The gym of Peking University’s Shenzhen Campus
I find myself in an unlikely place to resume running. I am in Shenzhen, China this summer. For those not familiar with the boom town, which boasts one of those stories that defies belief but exemplifies the power of the global economy, it is on the mainland next to the former British colony of Hong Kong. After being granted permission to experiment with capitalist markets early on, it developed into the third most significant city of a nation that continues its rise, ranking with Beijing and Shanghai. Like everything else that happens with a population exceeding a billion, the place is one of those you-have-see-it-to believe-it phenomenon, with the constant of change promising opportunity to all who would pursue it. As many skyscrapers and apartment complexes have gone up in short order, there remains more foliage and open space, less traffic and pollution than you might expect or fear, relative to rival metropolises.
While here to teach American law at Peking University’s southern satellite, in English — itself a test of how the world will come together — I am trying to recover from a health challenge. This is not easy. The heat is much higher than I am accustomed to. The humidity, too. Climate change likely is worsening matters. The locals complain that it is more severe than even they can withstand.
But thanks to jet lag, I need no alarm to cajole me. I am up before dawn whether I’d like to be or not. At that hour, however, I still feel assaulted by the air. It is clear that the mugginess will be overwhelming later in the season.
The first Monday, I met a new colleague, also from the States, for a walk. We had made arrangements via email before our respective departures. I had anticipated I would need to be up and about, as soon as it became light outside. We met at the business school that is a new startup even among new startups. The Starbucks in the corner of the building was a convenient landmark. It offered a means to ask for directions without Mandarin language fluency.
Our morning meander was easygoing. There were multiple outdoor tracks we could visit. Three different universities, all leading institutions of higher education well established elsewhere, had been recruited by the local government to considerable acreage near the zoo. Each school had its own facilities. There is also an impressive gymnasium opened especially for a major athletics competition a few years back. That is on the list of attractions to check out. Its first-class equipment apparently is under-used. Perhaps the indoor course will be the best venue for further training.
We saw a few others exercising early. One or two solitary figures were engaged in qigong rituals, calm and calming to observers, with the silent fluidity of contemplative motion. A couple male runners, shirtless, were making good time. Street sweepers were finishing their shifts, construction workers beginning theirs. Female students riding bicycles or strolling arm in arm carried umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun. A few guards kept an eye out. There were fisherman hoping for a bite, their lines cast into a canal that ran along the perimeter of the grounds. Signs warned of snakes. They are mildly poisonous.
By a permissive standard, I have become a run commuter again. I am housed in a dormitory for, among others, foreign experts. I can mosey along the paved path to the law school in about three minutes; probably a jog would take me there in under two. It could not be more convenient for a short stay. Immediately upon arriving at the office, I had to return to my residential unit, because I neglected to bring an appropriate adapter for the electrical outlet. I thought briefly of doing without until the battery was exhausted, but I realized it would be unconscionably lazy to avoid the extra trip.
According to my GPS watch, I logged ten miles. An additional adventure was finding my own way to the administrative office to load credit onto my ID card. The campus is cashless. I did what I do while in Asia. I accost random non-Asians for help. A young European pointed me toward the proper office for my errand.
My initial plan was to shower twice. I figured I would sweat enough to need it. I instead am on a schedule of thrice. I wonder if I will adapt. Otherwise, my wife has warned me via our international video calls, I will dry out my skin and wash away essential oils. I cannot resist though. Even well short of the environmental maximums that will be hit in mid-August, I cannot make myself comfortable. I am aware of my body, in that manner that impairs the mind doing anything else other than dwelling on the flesh that constitutes one’s self.
Nonetheless, I am glad. This is progress.
The path along the canal where I am run commuting this summer, at the Peking University Shenzhen campus.
“You are very mild,” someone said to me the other day. She meant it as a compliment; she said that she had a similar demeanor. That surprised me. Most of my life, as a child and adult, I’ve been considered more belligerent, rude, grouchy, and sarcastic.
I attribute the progress to run commuting. Physical health and mental health are bound together in a cycle either vicious or virtuous. Regular exercise has positive effects for body and mind. How we interact with one another depends on how we feel inside ourselves. Science can confirm such effects. We do not have to be aware of our emotions to have our lives determined by them, and, for that matter, our unconscious selves may have the better of the ego we deem to be our own identities.
Run commuting has improved my personality. It has increased my forbearance, patience, and resilience. These traits are all important. They have nothing to do with my intelligence or the skills I have developed. Yet they make me a better employee and employer, as well as a more decent person.
There are direct mechanisms at work. I must plan to run commute to ensure I have everything I will depend on during the day. I need to be mindful while on the road to avoid being run over. To get the heart pumping early in the morning circulates more oxygen, which generates ideas, making me productive as a writer. The endorphins that are released make me calm and content.
The truth is there has been more than one day I have left the house outraged about this or that. Somebody has been disrespectful, ungrateful, or otherwise aggravating. My negative sentiments dissipate over 4.5 miles though. I cannot sustain them even if I wished to do so.
Probably a study could be devised to test the hypothesis that a run commuter is less likely to be resentful. Driving a personal vehicle in a crowded city and taking public transit are also probably not good for blood pressure.
Run commuting has not made me perfect. Nothing will accomplish that for any of us as human beings. But it has made me better.
The only other aspect of my life that has had the same influence, according to observers, is marriage. Another long-time friend once told me that my wife had, as she herself would attest, changed me. Run commuting and marriage might not seem comparable. But they are. Both are activities, not outcomes. The daily physical exertion is a reminder that the constant process is as important as any temporary result. You have to keep at it if you want to maintain the beneficial effects. That is the most important insight I have ever had: our days are meant to be engaged in, not to pass by as if we had no ability to participate. Run commuting requires nothing (if you have embraced the barefoot trends, not even shoes). Yet it calls for what is most difficult to summon: initiative that only we can take.
To run commute is to insist that the world is ours. It is material, surrounding us, demanding that we involve ourselves. Even in the rain and the traffic, despite our fatigue, it is imperative that we motivate ourselves to move ourselves.
The Best Run Commuting Backpack Ever?
OMM (standing for Original Mountain Marathon) is a brand well-known to UK and Euro trail runners, but it has yet to become popular in the US, which is a pity. I would go so far as to say this is a ‘best-kept secret’ of running packs. The OMM 20L may be the best run commuting backpack ever, and for those so inclined, it doubles as the best multi-day trail running pack ever, too! It is relatively cheap, hugely comfortable, robust, thoughtfully designed, and has tons of storage room.
For these reasons, no doubt, it has been the backpack of choice for the winners of some epic races: this year alone Eion Keith was wearing it when he won the notoriously grueling Spine Race in England – 268 miles non-stop over snowy English high country in mid-winter. Elspeth Luke wore it to run 1100k over Scottish mountains in record time. And it’s not just for cold-weather conditions: Aussie pro racer Samantha Gash wore it to run the 4 Deserts races across –as the name implies–four of the world’s serious deserts. Many athletes use this pack at the 6-days, 250km stage-race in the Moroccan desert, the Marathon des Sables.
So, how does such a hardcore pack work for everyday run commuters who just want to run an hour to work through suburban streets? Brilliantly, that’s how!
On the lower half of each side of the main compartment is a mesh pocket with elasticized top edge. They are water-bottle pockets, and have been designed with great consideration for the needs of adventure runners, for whom hydration is essential. The pockets are deep, each amply holding a 600mL bottle. This is true even when the main compartment of the pack is full. The other brilliant thing about their design is that they are angled slightly backwards, so that the top of the water bottle is tilted fractionally towards the direction you are facing. This makes it easier to pull the bottles out and put them back in, while running. The bottles don’t jump out of these pockets even when there isn’t much in the main compartment of the pack. Overall, excellent design and performance.
Main Compartment and Top Access Pouch
The main compartment is basically a cylindrical sack with a drawstring closure. Over this fits a hood that buckles down with a strap that runs vertically down the front of the backpack and clips to the lower quarter of the front of the pack (the ‘weird’ strap described above). The main compartment holds a LOT of stuff. You could easily get a medium-thickness winter coat in here along with shoes, clothes and lunch.
As you can see in the photo above, there is a zipped pocket on the top of the hood that covers the main drawstring compartment of the pack. This zipped pocket is almost the same width across as the hood itself, so it can hold a wallet and phone, or even a small Tupperware container, easily.
Back, shoulder straps and waist belt
The padding on the OMM Adventure Light 20 is generous, light and comfortable. It is also positioned where you need it and not where you don’t. The back is kept firm and self-supporting by a removable foam pad that sits inside the main compartment in its own sleeve. This pad is so light, and helps keep the overall structure of the pack so comfortable, that after I tried running once with the pad removed I resolved never to do so again — it’s simply more of a gain to have the foam pad in there.
There are two identical pockets on either side of the waist belt. Both pockets close with zips. They are large enough to fit a smartphone, and there is some flexibility as the lower half of each pocket is made of a mesh that stretches slightly. I found these pockets to be very useful for carrying my phone, food snacks, and accessories like gloves, hat or headlamp.
The OMM Adventure Light 20 does not come with a hydration bladder or bottles. As discussed above, the side bottle pockets are perfectly designed and executed for their purpose. With both bottle pockets carrying 600ml — or 750ml at a pinch — bottles, this would give you 1.2L – 1.5L fluid. You could also remove the foam back pad from its dedicated sleeve and put your hydration pouch in there. There is no other pocket in the main compartment to hold a hydration bladder, and unless you had a completely full load it would slosh around a bit if in the main area.
A top-drawer backpack for adventure running AND run commuting!
Finally – a backpack specifically made for run commuters!
The company that brought us our favorite garment carrier, IAMRUNBOX, released a series of run commuting backpacks after a very successful Kickstarter campaign, and we were extremely excited to get our hands on one recently. The IAMRUNBOX Backpack Pro is a stylish and extremely practical backpack for everyday commuters who run with a change of clothes, a laptop, and a few personal items. Best of all, this pack won’t bounce!
The laptop carrying feature works quite well. It’s a simple, two-strap holder that rides close to your back, but it does what it is designed to do. Smaller laptops or tablets may need additional padding around them to keep them from bouncing up and down in the pack.
The deep and wide zippered waist belt pouches are a fantastic feature. Most backpacks that have these usually tend towards smaller, stretchier styles that work for carrying, at most, a few gels, a thin beanie, or a pair of gloves. The IAMRUNBOX Backpack Pro’s waist pockets, in contrast, can hold large smartphones, thick wool hats, sunglasses, and more. I normally carry my Nexus 6P (which is 6 ½” long and 3 ¼” wide) in the main compartment or in inaccessible side pouches of other packs, so it is awesome to have it right in front of me and be able to pull it out to take a picture or check a text message.
You notice the weight of the pack just forward of your shoulders and at the small of your back. I couldn’t identify any potential chafing locations – the fit and feel of everything was perfect.
Waist and sternum strap with whistle
Waist strap has openings on both sides to hide excess strap
The sides do not include any additional storage or features.
Top and Bottom
The top and bottom of the pack include reflective strips. No additional features are present.
When open, the right side of the pack is where you store your clothing. To hold all the clothing together, the Backpack Pro has a zippered, breathable cover, which makes it very easy to close the pack once everything is inside.
The left side of the Backpack Pro is used for securely storing up to a 13.5″ laptop. It can also hold a tablet, a book, or a few magazines quite well, or any other items that you may need at work (small lunch, belt, packable raincoat, etc.).
Open and empty
Fully packed with a light lunch
Back and Waist Strap
The back of the IAMRUNBOX Backpack Pro is rigid, with four palm-sized cushions strategically placed to allow the pack to rest comfortably against your back while walking or running. When the pack is on the body and cinched down, the cushions rest at the base of the scapulae and on both sides of the lower back.
The waist strap is wide and lightly-padded and a simple plastic buckle secures it to your waist. There is a large zippered pouch on each side that is big enough to hold large smartphones and plenty of additional gear (see notes at end of review regarding the metal zippers). A unique feature of the waist strap is that each side facing the buckle opens to reveal a pocket that can be used for storing excess straps.
Four cushioned pads make for a comfortable ride
The waist strap pockets hold large phones and more
Compared to most packs I’ve used, the shoulder straps on the Backpack Pro are wide, coming in right at 3 inches (7.62 cm) and there is very little narrowing of the straps along the length. There is some very thin padding on the inside of the straps, and I found it to be adequate for running with heavier weight.
The front of the right side strap features a reflective loop and a zippered, crescent-shaped pouch. The pouch holds a pair of gloves or a few gels when closed, or – when opened – a water bottle. This is a neat feature and works best with shorter bottles.
The left side strap includes a reflective loop, as well, and an elastic expandable top loading pouch that holds smaller smartphones (iPhone 5, etc.) securely.
There is one sternum strap on this pack. It is made of nylon and includes a piece of elastic that stretches an inch and a half that enables the strap to move when the wearer inhales and exhales. The sternum strap can be adjusted 9 inches vertically, so that it can placed in a comfortable location on the wearer’s chest.
Suspension system. Right strap opens to hold a small water bottle
Fully loaded with a winter jacket secured to the front with straps