Australians are still planning to make resolutions for 2024, with 43.4 per cent working on a healthier lifestyle, which may involve exercises like running. This is reflected in the numbers: Over 17,000 participants entered to run the 2023 Sydney Marathon, compared to only 5,000 in 2022. Running becomes more enjoyable with well-fitted shoes, and Tarkine offers some of the best running shoes on the market.

Another popular resolution is to quit smoking; in a multi-country study of smokers, including over 1,200 Australians, 59 per cent preferred to quit smoking altogether. It’s evident that smoking, which wreaks havoc on the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, runs counter to the benefits offered by running. Dropping your cigarette habit will benefit you if you want to conquer your next marathon or simply wish to be a better runner.

Why runners shouldn’t smoke

First, cigarette smoking produces carbon monoxide, which makes your blood ‘stickier’ and your arteries narrower. A Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation study also found that respiratory muscle strength and cardio-ankle vascular index were diminished among smokers. Smoking dramatically affects blood flow to your heart and muscles, so they must work harder to sustain you as you run. Smoking a pack daily can increase your heart rate by up to seven beats per minute. Over time, this can lead to a ‘smoker’s leg’ where blood flow is restricted to your lower limbs. This reduced blood flow can result in leg pain or cramps, interrupting or even halting your run entirely.

Secondly, smoking can even impair your ability to shed extra weight, which can be a deterring factor for running. Research suggests visceral fat and body mass tended to be higher among people who used cigarettes compared to non-smokers. Decreased respiratory muscle strength and exercise performance were seen even in smokers with a categorically ‘healthy’ body weight.

Additionally, the effects of secondhand and thirdhand smoke can affect other runners. A 52-year-old Xiamen Marathon finisher, who chain-smoked the entire time, was recently disqualified for ‘smoking on the track’. Marathon regulations cited that this behaviour affected the ‘safety of other runners’.

On a positive note, the effects of quitting smoking on athletic performance come pretty quickly; in a Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition meta-analysis of 300 participants, researchers found a statistically significant enhancement in sports performance after nicotine withdrawal, with females experiencing an even higher improvement. Given that, here’s how to quit smoking to become an even better runner.

How runners can quit smoking

By quitting, you remove a significant obstacle that keeps your heart, lungs, and entire body from performing at peak capacity. However, some runners may worry about potentially debilitating withdrawal symptoms, which may result in missing training days. For this, nicotine alternatives could be used to taper nicotine levels gradually; some top-selling brands include LUCY nicotine pouches, which come in various flavours and strengths. A heavy smoker could start their cessation journey with the high-strength LUCY Wintergreen 12 mg, then transition to LUCY Wintergreen 4 mg when ready.

Longtime smokers may find it challenging to transition to quit cold turkey. Nicotine alternatives that replicate the sensory and behavioural aspects of cigarette smoking may facilitate an easier transition. Heated tobacco products (HTPs) like IQOS have been shown to reduce nicotine craving more than nicotine vaping products (NVPs). Additionally, participants reported more burning sensations and throat hits from NVPs than HTPs. This minimizes the risk of discomfort throughout your run, which can affect focus and performance.

Crucially, runners who are quitting smoking can seek support from fellow runners. In our ‘Running Clubs on Campus’ post, we talked about how running communities provide a platform to engage in the shared pursuit of physical fitness and well-being. Ask companions to help you track improvements in your performance post-quitting or plan after-run activities that don’t involve lighting up. You could even join forces with fellow quitters to stay strong together.

Quitting smoking may seem impossible, but once upon a time, so did that personal record. And like the 5K run or half-marathon you eventually completed, practice, support, and hard work will help you become cigarette-free.