sport. I've done a bit of cycling, but nothing too taxing and not on a regular basis. Oh, and I can (and often do) drink for England.

So, while running 5km (that's 3.2 miles to us oldies) might not seem much of a feat to anyone of a seriously sporty persuasion, for me it was a significant achievement. I had to harness all the self-discipline I could muster to follow my training programme each week and today, 1km from the end when I really thought I wouldn't make it, I had to dig deep to find the extra puff to carry me over the finish line.

What is interesting is that there are more and more people like me who are taking the plunge and entering themselves into the growing number of charity races up and down the country - from one-mile ‘fun runs' to full-blown marathons.

Today's event - the Hydroactive Women's Challenge 2006 - attracted more than 2,000 women of all ages, shapes and fitness levels. Many of them walked, either the whole way or part of the way. Some were in wheelchairs and others were obviously chronically ill. But there they all were - sweating and panting in the warm September sunshine - determined to complete the course and raise money for their chosen charities.

Also noteworthy was the fact that everyone seemed to be having fun and enjoying the occasion. There was a collective sense of camaraderie, particularly towards the end when many women were beginning to flag.

It strikes me as ironic that at a time when running events are gaining in popularity, the country is mired in an obesity ‘crisis', with recent Department of Health figures suggesting that a third of British adults and fifth of children will be grossly overweight by 2010.

Government efforts to tackle the problem include banning junk food adverts on television before the 9pm ‘watershed', improving the quality of school meals and reducing the salt content in processed foods. There is also loose talk of ‘exercise', but for couch potato kids and adults, this doesn't mean a great deal.

How much more constructive it would be if the Government offered to sponsor anyone, say £50, to sign up for one of these running events (and lay on a few for children while they're at it) and made freely available detailed training programmes for the different distances.

The benefits would be manifold: charities' coffers would swell, many more people would discover the immense satisfaction of taking regular exercise, obesity would diminish and the burden on the NHS might ease.

It's just a thought - but I reckon it's at least as good as the patently failing initiatives that have been tried so far.

Right, that's enough from me. It's time I dug out that application form for the 10km run in Cannon Hill Park in October. See you there?

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