In light of Bike to Work Week (May 15–19), we didn’t want runners to feel left out. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as run commuting, there’s just maybe not a day for it — at least not yet.
THE MAKING OF A RUN COMMUTER
Sean Pont, a former collegiate runner and current elite marathoner, used to ride his bike to the ferry terminal and then catch the ferry into San Francisco for work. It was OK, but if he wanted to get a run in too, then he’d have to wake up even earlier, run, shower and then bike commute. When he started working as a software engineer for Google, and his new office in downtown had a locker room and shower, plus a cafeteria, the answer to his conundrum became obvious.
“I started running and never looked back,” said Pont.
Now, he runs from his house to the ferry every morning and then walks (or jogs) the few blocks on the other end to his office.
Run commuting used to seem like the purview of the wildly adventurous or hyper-ambitious, but a growing number of people are realizing they can get in a workout, log some training miles and avoid being stuck in traffic. It’s particularly manageable if an easy run is combined with a train, bus or ferry ride.
Kyle Torok and Josh Woiderski co-founded The Run Commuter in 2011 to document their run commutes and to help other runners get started. Since then, Torok says, the site has seen a huge amount of interest in its first few years and a growing number of users, whose stories are featured.
“When we started doing this, it was just Josh and I. We’d see people sometimes, and it was exciting to see run commuters in the wild,” says Torok. He used to chase down anyone running through downtown Atlanta with a backpack full of clothes, just to bond over their shared commute. “Now, I see them more and more.”
If you’ve been considering a run commute, here are five tips to get started:
1. PLAN YOUR ROUTE
Odds are the route you drive to work wouldn’t necessarily be pleasant to run — especially if it’s down a freeway. Map out your route using MapMyRun or even check out potential routes on bike or by car first, if you’re not familiar with the side streets.
That planning can also include figuring out if there’s a bus or train to combine with a jog, or if you could commute one direction by transit and run back.
Pont has two standard routes: either a five-mile flat path or a longer nine-mile trail up and over the ridge. “I take one or the other depending on when I wake up and how the legs feel,” he said. He also has the advantage of living near lots of trails and bike paths. “I don’t think there are many places in the world where I could commute to the center of a major metropolitan area by running 80% of the route on trails.”
Running on a mountain trail as the sun comes up makes for a much more enjoyable start to the day than sitting in a car.
2. PLAN YOUR CLEAN-UP OR SHOWER
If your office doesn’t have a shower, then a nearby gym can make a viable option. Or taking transit in and running home is an appealing alternative.
You can also just wash up in a bathroom. While it’s nice to have a shower at the end of your run, Torok swears it isn’t necessary. He uses baby wipes and a private office bathroom to freshen up. “And no one has ever said anything about my hygiene,” he says.
That might mean bringing some things into your office in advance or on the days you don’t run commute: an extra suit jacket or dress, a pair of shoes, some back-up shower or hygiene supplies and food.
3. GET THE RIGHT GEAR
If you don’t leave things in your office in advance, then you’ll have to carry them with you. The most common question Torok says they get on the site is about what kind of pack to use. He recommends something that rides high, so as not to pull down your center-of-gravity, and has hip or waist straps and pockets.
There can be a lot of stuff to remember: clothes, shoes, a snack, a notebook or papers if you need them for work, reflective lights. Make a list and check things off. (It can be easier to start run commuting in the spring or summer, when you don’t need to remember as many warm clothes.)
You’ll also want to pack up your stuff inside your pack so it doesn’t get wet from rain or from sweat. The first time Torok ran the seven miles to his old office, he didn’t think about the heavy humidity in Atlanta. By the time he got to work, his notebook had been destroyed from sweat and jostling.
4. TRIAL AND ERROR
I’ve run to the office a few times — both with a backpack and without. One time, I forgot I had borrowed camera equipment that needed to be returned to work. So, the next morning, I simply had to stuff the cameras in a backpack, tie it around my waist, and start (slowly) jogging. One time, Pont forgot pants and had to sprint home to get them.
These are the things you learn as you go. Give yourself a buffer at first for any wrong turns or extra time you need post-run to cool-down and eat breakfast. Often, it’s easier to start by running home from the office, since you’re less pressed for time on the back end. Then you’ll develop a system.
5. GET RUNNING
“Don’t be scared of it,” says Torok. It’s easy to make excuses or get discouraged, but run commuting isn’t as complicated as it seems.
How do you run commute? The simple answer: just start running.
Written by Kelly O’Mara, a professional triathlete and reporter outside San Francisco, where she is an on-call producer for the local NPR station. Her works appears regularly in espnW, Competitor, Triathlete and California Magazine.