FORMER couch potatoes celebrated their fitness goals with a 5k run around Witton Park in Blackburn.

The town’s MP Jack Straw started Saturday’s race for the 350 graduates of the Couch to 5k running programme and congratulated them on their sporting achievements.

It was the third time the NHS-backed Couch to 5k sessions had been run by volunteer Rick Wilson, who was inspired to set up the group after training for a 10k race having previously been ‘totally unfit’.

The group won the healthy category of the Pat on the Back awards, run by Blackburn with Darwen Strategic Partnership earlier this year.

They have also been visited by Run England and British Athletics as the sessions are the best attended in the country.

Mother-of-four Gillian Fryer, from the Mill Hill area of Blackburn, said she had made some great friends while working out.

The 33-year-old said: “It has been great. I have made 20 new friends. It has been as much about the friendship as the running. I would not have done it on my own because there is no motivation.

“We now have miles more energy, we are happier, fitter and are eating healthier. We feel much better too. It is the best thing I have ever done.”

Deborah Butterworth, from Read, who ran with her 14-year-old daughter Helen, added: “I think it is a really good idea. I had not done a lot of exercise for a while but this has got me right back into it.”

Mr Straw told the runners: “Everybody who takes part in exercise finds the quality of their life is improves and the quality of that of their partners and loved ones. Congratulations to everyone involved.”

n The fourth and final Couch to 5k session of 2014 will start on Saturday, June 21, at 9am. Already, 500 people have signed up to take part. Two further programmes are planned for next year.

To find out more, visit www.5kgrouprun. or GroupRun