John Stanton: Health and success

Giving your best and getting better is more than just a marketing slogan etched on John Stanton’s business card. The founder and president of Running Room Inc. lives and breathes his passion for running and walking. But this zeal for exercise wasn’t always the case. “I’ve personally gone through the evolution from couch potato to active athlete,” says Stanton, “and I’ve helped coach hundreds of thousands of people from being couch potatoes to active athletes.”

Embarrassment was the catalyst to change Stanton’s life. Two decades ago, joining his youngest son in a three-kilometre run, Stanton could barely gasp his way to the finish line. Weighing 238 pounds on a five-foot-10 frame along with a two-pack-a-day smoking habit didn’t help. “The run was a wake-up call about my poor level of fitness,” says Stanton.

Six months later, after adopting a healthier lifestyle and diet and taking up running regularly, Stanton had lost 60 pounds. He soon discovered the domino affect of regular exercise: energy level goes up, stress goes down, sleep quality improves and there’s a natural transition to healthier eating.

Today, anton, 55 and 170 pounds, brings a whole new meaning to being the picture of health. Heads turn as the born-again athlete strides across a food court in full running gear to meet a writer. With bright blue eyes, glowing complexion and lean physique, he easily looks a decade younger.

Passion fuels success
The success of the Running Room is a motivating story in itself. What began in 1984 in the living room of an old Edmonton house where Stanton shared rental space with a hairdresser has grown to 60 stores and social clubs across North America. Stanton began by selling running shoes and T-shirts and offering practical running tips.

A Saturday group was formed that encouraged people to try running in both cold and hot weather. In 1985, the Running Room introduced learn-to-run clinics that are bustling with members today.

By 1992, the once part-time venture had swiftly expanded to eight stores, and Stanton quit his position as a vice-president for a chain of grocery stores. Stanton has personally logged more than 50 marathons, countless fun runs and ongoing charity events. He travels 300 days a year, meeting with employees and club members. And his family contributes to the business and often joins him on the road.

But business aside, Stanton considers that his key strength and satisfaction comes from his ability to motivate others. “My enjoyment comes from watching somebody start an exercise program and become athletic. That’s what gives me my zest for life and keeps me young.”

Next page: Others benefit from running programme

Running keeps spirits up
In her 60s, Evelyn Carson of St. Albert, Alta., is a prime example of those Stanton has motivated. A few years ago, Carson and her husband experienced a financial setback and, as a result, lost their home and many possessions. “I’d be in a mental asylum if it weren’t for running,” says Carson. “It was for the mental medicine more than the physical aspect but it has certainly helped in both areas.

“I remember saying to John, ‘I’m too old for this,’ and he looked at me and said, ‘Evelyn, I know people who are 70, 80 and 90 and they’re still running.’” However, four years ago, after Carson finished a five-kilometre race, she decided running was not for her. “I took up walking after that,”she says. Carson completed her first half-marathon in June last year – “the highlight of my life”– and is training for another half-marathon in the walking category. The energetic grandmother of six boys also works out at a gym and takes yoga every week.

Stanton’s face lights up when he describes Carson’s achievement. “If you met her, you’d think she was at least 10 years younger,”he says. “She’s a delight and a real inspiration to anyone thinking about starting a fitness program at mid-life or later.”

For many exercise enthusiasts, regular activity becomes addictive. If Carson doesn’t exercise three times a week now, she misses it. “I can be as tired as I can be, I can be as sad as I can be, but when I walk in to the Running Room and see my friends and hear that buzz – it gives me a high.”

How to get started
According to Stanton, there’s a hidden athlete in all of us. Here’s his advice for anybody who wants to get fit by starting an exercise routine.

Try walking. “Walking is highly underrated and it is one of the best forms of exercise,”advises Stanton. “It’s a gentler, kinder way to get started into exercise and you have a lot less risk of injury.”

Start by walking for 25 minutes three times a week. Then adjust the intensity by increasing time or speed. The older the person, the more they need to start with something moderate.

There’s no magic. The key is consistency and getting into a regular routine. According to Stanton, it doesn’t take long to form good habits. “Conducive to our Canadian climate, if people exercise regularly for a full year, then they become committed.”

Three’s company. Linking up with more than two people is a boost to sticking with a program.