When you engage in an activity such as run commuting, people wonder about mundane details. Since everybody who is able to do so walks, and increasingly is conscious about it with the advent of fitness trackers, if you take up a more robust version of such a common endeavor you inspire curiosity about technique and tools. Everything I do is ordinary and easy to replicate. I share for others who wish to try out what turns out to be life changing.
My shoes are a collection of Hoka One Ones. They are maximalist, what clowns would wear if they ran marathons — I must be a good 2-1/2 inches taller in the Hokas. I have used Vibram Five Fingers. They are minimalist, essentially gloves for feet. That means I went from one extreme to its opposite. I have read casually the research about footwear. My impression, as a non-scientist, is that it is inconclusive. There is too much individual variation. Personal anatomy and stride likely matters as much as gear. For now, I prefer plush cushioning. I have three pairs of the same model, size 11 D, in solid black. They are less conspicuous than colorful options. I have wanted to try out the running shoes with the look of dress shoes. Run commuting is all about practicality. (If I do that, I will report back. I am frugal, and this innovative product does not seem to be discounted much.)
My socks are various low-cut pairs designed for running. I have had multiple unhappy experiences with wardrobe malfunctions in this regard. Many socks don’t fit and won’t stay up. That ruins the race or the morning. I have concluded, as is true with shoes, that it is important to consider the exact sizing and proper shape. I would rather be a regular with a company that has suits that fit and customer service that is considerate. I am willing to pay for those qualities.
The pants are important. Every piece of clothing is. But the pants are constant. I found a brand. I liked it so much, I decided to invest a bit of my retirement account into its stock, but I receive no consideration for that disclaimer/endorsement. My choice is Under Armour. My rationale is they have a bit of stretch to the fabric. There are multiple models that are appropriate for exercise and after. That saves significantly on the change of clothes that otherwise would have to be carried with a separate pair of dress slacks. One side effect of all the running is lots of laundry. I generate a half hamper of sweat soaked stuff every twenty-four hours. I do a load of wash, in a high-efficiency front-loader, just about every day. When guests visit, I am always haranguing them for dirty clothes to throw in.
The shirts are less particular. They are all lightweight activewear tops made of synthetic fiber or merino wool. They have in common breathability, conspicuity, and bargain pricing. They’re whatever was available at the mail-order outlet, one of a half dozen I track, all of which send me deals via email. I was a patron of Ibex, an American manufacturer that, alas, went out of business. I stocked up on their gear during their final sale, and I lament that the global marketplace has made it difficult for entrepreneurs such as these folks to sustain their ventures.
Underwear merits mention. I have a story about my switch. I ran one of the North Face Endurance Half Marathons. It had over 3000 feet of vertical gain, which I can attest is not inconsequential. I was joined by a college friend. He beat me by seven minutes, which I realize is considerable. I felt good, however, that when we had our post-race brunch, he had to excuse himself after eating only a bite, because he needed to lie down for an hour and a half nap. An experienced road racer, much more fit than me, he also is wiser. When I complained about chafing, he inquired about the details of my outfit. He kindly informed me nobody was still in cotton boxers for distance running, and that had changed not long after we graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 1988. On his advice and counsel, I am happily in technical briefs. I vouch for the difference, even if I gloss over the details. Suffice it to say, wicking of moisture is to be commended.
Where I live, when I start out it’s usually foggy and about fifty degrees. For outerwear, I put on a high-viz fluorescent yellow windbreaker about half the time. It is not labeled as specialized for running. I almost always start off with a cap, too. I have several super thin wool skullcaps. If it is raining, I have a SealSkinz waterproof version. Although it is slightly too heavy, I prefer it to wet hair.
All of the above is “quotidian.” That is an apt word. It is a fancy synonym for “daily.” Perhaps others will benefit from seeing how simple it is to take up run commuting.
Here is a typical week. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, were run commute days. Thursday was low in mileage, but in part because of a transcontinental flight that took up much of it.
As a run commuter, I happen to be a bit of a cheater. I don’t mean a fraud such as Rosie Ruiz, who was stripped of her Boston Marathon medal in 1980 for not completing all 26.2 miles of the course or even very many of them. I merely mean I am not a stickler for results to brag about on Strava. I want to get some exercise into my day and get to work. Those are straightforward goals. I’m not looking to impress anyone.
A preface before my confessions. I am no slouch. In January 2018, I ran to work a dozen times; February and March have continued similarly. That is 4.5 miles, or as much as 4.75 miles depending on the exact route and meandering, including days that rained. On a few occasions, I also ran with my coach. On at least one of those days, I exceeded 15 miles on foot (and I have provided the digital proof).
Yet, I want to be honest and humble. I am not the run commuter I aspire to be. I did not run another eight mornings when I could have. There are various reasons. The least common among them, only through self-flagellation (figurative, not literal) is laziness. There usually was an impediment, and the most aggravating among them was the need to put on a business suit, followed by the disruption of airplane travel and ensuing jet lag.
What I fail at most often is in fact to run. The truth is, as I admit freely, I am technically a run-walker, not a true runner. I am a fast walker though. So I figure my run-walk routine satisfies whatever is the abstract, agreed-upon standard for what constitutes “running.” I am constantly striving to increase the speed and the length of the run portion of the cycle. I am seeing modest gains. At 51 years old very soon, but only three years into the sport on a serious basis, I figure the inevitable effects of aging — as they say, better than the alternative — will offset the progress of discipline. I cannot seem to break 45 minutes (10 per mile) over the distance I must cover, though I can make it just under 8 minutes for a single mile.
I have discovered a new tactic though. I feel good about this maneuver. Bike sharing is the latest trend. But it will be, I predict, more than a fad. I have now done a part-run, part-bike trip that allows me to indulge the fantasy I could do a biathlon or triathlon. (I grew up with a swimming pool, and I must be about the worst swimmer for someone who had that luxury, so there is more work to be done.) In San Francisco, they are rolling out undocked, electric-assist bikes! That means you can leave them anywhere within the authorized zone, and they offer a boost for the hills. The dual workout is wonderful. I am using different leg muscles, while also exerting the lungs to greater capacity. Run, then bike, and see the city as you could not enclosed in a vehicle.
Even my most obvious dishonesty is defensible. I have more than once hopped on the bus. The reason is keeping to a schedule despite the sauntering for a spell. I have competed against myself. All out, I am pretty sure I’d beat the bus. But at the run-walk pace (see above), I can save a couple of minutes with mass transit. Since in contemporary America, we suffer what has been called “bus stigma” — in the hit movie Speed, which made action stars of Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, her character is compelled to explain why she is stuck with the other losers who are aboard a bus in Southern California — I feel I am engaging in a worthwhile protest against the One Percent by boarding the MUNI; I can proclaim that I am a man of the people. Besides, the bus line I take travels through the historic Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, the home of the “Summer of Love” that transformed our culture.
Like everyone else who doesn’t quite live up to their aspirations, I suppose, I am compelled to rationalize. The point of run commuting is to get the blood flowing and accomplish the task of traveling from home to office, while being better to the environment. I figure if I have something of a shortcut, I am still better off than if I drove a car by myself, both to me and toward the world. My point is that the run commute is intended to be pleasurable and practical. It is supposed to decrease stress, not increase it. It’s not a sanctioned competition. Easygoing is fine. Most of the rest of my day is intense. People who do not run commute misunderstand. A good run commute is relaxing. It adds rather than subtracts to the energy I have. The psychological benefit turns into a physical one.
Nonetheless, every time I do not complete a run commute on strict terms, I feel guilty. And if I can set a new PR, even if it is only for my own satisfaction, I feel I am a better person.
The US Mint in San Francisco, which I pass on the most challenging route I can take, up and over between Mt. Sutro and Twin Peaks.
Run commuting has made me a better person. I am not who people believe I am. To wake up early and trek into the office on my own locomotion is intrinsically worthwhile. Yet it also is consistent with my plan for self-improvement. Please allow me to explain.
People regard me as among the hardest working individuals they know. I once said to a colleague that I felt I wasn’t hard working enough, and he replied explicitly that there was something wrong with me if I were sincere in the statement. That is no brag. Throughout my career, I have worked so much that people who have commented on it have not intended it as a compliment. When I practiced law, albeit briefly half a lifetime ago, I billed at a 2750 hour per year pace. I’m told that remains a respectable amount even now.
But here is my secret. I am among the laziest people I know too. I can cite various examples. If I am working, I won’t bother to leave my desk if I am thirsty or need to use the facilities. In the interest of efficiency, I wait to rise from my seat until both conditions are satisfied. Observers assume I am ambitious. To the contrary. I’m an idler. I like to sit at home with the dog.
There is no contradiction between being hard-working and being lazy. The hard-working persona is cultivated; the lazy one, natural.
When I was a kid, I enjoyed the T.H. White retelling of the King Arthur legend, entitled The Once and Future King. Written with World War II ongoing toward an outcome that seemed at best uncertain, the tetralogy of novels has endured as the version of the myth for our era, featuring Camelot, the sword Excalibur, the wizard Merlin, and so on. It was the basis for the Disney cartoon. The monarch is an orphan transformed into various animals to learn by allegory. What made an impression on me is the defining dialogue between the ill-made knight, Lancelot, and the Queen, Guinevere, who are carrying on, certainly within the awareness of Arthur, who regards the French chevalier as his only friend and the champion of the round table. Lancelot, asked by the Queen why he strives to be so virtuous, confesses it is because he is so wicked. The sentiment is profound, for any of us who aspires to personal progress. Our perfect selves are not our true selves, and although we might not achieve the former within our lives we need not be as awful as the latter.
Social scientists now have data about how we make decisions that suggests we can change the architecture of our choices. The Nobel Prize in economics this year went to the professor who has promoted the concept of “nudges.” We can alter, in the aggregate and on average, behavioral outcomes while respecting free will, by changing defaults from opt-in to opt-out and otherwise being conscious of the framework within which we pick among options. We, many of us anyway, will save money if enrollment in the retirement program is automatic — though within our ability to change, since we won’t bother. We will tend to control our portions by putting out smaller plates and consume less sugary soda by insisting on smaller containers. These are important insights about how our brains function, whether we consent. We can fool ourselves, not necessarily for the worse.
Run commuting has become my means of enforcing discipline for myself. It is effective. You can structure inertia to favor continued activity. In my fantasy life, I have long been a runner. It was easier to implement my imagination than I had supposed, following Lancelot and using “nudges.”
To begin, I set appointments with others to walk, eventually adding speed to the stroll. The commitment made all the difference. I had to live up to it. Otherwise I’d be disappointing a colleague. In some instances, we dubbed it a “walking meeting” — I was thrilled to discover that, like run commuting, the walking meeting turns out to “be a thing” as kids say nowadays. I even arranged, as a teacher, to lead groups of students, adding a coffee break at the end, though fewer than half who RSVP’d typically showed up for the 7am start.
Then I became known as a run commuter. The security guards on campus become accustomed to seeing me arrive in my hi-viz yellow windbreaker and a cap soaked through with sweat, disappear into my office for a moment, then show up once again in my regular outfit for the day. The expectation of others is vital to my motivation. It might be less enthusiastic than the cheering from the crowd during a race, but it serves the same purpose of inspiring. Even though run commuting is becoming more popular, anyone who engages in it likely is enough of an outlier to develop a bit of local fame. It’s only slightly more common than, say, riding a unicycle.
Here is my discovery — not original, even to me, but rather one of those aspects of human nature I keep realizing after forgetting how integral it is to all of us. Repetition forms habits. These can be good practices, despite our more acute awareness of their bad counterparts. I run on my own now. I run without people taking notice, even to “run” errands.
Run commuting has trained me. It has become a mindset. Its value extends beyond the exercise. I have become more deliberate in planning my day and more mindful in carrying out activities shown on the calendar. I appreciate both the moment and the surroundings.
In a sense run commuting has become my philosophy of life.
I have been an avid run commuter for over 10 years. To some extent, it even defines me; at work, most people don’t know my name, but they know about this crazy guy who runs to work all year round, and who even turned down a parking spot offer right outside the door to make sure it would not take away from his run commuting habits. However, there are days where, due to a lack of time, I need to shorten my running distances. On these days, I run what I now call “the link”.
Since the distance between home and work is 13 miles (21 km), I cannot reasonably think about running it both ways, day in day out, all year round. Therefore, I had to find a midpoint, where I could park my car, and then run to work. Fortunately, I did find a park and ride right in the middle of my path to work, which means running a total of 13 miles daily. However, there are days, more that I care to admit really, where 13 miles is just too much – either my body cannot take it, or the family schedule is just too hectic.
OC Transpo bus in Ottawa, Canada
So, on those days, I park my car, and run across one of the inter-provincial bridges between Gatineau and Ottawa. Then, I hop on the bus once on the other side of the river, for a running distance of approximately 3,5 miles (5 km). At the end of the day, when I have run the link both ways, I have run a total of 7 miles (10 km).
Inter-provincial bridge between Gatineau and Ottawa
I must admit, I used to think that running the link was cheating, but not anymore.I am still in reasonable shape, and it even allowed me to improve my time on the 5 km distance! So, if life only allows for a shorter run commute, don’t feel bad like I once did, don’t ditch the habit, and embrace the link.