Frank H. Wu started running in 2015 and completed more than 75 half marathons in three years with a PR of 2:17. He is a run commuter in San Francisco, traveling 4.5 miles to his day job as Distinguished Professor at University of California Hastings College of the Law. He blogs regularly, with more than 100 credits at HuffPo, and he also has published in the New York Times and Washington Post.
That was what my coach said to me. She was neither complimenting nor criticizing me. She was describing me.
This is the story of my running career, such as it is. In 2015, I ran my first half marathon. My cousin and her husband had come to visit. He was running the San Francisco marathon. He told me if he could do it, I could too. I have since repeated that sentiment to many others, because it is true.
Inspired by casual conversation, I signed up. I figured I would try a half marathon. That is 13.1 miles. It seemed just within reach.
I finished. It took just under three hours. I was stiff and sore for two days. But I had found myself. The experience was that combination of joyful and miserable that compels repeating — I was once in the San Francisco Chinese New Year’s parade, riding a convertible at night in the cold rain, waving nonstop while trying not to fall off the back of the vehicle; that was the perfect combination of fun and discomfort that should have a name.
That year, I did another ten races. I did not train. I didn’t do anything in between. Except I regularly walked to work. I didn’t taper in that routine.
Perhaps I am obsessive. In 2016, I ran a total of 36 half marathons. I had set a goal of 24, but I got carried away. I brought my personal record down to 2:30. I looked for events wherever I went. In 2017, I managed approximately 27 half marathons. I am not quite sure because I stopped keeping track with care. I ran at altitude, above one mile, in Fort Collins, Colorado. I added different distances. There were multiple night races carrying lights. I achieved a 2:17 in the San Jose Rock ‘n Roll. But I also learned I couldn’t fly coast to coast, arrive late at night, and perform the next morning.
At some point, my wife decided I needed professional help. She concludes that about various aspects of my life. So, she hired a trainer for an assessment.
When we met, Angela put me on a treadmill and filmed my butt. She informed me my stride was asymmetrical and inefficient. I bought a package of sessions.
We are working on making me more of a runner. I’m not a runner in another sense. I am a run walker. I alternate. I have thought I ought to learn race walking. That sport may be just my speed literally. I admire its quirkiness. It has that punctiliousness about rules that appeals to me as a law professor.
For now, I run about a mile at a time. Then I walk a bit. I goad myself. Others use the same technique. I say when I cross that intersection or pass that tree, I have to get going again, then I have to make it at least to the next similar marker and so on. I pick a personal pacer. I remind myself not to be creepy about following someone.
So, I still am not fast, but I am persistent. I have never not finished. I have run back-to-back races, Saturday and Sunday, more than once. This past New Year’s Eve, I ran with a friend who is faster. I finished at the top of the bottom tenth. The next day, I ran with her sister who is even faster. I finished at the top of the bottom sixth. Considering the earlier excursion and the elevation gain of the route, I was satisfied to see the improvement relative to the field even if I remained at the back of the pack.
Along the way, I became not a runner, but a run commuter. I was I delighted to discover that to be a run commuter, as kids say nowadays, “is a thing.” I want to make progress in this pastime. My coach assures me I am ready for a full marathon, especially having completed the final warm up for the New York City marathon, an 18 miler that consisted of three loops of Central Park. She also tells me I can be considerably faster if I were disciplined, running more often and actually running when I “run.”
Thus, I turned the stroll to work into a jog, and, now, a run-walk. There are two long, gentle downhills, at the beginning from my home into the park and at the end through Hayes Valley toward City Hall. On both these stretches, I really move. Ever so briefly, I am a real runner. Yet I can report that through all this I have not once laced up my shoes to run, other than to a destination or in an organized event. I don’t just go out to run. It doesn’t interest me. I love running. I simply don’t do it for it’s own sake.
There are many types of runners. I guess I have created a category for myself. I’m an anti-runner who happens to run. There must be others out there.
By Frank Wu|2018-02-27T10:28:46-04:00February 27th, 2018|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments
Where my run commute ends. The UC Hastings Tower is in the background on the left.
The only issue that run commuting presents is whether to shower. I have run with a colleague’s husband, a fellow who is much faster than me and who plays team sports in an adult league, meaning “run with” refers to getting together afterward. We have enough rapport that he, of Hispanic background, answered the question whether I need a shower, “Don’t tell me you Asians don’t smell! There are Asians on my soccer team, and I can tell you that you smell just as bad.”
Informal polling shows that the majority is with him. Whenever people learn that I am a run commuter, they want to know about the physical details, as if the greatest deterrent for them to consider this practice is that they would work up a sweat. I cannot recall any other context in which acquaintances have been so curious about my bodily functions, but that seems to be just about the first thought that comes to mind for everyone — it actually is a funny indication of how similar we all are to one another. So I explain the mechanics. Then I solicit their opinion.
“You should shower,” is the consensus.
The truth is I do not shower. I towel off with baby wipes stored in the office. I could, I suppose, shower in the men’s locker room of the gym in the residence hall of the school where I teach. No doubt it reveals something about me, but I don’t want to use the facilities there: too many memories, none positive, about high school, and I’d rather not be naked in the presence of students, even in a place where it is appropriate. I further rationalize my reluctance on the basis that I am unlikely to find myself that close to anybody on campus, that they would object. An arm’s length distance, what is comfortable in contemporary American culture for most folks, ought to be beyond the range of any run commute body odor — but perhaps I am only fooling myself. It’s also an extra fifteen minute production, having to trudge down the street, check in with the guard, store everything, etc.
What I do is I change my outfit, down to the socks. That is primarily what I carry, a full set of clothes. I keep the same shoes on. I am lucky to have a job that does not require coat and tie. In addition, San Francisco has a climate that does not compel seasonal changes in wardrobe, and an attitude that allows professionals to wear a much wider range than likely would be true in most cities. Inspired by Einstein but without any delusion of other likeness to such genius, I almost always wear black pants and a black pullover shirt, having a half dozen identical items in the closet. The one piece of attire that I regard as a necessity at all times is a good, year round cap or hat. I replace the running cap, usually soaked through, with more of a beret, upon arrival. There is a bit of variation. If it is raining, I can take a fresh pair of shoes. Given the bulk of footwear, it has to be very wet for me to do that. (Since I am disclosing these details, I keep a toiletry kit in my desk drawer, too. It includes Gold Bond powder to sprinkle. I know nobody wants to catch a whiff of anybody else’s feet.)
The ultra lightweight backpack I bought has two main compartments. That enables me to stuff the dirty clothes into the back half.
The great development that has made my run commute possible is the tablet and the internet. I contemplated lugging my laptop. I have not even tried. It would just wreck my stride. Suggestions in this regard are welcomed. But my iPad, the medium sized model, is fine anyway. I load all the materials for the day onto it, or I have them available via the cloud, which also connects through the office desktop computer, and even in the classroom, equipped as it is with a “smart board” system. The necessity of planning ahead enforces discipline. I have to be mindful about my schedule. Every now and then, since my wife is on the faculty too, I stow a bag in the trunk of her car, which I can retrieve. We have different schedules though.
There you have it. That’s my routine. But, no, I don’t shower.
By Frank Wu|2018-02-11T10:38:37-04:00February 12th, 2018|Categories: Uncategorized|2 Comments
Twin Peaks, San Francisco, where my morning run commute starts
Here are my calculations that turned me into a run commuter. I concluded that I could invest twenty minutes of time per day for a full workout. I was already considering the idea. But I was persuaded by the argument from efficiency.
I live in San Francisco. That is an advantage. People travel by every conveyance in the Bay Area: cable car, ferry, bicycle, motorcycle, and powered skateboard are acceptable means of arriving at the office. There is no judgment, and what you wear, or even if you are clothed, is not regulated as would be true most other places. The city also is compact. It is seven miles by seven miles. My home is on the “other” side of Twin Peaks. My office is near City Hall.
My primary mode of transit was either the MUNI train or my vintage Honda Hawk GT V-twin cafe racer. By the former, it was about 25 to 30 minutes door to door; by the latter, perhaps 90 seconds faster, but with the tasks of putting on and taking off a high visibility riding suit over street clothes. I actually tracked it for these purposes.
I was walking everywhere anyway. So I did a test. On foot, without too much exertion, I could make it in under an hour. It is a 4.5 mile route with the option of a modest hill, through the park overlooking the famous “Painted Ladies,” the Victorians seen on postcards with the skyline in the background. With a bit of training, and considerable sweat, I have brought my PR down to 47 minutes. It is realistic to believe that I could achieve 45 minutes.
At that rate, the run is an incremental increase of 20 minutes over the alternatives. That seemed to be a worthwhile investment for the benefit of clearing my head and exercising my heart.
The mornings are almost always cool, sometimes foggy. I have quite a bit of company along the route, especially in popular areas such as the “panhandle” of Golden Gate Park. Every now and then, I will double the distance by returning in the afternoon with a slightly slower jog. If I am feeling like a bit of leisure, I will take my camera for a photo stroll. On the occasions I fall behind, I allow myself to cheat. I will catch a bus through the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. I figure I’m still better off having done a couple of miles under my own locomotion, than if I hadn’t bothered at all. I’m not trying to impress anybody.
The most important social science finding to report is borne out by research. You can form a habit quite easily. Laziness is a habit, as is its opposite. I could have been accustomed to, and probably was, staring at my smartphone while on the short train ride from the Forest Hill Station (said to be the first such subway stop with a building in the West) to the Civic Center Station. After finishing my first run commute, however, I became addicted to it, and as a consequence, if I take too long of a break my body protests the withdrawal into inactivity.
Before I tried this experiment, I would not have believed it was possible for me to do it. But it has worked better than I could have imagined. I run commute about three days per week. No doubt others can best that if they try.
By Frank Wu|2018-01-29T14:13:12-04:00January 29th, 2018|Categories: Uncategorized|1 Comment