I don't want to be one of those marathoners stopping for a smoke break
June 28, 2012 11:47 AM   Subscribe

if I quit smoking, how much faster will I run?

It's probably not reasonable to look for concrete answers for that, so the question is really will I see a noticeable impact? How quickly?

Somewhere over the last few years social smoking crossed over into actually really being A Smoker. I finish a pack every other day or so. Of course I know I should quit, it's disgusting, etc., but I've always had a hard time with actually wanting to quit - I still really enjoy it. I'm getting serious about being fit again, though, and am trying to channel it into motivation to finally quit.

I was a decent CC runner in high school, running 21 minute-ish 5ks. I know I won't touch those times again, but surely I'll take something off my current 10:30 minute miles? I'm now 29, have been smoking casually-to-frequently for 10 years. I run about 15 miles a week right now, and cycle and swim as well. I don't feel any particular discomfort when I do cardio (gasping etc.), I'm just slow.

Will I see a dramatic improvement if I quit, an how quickly can I expect it? Or, what was your experience like? looking for motivation, here - anything helps. Thanks!
posted by peachfuzz to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I quit smoking about 18 months ago, around your age then, and had smoked for ten years. I took up racquetball at about the same time. Between then and now I have noticed a huge improvement in my ability to go corner-to-corner over and over in a single set. I used to have to stop for breathers every few points. I couldn't sustain a play longer than three or four shots, I'd just lose steam and have to catch my breath. Part of it was I was just out of shape in general, but I really felt my lungs holding me back.

You can get your muscles toned and your fat shed pretty quickly, pretty easily, especially compared to how long it can take to heal your lungs. Even now mine are catching up to the rest of me. I'm fit and healthier than I've been in my adult life, but there's still always something to hack up out of there.

You'll thank yourself very soon after quitting. Do it!
posted by carsonb at 11:56 AM on June 28, 2012

Best answer: In other words, yes you will see and feel improvement quickly after quitting. But also, it will take a longer time to heal your lungs than it will to get your body/muscles into shape. So you should start healing them ASAP.
posted by carsonb at 11:58 AM on June 28, 2012

Faster? Hard to say. Further? You should see results within a week. (Based on my experience and observations from US Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island.)
posted by Ardiril at 11:59 AM on June 28, 2012

When I quit smoking, everything became easier. Everything. It does take time, but it will happen. I don't have concrete numbers for jogging times -- I don't keep track of how fast I run -- but man, just getting out of bed is easier, partially because I don't hate myself for wanting a cigarette.
posted by incessant at 12:01 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I quit smoking for a year and did not see improvement with distance. I was pretty upset.
posted by KogeLiz at 12:05 PM on June 28, 2012

I quit about 5 months ago, after cutting WAY back for six months previous to that. I felt a lot better going from an absurd amount of cigarretes (like 3 packs a day) to about 5-10 (close to where you are). Disappointingly, I have not seen much improvement from 5-10 a day to none. To me its more like, well my allergies aren't as bad so I can run outside, but I can't really run further or faster.

I keep waiting for that "oh my god you'll feel amazing and have so much energy.", but it just wasn't the case for me. I have more disposable income, I will hopefully live longer. I am not faster.
posted by stormygrey at 12:13 PM on June 28, 2012

I was in a very similar situation and went from ~10 minute miles down to about 8:30 after I quit. Just don't do like I did and start again...
posted by Octoparrot at 12:13 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I quit 545 days ago today (about 18 months). I had smoked about half a pack a day for 25 years. I don't think I noticed any difference at first. It took a few months before I stopped wheezing when I was exerting myself. Overall, when I had started going to the gym, I noticed that my stamina was better faster than when I last tried going to the gym as a smoker. Fast forward to now and I recently did a tough uphill hike. I still needed to catch my breath, but I never wheezed and stopped a lot less often to catch my breath than in the past.
posted by HeyAllie at 12:24 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't think quitting smoking will lead directly to running faster, at least not right away, but what it will do is allow you to train harder and longer, which is what will lead to running faster.

If you're running three miles a day, five times a week, and you're not pushing the limits of your cardio capacity, you're not really training your body to run any faster. Quitting smoking won't necessarily change that very much. But if you mix up your training with sprints, intervals, hills, long runs, with a focus on getting faster, then hell yeah quitting smoking will help you see significant improvement.

If you make a habit of pushing yourself to the limits of your cardio capacity each time you run, or even just once a week finishing your run with a hard sprint, that can be a real motivation to not pick the cigarettes back up, because you can get a good sense of improved capacity from week to week, and you can really feel it when your lungs are what is holding you back. But I say that as someone who smoked heavily for a long time, then became a runner the day I quit smoking, so ymmv.
posted by Balonious Assault at 12:24 PM on June 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

When I quit smoking my stamina went up really quickly. I was dog walking in NYC and every dog (it felt) I had to pick up from a 5th floor walk up. When I quit I stopped being out of breath doing those stairs within a week or two. When I fell off the wagon a couple of times, the next day I was out of breath doing the same stairs. That was one of the things that strengthened my resolve. The physical effects of smoking were so marked and so instant that it was a clear choice.

4 years cig free this year. Not a craving in sight.
posted by merocet at 12:46 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can absolutely get back to your previous running speed (or at least close to it), and doing it will be great motivation to quit. I used to be much faster in high school, like you. But after going through the last decade resigned to running 10-minute+ miles forever, convinced I could never get faster, I finally decided to work on it this year (I'm 31 and female, FYI).

There's a track near my house and twice a week I do intervals--200 and 400 meter sprints with recovery laps in between (in addition to longer, slower runs). Two months ago I ran a 5K in 22:30 minutes and my times are still dropping. Now my fastest mile is 6:26 and I know I can go faster! It gets to be addictive.

As Balonious Assault said, you need to push yourself to the limit or you won't get faster. This is when you will feel the effects of your smoking--I sure did. But this is where you'll see the most improvement.
posted by janerica at 12:53 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

For me, not really much faster -- but a lot further.
posted by Rash at 1:55 PM on June 28, 2012

I'm about 60 pounds overweight and I run between an 8:00-9:00 mile and can do so for 4 miles straight. I don't start hitting 10:00 mile territory until mile 6. So yeah, the smoking is really destroying your stamina if you're not running faster than I am.
posted by kavasa at 1:58 PM on June 28, 2012

I don't have much advice on the smoking part, but you are 29 years old. You can totally achieve a 21 minute 5k again if you put your mind to it. That is still considered young in running circles. Seriously, you can do it but it the major gain will come from training, not quitting smoking. You can probably keep smoking and be an 8 min/mile runner but it is doubtful you can get below 7 min/mile without quitting. That sounds motivating to me.
posted by dgran at 2:13 PM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Images like this from the Tour de France beg the question.
posted by u2604ab at 2:41 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I got to where I was doing interval training hard enough and I could feel my lungs failing to work. It was like training at altitude. I was smoking five or seven cigarettes a day. That feeling was a big part of quitting.
posted by Kwine at 3:54 PM on June 28, 2012

Just nthing that a 21 minute 5km is absolutely on the table for a 29 year old, with a proper training program. Quitting smoking will help, certainly.
posted by smoke at 4:40 PM on June 28, 2012

A friend of mine commented less than a month after they quit, that they couldn't have coped with the steep hill they'd just moved onto, if they had still been a smoker.
So, noticeable difference.
(He quit by getting one of those electronic cigarettes, a black one with a blue light - less tacky looking that the fake-cigarette ones, and months later, just stopped altogether).

Googling, this has some unreferenced data: http://www.nsma.org.au/facts/fitness.htm

This is actual, referenced data: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7549684

Looks like you've got at least 10% less maximum lung capacity as a smoker. Can't quite figure out what fitness measure they are using in the above link, or what the numbers mean, but again, smokers were less fit, and got more unfit over time, compared with the non-smokers.
Luckily, you can jump groups "Changes in fitness and forced expiratory volume among 199 men who had stopped smoking mimicked the findings for persistent non-smokers, and 56 men who started smoking presented findings close to those of persistent smokers.".
posted by Elysum at 8:57 PM on June 28, 2012

Response by poster: you guys, thanks for the stories and advice. it make sense that those lung searing speed work sessions (and their fantastic results) will be thinkable again if I quit.

I finished a pack of smokes last night. i havrnt bought a new one yet. maybe here goes?
posted by peachfuzz at 7:12 AM on July 1, 2012

Response by poster: Well, it took me a while, but tonight marks one cigarette-free week. I'm running a lot faster now just from training since I asked the question--I'm excited to see what's possible now. Thanks for all the commiseration and encouragement, guys!
posted by peachfuzz at 7:46 PM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I just ran a half with bang-on 8:30 splits. YEAH! I seriously don't think I would have trained as hard or quit as soon without this thread - or even believed, really, that I actually *could* get faster. Thanks again!
posted by peachfuzz at 11:36 AM on October 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

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