Moncton Quit Coaches Christian Jasper (left) and Cindy Johnson (right) pose with Running Room founder John Stanton (centre).

Physical activity is often recommended by health practitioners and is a powerful tool in a smokers’ arsenal to quit smoking. Exercise reduces cravings and helps manage withdrawal symptoms.

That is the basis upon which the “Run to Quit” program is built. An initiative of the Canadian Cancer Society and the Running Room, it aims to help smokers quit by learning to walk or run 5 km. Participants can join a 10-week Run to Quit training program in-store at their local Running Room or virtually. There is also a free “Do It Yourself” option, which provides smokers with information and resources via email to help them quit. Everyone who joins and quits by the target date can be eligible for cash prizes.

Run to Quit started in 2013 as a pilot program in Ottawa and is now offered throughout Canada. Thanks to its virtual components, all Canadians can participate, even if they do not have access to a Running Room store in their region. Prizes are drawn among participants every year as an extra incentive. Highly successful thus far, the program is being studied by researchers from the University of British Columbia for its potential as a chronic disease prevention program.

“We started mobilizing volunteers and offering the Run to Quit virtual and in-store training program in New Brunswick last year, in 2016, via the Running Room stores in Moncton and Fredericton,” says Michelle St-Pierre, Manager of Prevention and Support Services at the Canadian Cancer Society (New Brunswick), who oversees the program in the province. ”Our main challenge the first year was recruiting participants. We did a lot of advertising, but it’s hard for people to make that decision to do it. Once they do start the program, they love it, but it’s like any lifestyle change—actually signing up to go and do it is the hardest step.”

A Safe Space With Relatable Coaches

Participants who make that brave decision to sign up will not regret it. One of the keys of Run to Quit’s effectiveness is the incredible group support and coaching that participants receive. The program’s volunteer Quit Coaches, Susan Arbeau, 44, Fredericton and Christian Jasper, 42, Moncton, who helped run last year’s Run to Quit in-store training program in New Brunswick, can attest to that. They are both ex-smokers. They could thus relate to the challenges of quitting smoking while sharing their experience and love for running — making the whole experience a lot less intimidating.

“My co-coach Cindy Johnson and I agreed that even if we had only one join the in-store program, it was worth doing the clinic. To be able to help someone change their life for the better is so rewarding,” says Christian who helped oversee the Moncton Run to Quit in-store training program.

“Myself, I smoked on and off for about 20 years. I used to be very overweight as well. After my divorce, I felt I needed to make healthier lifestyle choices. I was quite lonely and looking to make new connections. I had heard that the Running Room was a great place to meet new people and make friends. So, I went to my first running clinic. I had never run before. I hated running, like most people, but that is because I did not know how to do it properly. Now that I am a runner, my life has improved tremendously. I have many new friends. It is a great addition to my daily routine. It keeps me active and fit. It makes me feel good, and I don’t crave cigarettes. It is such a strong addiction; I know it only takes one puff, so I don’t even contemplate it.”

Quit Coach Christian Jasper is a devoted runner. Running has improved his health and helped him to remain tobacco-free.

Susan Arbeau led the Fredericton Run to Quit in-store training program with her husband, Wesley Arbeau. Her discovery of the joys of running helped her overcome her nicotine addiction as well. Susan is a perfect fit as a Run to Quit Coach since she went through both the Run to Quit “Do It Yourself” online program and a Learn to Run clinic held by the Running Room simultaneously in 2016. She has been a non-smoker ever since.

“Smoking was a ’normal’ part of my life,” she says. “Both my parents were heavy smokers. Most of my brothers and sisters smoked. My husband was a smoker. But, in August 2015, my husband quit smoking. He also started walking, then running, on his own about a year later. I had always wanted to learn to run, but I didn’t think someone like me — someone who was overweight, someone who smoked—would ever be able to be a runner. I encouraged him to check out the Running Room. I wanted him to learn how to run properly if he was going to be serious about it.”

“I felt quite envious when he went and checked out a clinic at the Fredericton Running Room. But he came back from the first session and told me that all he had to do was run for one minute. He encouraged me to try it. I enrolled. We ran three times a week starting with running one-minute intervals—one minute running and one minute walking.”

“It was tough, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done! I honestly didn’t know if I would make it to that minute every time we had to run. I didn’t tell my instructor, nor the people in my running group that I smoked, which would explain why I was having such a hard time. I was too embarrassed. I started disliking smoking more and more, and I knew it would be impossible for me to get better at running if I remained a smoker. So, I got a prescription for Champix from my doctor and scheduled my quit date for April 3, 2016.”

“At the Running Room, I found out about the online Run to Quit ‘Do It Yourself’ program. Since my local Running Room did not yet offer the in-store Run to Quit training program that year, this was a good alternative. I signed up. I received emails with tips to help me along my quit journey and I logged on from time to time to check out additional resources. A great part of the Run to Quit ‘Do It Yourself’ program is that I also received support calls from the Smokers’ Helpline. These helped me a great deal and allowed me to think outside the box about my cravings when I had them or think about planning ahead to manage my cravings better.”

Quit Coach Susan Arbeau can attest to the fact that running is a powerful tool to help quit smoking.

An Effective Step-By-Step Approach With Lots of Community Support

The Run to Quit 10-week in-store training program follows the same format in every location. Each class starts with a 20- to 30-minute group seminar followed by a group walk or run. To complete their weekly training schedule, participants can also join their instructor and group for runs at Run Club on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings.

During the seminars, guest speakers from the Running Room cover the learn to run aspect, such as how to choose proper sneakers, avoid injury, train, etc. The Quit Coaches devote a part of the class time to go over a plan to quit smoking. Participants learn tools to manage their cravings and avoid triggers as well as cover all the topics in the Quit Smoking Guidebook from the Canadian Cancer Society. By week 2, they set a quit date.

Anyone can learn to run with the Running Room’s gradual approach which alternates between walking and running to build stamina. During group runs, instructors ensure everyone can go at it at their own pace. Coaches are positioned at the front and back of the group so that everyone can enjoy the outing at their own pace and no one is left behind.

“The best part is that Run to Quit participants have the support of the entire Running Room community,” says Christian. “Here in Moncton for example, on any given evening, about 150 people are out running with the Running Room. The running community is very welcoming towards new runners. Our runners loved the Run to Quit participants—they cheered them on and offered a lot of encouragement. It was very inspiring!”

For New Brunswickers who don’t have access to a Running Room in their region, the Run to Quit virtual 10-week program is a great option, as they can join in on the group sessions virtually and then practice running on their own. The Run to Quit “Do It Yourself” program is also available all year long for those who want more independence.

According to statistics released by the Canadian Cancer Society, 40% of Run to Quit participants interviewed reported being non-smokers six months after completing the program and 43% said they were still running, on average, three times a week. No other smoking cessation program offers both these health benefits.

  • 97% of participants who completed the program reported it was beneficial in terms of increasing physical activity
  • 91% of participants who completed the program said they cut back on smoking as a result of Run to Quit
  • 28% had quit smoking during the 10-week training program and successfully not smoked in six whole months
  • 51% of participants who completed Run to Quit used nicotine replacement therapy during the program
  • During the program, confidence to quit smoking grew from 67% at the start to 80% by week three.

Ready to Run to Quit?

If you are interested in Run to Quit, in-store training programs will be taking place in the spring of 2018 at the Running Room stores in Moncton, Fredericton, and Saint John. The Run to Quit “Do It Yourself” program and virtual program is also available in fall, winter and spring.

Because we know that making lifestyle changes is easier when undertaken with a friend, a $500 prize for Quit Buddies plus a BOGO@50% off discount for in-store training programs are now offered. These added incentives, in addition to the great value of 10 weeks of personalized training, make joining Run to Quit even more appealing for both smokers and non-smokers. It is a win-win scenario: the chance to win cash or other prizes while on the road better health.

Run to Quit programs are available across Canada. To learn more and register visit

Story and photos used with permission from the Canadian Cancer Society (New Brunswick), Susan Arbeau and Christian Jasper.

Published in November 2017.

By Nathalie Landry – NBATC Communications Coordinator.