Fredericton — At the tender age of 21, Nicky Fanjoy was drawn in to a secretive exercise cult that deprived her of her own personal freedom, isolated her from her loved ones — and even told her when and how to work out.
The cult, known as The Running Room, forces its members to swear an oath to exercise only in packs, purchase exorbitantly priced fitness wear, run endless marathons and post incessantly about workouts on social media.
“It started out innocent enough,” Fanjoy recalled, sitting at Coffee & Friends across the street from King’s Place, where The Running Room’s Fredericton sect is headquartered. “I liked running, you know, for my health and to de-stress after work. But before long it got out of hand.”
The cult’s manifesto is entitled Running: The Complete Guide to Building Your Running Program, and was penned by notorious cult leader and marathoner John Stanton. While no one is authorized to speak with Stanton directly, he sometimes appears in visions to runners as they endure the gruelling “Hypothermic Half,” a painful and pointless marathon held in mid-February. According to Fanjoy, the “Half” is a sort of initiation process meant to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.
“After I ran my first half-marathon, I fell into a coma from the exertion, and Stanton came to me in a dream,” said Fanjoy with a shiver. “He told me that the more overpriced running gear I purchase, the higher up I’ll be among the country’s running elite. Not only that, but if I recruited others, they’d be saved from a lifetime of lethargy and even obesity. I couldn’t imagine letting my friends go through that.”
Fanjoy said that after a mere month with The Running Room, she became obsessed with running and working out in teams to the point that her friends and family could no longer stand to be around her. “I’d talk their ears off about how many kilometres I’d run that day, about my protein-powder regimen, about the best cold-weather gear. Eventually I had no one left in my life, and was forced to share my mileage and heart rate and calories burned with complete strangers online.”
“The Running Room took the best years of my life,” said Fanjoy, now a wizened 38. “It took a wakeup call from a close friend to finally snap me out of it.”
That friend was Gail Renault, who owns and operates CrossFit in Saint John. “Gail really opened my eyes to how toxic Running Room had become in my life. She saved me by showing me the benefits of Crossfit. It’s nothing like running — it’s both a physical exercise philosophy and a competitive fitness sport.”
A fully rehabilitated Fanjoy now attends CrossFit classes 12 times weekly, for the unbeatable price of $695 monthly.