Among the best aspects of run commuting is that it is not competitive. Or, more accurately, it is a pure competition: you against you, for the purpose of self-improvement.
My run commute in San Francisco is approximately 4.5 miles, according to multiple outings measured by various devices. My personal record is just under 48 minutes. That depends on traffic lights turning to my advantage. A reasonable goal for me would be 45 minutes. Even that, however, is laughable to the real runners. I regard myself as serious but slow in this avocation, with enough repetition plodding along to establish both my sincerity and my speed. There are bicycles and cars to dodge. There is at least one hill no matter how you map it.
Competition has its place of course. Our system of capitalism depends on our faith in this premise. You improve by playing sports against those better than yourself. The desire to win produces progress. A slacker with inadequate motivation is to be talked to, whether cajoled or reprimanded.
Yet we also try to instill the opposite in children. We instruct them to cooperate. They can be too aggressive, too selfish for the good of society. We encourage them to share, because we acknowledge with varying degrees of enthusiasm that it is for the best. We worry about only children, if they become too accustomed to owning all the toys around them.
I have run with many people. Running is a rare sport. Without altering the rules an iota, it can be enjoyed solo or with company. Among strangers in a race, I succumb to what I believe many of us do. I select somebody in the anonymous crowd as my personal pacer. Unbeknownst to them, I am determined to beat them. They will not pass me.
I once signed up for a half marathon with two work friends. One said to me, “It’s not a race.” Then she corrected herself, “Oh, wait, I guess it is.” I finished in the middle: our other colleague was a ringer; she had run track in high school, a fact she did not disclose in advance. The one who was confused about whether it was a race or not had once done an ultramarathon overseas, but was set back from a recurring injury.
My pace was just between them. As one said goodbye to me, I bid farewell to the other.
My relatives by marriage include a niece who has run a marathon, which is more than I can claim, but who has not done so since bearing children, the eldest now a teenager. When they took a trip to see our new house, I persuaded several family members to run commute with me one morning, and she could barely make it. On the way home — I stayed at work of course — she had trouble climbing up the stairs at the neighborhood subway station (Forest Hill, San Francisco), reputedly the oldest in the American West, deep underground, with multiple sets of steps from the tunnel to the street, so that as you rounded a corner you groaned at the prospect of climbing further. A few years after she returned to running, for which I would like to take credit, which among kin is possible deserved or not (and will receive push-back if too much to assert), she was back to form. On vacations, I could not keep up, even if I started ahead, with my run-walk alternation. Yet it is good to be humbled.
It is a reminder of the reality that for everyone slower, there is somebody else equally faster, with the exception for the winner of the race. There are the multitudes slower than the last finisher of any race. They are slumbering abed as in Henry V’s rallying cry to battle on St. Crispin’s Day. They will regret they did not awake.
My favorite companion in this endeavor is a fellow named Ali. We are about the same age, but he is the most laid back guy I have ever met. He and I have hit the trails. We have done back-to-back races on a single weekend. I am pleased, probably too much so, that I have beat him consistently. On a demanding course in the country, with vertical gain over 3000 feet, I was worried that a mishap had befallen him. While hanging out at the finish line waiting for him to cross, shivering in the rain, I chatted with the organizers. I explained to the guy handing out t-shirts the nature of my relationship with Ali, how I liked him because I was sure I would finish before him.
“What are friends for?” the kid replied with the laugh of sarcasm, endorsing my feeling, as petty as I might be.
The run commute, however, is more purposeful. It is about arriving at the destination within a specific time window. I always have something I need to show up for: a class to teach or a meeting to attend. I need a few minutes to clean up and change into appropriate attire. That goal implies the opposite of what it might. It compels me to transcend competition. There is no victory to the run commute other than to clear the mind. That is a worthwhile aspiration as the opposite of crass ambition. It is all about the experience. The ideal mental zone for the run commute focuses on the run more than the commute. I can imagine I am dedicated to improving myself no less than the world. Thanks to that preparation, my job has meaning.
The run commute instills virtue despite yourself.
When I started to run commute, I also started to wear a uniform. I acquired enough of the same shirt and pants — and even, importantly for the task, shoes — to wear for a week, requiring only that I rotate through them, changing t-shirt and underwear and socks (though I’m in the process of switching to identical t-shirts and underwear, too). I am lucky. I happen to hold a job, as a professor, that allows me to pursue this consistency without worry that I will be shunned. I am risking a bit of spousal disapproval and mockery from students, both of which are inevitable anyway. The benefits outweigh the costs. This is who I am.
I would not have attempted such an endeavor at an earlier age. I used to be ambitious in a conventional sense. That means I had people to impress. I had to mature into myself.
The credulous believe fashion catalogs that promise the right look ensures the happy life. You try to assimilate. As a kid, I remember begging my immigrant parents for the same sneakers and the same blue jeans that the neighbor kids had, the suburban aesthetic, which made them cool and which I was compelled to copy. My brothers and I would not be accepted in our hand-me-downs brought annually from the cousins and home sewn polyester courtesy of our mother. I came of age during the preppy handbook era, which proposed we embrace the fads of East Coast WASPs who were proud of the privilege symbolized by polo shirts. I wore penny loafers for too long, slouching and shuffling along, until I developed plantar fasciitis, only to receive the recommendation that I alter my footwear choice as a cure, which worked to my great relief. As a lawyer earlier in my career, I still had to imitate those at ease in business attire. Casual Fridays were introduced then, and the standard was anything but casual, because there was a secret code established by social superiors of how to relax properly. Henry David Thoreau offered the advice not to undertake any occupation that involved a new set of clothes. He was a frugal fellow and a wise one as well.
Nowadays, I am ambitious in a better sense. I am content with my station in life. My current goals are along the lines of better form as a runner, a faster pace, and greater stamina. I would like to be a decent human being. That includes humility.
For this new phase in the cycle of the universe, my costume is black. I dated a woman once who insisted that all shoes had to be hair colored. When I met her husband, I glanced down at his feet immediately. An astute man, he said, “Yes, yes, I know. Hair and shoes should match.”
Whether that admonition is the origin of the style, my top is lightweight black merino wool or cotton, a pullover, a turtleneck if it is especially chilly. I favored Ibex, which went bankrupt, and I switched to Icebreaker. The pants are black, Underarmour, which can be worn during the run and then for the rest of the day. The belt is black webbing, as plain as possible. The shoes are black leather pull-on, the type with stretchy side panels. They were a bargain, so I stocked up. These are carried in an ultra-lightweight backpack. (Some days, the shoes are black Hoka One Ones, eliminating the need to swap out footwear to a dress alternative). If I must don a collar, I have no-iron black dress shirts bought in bulk at a discount. The underwear is technical fabric, or, based on research, bamboo. The t-shirts are Amazon Basics, v-neck in black, so I don’t have bits of white t-shirt visible underneath a black shirt, as if I remained a geek unaware that this violated norms — I guess I am a conformist to that extent.
The running wardrobe emphasizes high-viz yellow for safety’s sake. That includes a cap and a jacket.
There is a philosophy to the practice. I have no desire to put on a necktie, nor advertise a corporation by displaying its logo. An organized life becomes convenient. I fold my clothes when they come out of the laundry, stacking everything so I can grab the next iteration from a series. A side effect is efficiency while traveling. I waste neither time considering what to pack nor space on extra items.
I am not embarrassed that I am a creature of habit. I follow the same route on my run commute. I vary a bit, more due to traffic patterns than for the change of scenery. But even the same route is not the same daily — if you become attentive to subtlety, which I would like to, there is the passage of the seasons and the new goings-on in the neighborhoods through which you pass. When I do something different, it is still within a range of options that have become familiar: I turn left a street earlier or later, or, if I want an adventure I head through historic Haight-Ashbury, home of the “Summer of Love” (1967), the year I was born, albeit in the much more conventional Midwest.
There is much to be said for habit. I have realized that, even if I may be rationalizing. My wife and I are homebodies. When we eat out, we have a few places where we are regulars. At the sushi joint down the street, I study the menu, but I have always, without exception, ordered the same dishes: the mentai oroshi (cod roe on grated radish) and the sashimi moriawase (the raw fish daily special). All that changes is the drink, based on the weather: sake, hot or cold; or beer. The husband and wife proprietors recognize us. They laugh with us, a private but shared joke, as we study the board showing specials, then recite what they have heard us say before many a time, because our dining there is a ritual.
There are others who have followed the same regimen. They save themselves the trouble of a decision each morning. Efficiency commends itself. Albert Einstein is reputed to have done it, but I have doubts about whether that is apocryphal. The late Steve Jobs appears to have followed the discipline. Gilligan and the rest of the castaways on the island in the eponymous television sitcom, like the Star Trek crew (pity the redshirts) and other fictitious figures who have fan followings, possess limited wardrobes, although of course their story explains the constraints of the situations: for Gilligan, the Skipper, and their guests, other than coconuts, there wasn’t much they could add to their closets since they had planned on only a three hour tour. They become so easily identified they qualify as iconic. John Wick comes out of retirement with a white shirt and a black shirt. But he never removes the bulletproof suit jacket (“tactical”). There is a gender aspect to the method of course, to the advantage of males and the disadvantage of females, as is typical of gender inequities. It likely is easier for men to repeat the same outfit incessantly without social stigma, and even those who are not trying to do so can duplicate suit, shirt, and tie without others noticing much less objecting. There is no reason a woman could not adopt this system.
For me, the run commute and the uniform are related. They started simultaneously. I have more important matters to consider than what covers my body. Among the subjects to contemplate productively are the transcendent aspects of the urban hike outside my door before dawn. Beyond that, my run commute and uniform are about the cultivation of control over one’s self, about establishing character through specific actions, deliberately, mindfully. I want to be my own person. Ironically, every individual aspires to the same. But I am confident that only a few will follow through: wake up early, venture forth in the dark despite cold and rain, clean up at the office, and be ready for the day as the author of one’s own story.
I have not decided if running is a solitary activity that I engage in within a community, by racing half marathons; or if it is a social activity that I engage in alone, commuting back and forth. I have concluded, however, that it is a contemplative activity. For me, running naturally promotes thinking, and thinking naturally leads to writing. I am not alone: Haruki Murakami, the avante garde, Western-influenced Japanese novelist, turns out to be a marathoner. A decade ago, he published a memoir about training as well as how he became a runner, a writer, and then a runner-writer who blends the activities as many of us aspire to do. It deserves the acclaim it received. I loved it.
This book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, made clear the difference between doing something on the one hand and talking and writing about it on the other hand. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a magician. I tried to persuade my parents that I should give up piano lessons for the magic equivalent. I bought treatises and supplies and tricks and those boxes of everything including a wand, which were advertised on television. As I delved into coins and cards, trying to palm them, force an audience member’s choice, drop or load, I became intrigued by the histories and the stories. No doubt that was an excuse: I have to admit I was too lazy to practice the manipulation needed to fool anyone but the especially gullible. I was curious, but by character preferred studying to performing.
Since then, everything I have attempted to do, I have wanted to document, no matter how well it turned out. I have written about motorcycling, for example, and I once rode across the country, a journey I recommend heartily; I also have blogged about photography, a pastime that I have combined with running, and which I took up in earnest at the same time in life. So I am more analytic than athletic, more abstract than practical.
Yet the run commute and writing match perfectly. I want to run commute as much as I want to write, daily. The point of the run commute is more than either the exercise or reaching the destination in order to work. I could exercise elsewhere, including by running for the sake of running, which I confess I rarely undertake. I could travel through San Francisco by motorcycle or MUNI train or my wife’s car or on a bicycle.
The run commute is magical though. I feel as if I have made a discovery. I suppose since it is new to me, it can be described as such, belonging to that category of revelation about life that you need to experience for yourself, even if it would be foolish to suppose it is in fact unique to you. It is personal. You cannot gain the insight by any education other than experience.
I enjoy the run commute so much that, while as a matter of principle I deny having any regrets, I am willing to acknowledge that I wish I had embraced the run commute much earlier in life, or at least the long walk. When I was in college at Johns Hopkins University, they had housing only for first year students, and after that I lived off campus what seemed a great distance away, all of six blocks, far enough to excuse missing class too often. I had a friend in the dorms with whom I lost touch, in part because the following year he moved around to the other side of campus and that hike of what likely was less than a mile was too much to manage for the geek I was back then. For that, I look back in disappointment at myself, acknowledging the cliche that youth is wasted on the young, because I would be in such better shape today if only I had developed this good habit much earlier, not to mention still being acquainted with a fellow who was an amiable conversationalist when I was able to work up the will to go for a saunter.
That is why it is wonderful to learn from Murakami. His book is easygoing, as if he were accompanying you and encouraging you to continue pushing forward. I imagine it would be great while running to listen to the text in audio format. Then it would be as if his thoughts had become your own thoughts, giving that illusion of being faster as a runner and smarter as a writer too. It’s like an extended interview, as in the Paris Review, about how a writer does what they do (Murakami has been the subject of just such a session). Readers, in particular those who wish to be writers, enjoy that, as if copying a mechanical routine in turn will produce a manuscript: talent, we are told, is not the same as focus and endurance. Murakami is a bona fide celebrity. He also became a recluse. He and his wife agreed, when they moved to a rural area early on, that they would see people they wanted to see and not bother with people they didn’t like. That is as admirable as it is difficult.
Son of a literature professor and grandson of a Buddhist monk, Murakami the young man had been proprietor of a jazz club. He recalls how at a specific moment, he decided to enter a contest to write a novel, sending away the only copy, the original manuscript he had handwritten in Japanese with a fountain pen, then being surprised he won, coming into consideration for a major prize. He then set out on a career, which seemed speculative against the established success of the jazz club, a comparison that indicates how risky writing really is as anything but a hobby, but supported by his wife, who otherwise scarcely appears in his story. The running was a self-imposed compensation for sitting all day to practice his craft (he also quit smoking). The book title is a reference to the late Raymond Carver’s definitive short story collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love — Murakami is Carver’s Japanese translator. In addition to magical realist fiction, he has published a book length conversation with conductor Seiji Ozawa and a journalistic study of the terrorist attacks using Sarin gas on the Tokyo subway system in 1995.
Perhaps he, and any reader of this minor scribbling, will forgive me for envisioning myself as a junior colleague to Murakami. I have always figured I was a writer with a day job. The reason he is inspiring is his thoughtfulness about how running is integral to writing. His running is directly related to writing both because as his blood flows the ideas course through his brain, which he can record later, and since running itself is the subject of writing. I feel the same. It is inevitable that a good run will produce a good piece of writing. That is my definition of a good run, that it generates such a result. Running is reflective. There is so much to a simple act that, if you pay attention, can be discussed. I’m merely imitating Murakami. That is fine, because running is sincere rather than snarky; you cannot be ironic about the activity despite the costumed crowd at events such as Bay to Breakers, the festive race in San Francisco.
Murakami is no slouch. The guy is a bit of a nut. He tested himself by running around the Imperial Palace in Tokyo seven times, for a total of more than 22 miles. His PR in the marathon is a self-reported 3:27. He has even, solo and on commission for an article in a magazine, completed the original marathon, i.e., to Marathon in Greece albeit short by a mile due to the straight route being not quite the distance imputed to it (his time was 3:51). At the time of his book, he had finished the Boston Marathon six times, and in the concluding essay, he is preparing for a triathlon. He said in an interview that finishing, then eating clams and drinking beer is among his happiest moments. He enjoys American rock music, the classics extending into the 1980s (he mentions Duran Duran and Hall and Oates, which are not the same genre at all). He’s not a team sports participant despite being a baseball fan, following one of the less fashionable Japanese franchises, and he has jogged with fellow novelist John Irving, famous for his enthusiasm over wrestling. However, running is now “like brushing [his] teeth.”
I am sure not everyone will agree about running and writing. Some will suppose I am too philosophical. You write about motorcycling or photography, and some readers take you to task for not being out there riding or taking pictures. It is academic, pedantic, and pretentious, to be literary about what they would prefer to lack such self-consciousness. We all have our own dispositions.
Murakami gets it. I am disappointed, however, that he disapproves of the run-walk. That is my mode. His epitaph will declare he never walked. I also don’t have the same style. He goes topless. Since I do not know Japanese, I am not sure if it is Murakami or his translator — even though he gives speeches in English and does the reverse of turning English into Japanese, he has relied on someone else to transform his prose. He sounds colloquial, contemporary, as if he is “shooting the breeze” alongside you; that is the sort of phrase that appears, “shooting the breeze,” with an everyday tone.
For me the run commute has taken on the qualities Murakami has identified. I intend to write more and to read more. After Murakami, there are many others who have documented excursions. If you are open minded, attentive to details, even the same route to the office will be epic.
I am a long time Deuter fan. I have been run commuting with a Deuter backpack for close to 10 years. When the shoulder strap of my Race Exp Air unexpectedly broke right in its middle this past Fall, I contacted Deuter to see what, if anything, could be done for my backpack. I thought that if their customer service was as good as their equipment, I should receive a quick answer. A few months later, I am still waiting for that answer.
I did some research on the Internet to see if anyone else had had the same issue as me with this backpack, but found nothing.
Honestly, I was not looking for much – I just wanted to know where I could get my pack fixed. I was willing to pay to get it done. But the answer never came. To contact the company, I used the form available on their website: https://www.deuter.com/DE/en/contact.html
So, at the end of last year, I bought myself a new run commuting pack: an Osprey Synchro 15.
I selected it for three simple reasons: it comes with a very nice rain cover, it is the right size (15 liters) for run commuting, and it has probably one of the best water bladders on the market: the Osprey Hydraulic Lt. I very seldom need a water reservoir when I run commute, but it is definitely nice to have if you ever decide to run for reasons other than making your way to and from work. And, at $128 (Cdn) for both the pack and the water bladder, the price was more than right.
So far, I like the pack, but I will run at least a thousand more kilometers with it on my back before I express a final opinion.
Still, I could not resolve myself to throwing away my Deuter Race Exp Air. As a last resort, I took it to a shoe cobbler, that specializes in outdoor gear: http://www.atelierhorspiste.com/en/home. I had no hope. If something could be done, great! Otherwise, I had my new Osprey.
To my surprise, my Deuter pack came back as good as new. Isabelle from Atelier Hors-Piste was able to replace the shoulder strap mesh material with some new fabric. To make sure it would not look odd, she even did both straps.
Now I have two backpacks to run commute every day of the year, which is not a bad idea now that I am actually experiencing it. The only sad part to this story is the lack of service I got from Deuter when I needed it.
Here are three reasons (other than rain) to have your running backpack cover – aka the rain cover – on at all times.
1. To be seen from far away
Most running backpacks these days come with an integrated cover. Make sure the cover has reflective bands, and is of a visible colour. Reflective bands on a backpack cover can be spotted by a car driver from farther away than most portable electric lights. Avoid dark backpack covers.
2. To catch loose gear
In the past 10 years, my backpack cover has saved me from losing my cellphone, and even my wallet. Not that often, maybe just once or twice, but losing your wallet even once is not something I wish on anyone. These side pockets are very handy, but sometimes, when you decide to push the machine, things will shift, a zipper may come loose, and stuff starts falling out. Having your cover on will save you lots of trouble.
3. Because it is snowing!
Yes, snow will eventually make everything wet on the inside of your pack if you stay outside long enough.
That’s it! An other good reason to always have it on is to be ready at all times when the rain starts coming down.
Happy run commute!
From the rooftop deck of where I work, you can just about see where I live; my dorm is in the next tower directly behind the building on the left.
The feasibility of run commuting depends not only an ability to run but also the length of the commute. No matter how dedicated a runner you might be, you have to consider the feasibility of the commute distance. My decision to be a run commuter is about my desire to run as much as it is about my lack of desire to be much of a commuter. You have to travel to appreciate your home. My summer in Shenzhen, China, made me realize how much each of us can control an aspect of our lives that we should not mistake as circumstance: whether we live close to work or not. I want to stay within the limits of my ability to carry myself on my own two feet to my desk each morning. (I am doing 4.5 miles on average, in San Francisco. I might be willing to take that up to 5. I doubt I have the skill to push past that number.)
My preference has always been to have a house near the office. I am sympathetic to those who have made another choice, considering family or other factors, and far be it for me to pass judgment. But I wonder if each of us makes ourselves miserable by increasing the miles we have to journey to a job on a regular basis, while also adding to the burden on the environment with a carbon footprint more substantial than needed.
When my wife and I married, she moved into half a duplex I owned in Washington, D.C. The unit was behind a fast-food restaurant, which I took to be a convenience during my days as a bachelor, but to which she, especially as a vegetarian, objected to as a nuisance — you could just about place a drive-through order from the bedroom window. I was a law professor a few blocks away. That was not an accident, because I had sought out real estate that would be walkable to campus. In those days before I embraced the run commute regimen, however, I exhibited a moral failing that now I regret, I complained to my wife about the ten minute stroll, and I even drove sometimes (confession: often), my excuse being the heavy casebooks I had to carry. She pointed out I could become a clerk at the deli around the corner if I really wished for convenience,
Later, I had an opportunity to move back to my hometown of Detroit. I became a law school dean. My wife wished to remain in the capitol even as I returned to the Motor City. We bought an architectural landmark downtown, which was feasible in that magnificent wreck of a metropolis, symbolic of all that happened in twentieth century America, especially the development of car culture. As absurd as it might have seemed to fly back and forth, I did a few calculations, In a typical week, I commuted only as much as the average suburbanite who toiled downtown in terms of the time in transit.
This summer, I am humbled to be a visiting professor at Peking University School of Transnational Law. The institution, which uses Chinese and English as the language of instruction (I am capable only in the latter to my chagrin), is in Shenzhen, a city that sprang up as a special economic zone across the border from the then British colony of Hong Kong. I was presented the option of a dorm room in the tower for foreign experts or a long term stay at a hotel just off campus. Consistent with my philosophy, I went for the former. By my calculation, I am three minutes from the newly opened law school building at a crawl or probably ninety seconds in a sprint. (The old building was even closer, across a reflecting pool.) It being typhoon season, last Thursday I was at the exact midpoint, having waited for a clear moment, when the skies opened again. No benefit to you turning back, I trudged forward, arriving drenched.
Other than that, my stint here has been without mishap. Since I am overseas, and only temporarily, I feel as if my horizons have expanded, not constricted. It is true I live so close to work I can come back “home” for lunch. That is an advantage. I love being embedded within the community. I am dedicated to my teaching. There isn’t a moment wasted in traffic. I always can wander farther for entertainment. One night we journeyed to an Italian restaurant in an upscale mall. My sense of scale adjusts. Thanks to the ability to hail a car when needed, I am not constrained.
I like the countryside and rural areas with open space — for a weekend excursion. I would rather not be stuck in a subdivision where I would depend on an automobile even to shop for groceries. There are material benefits to population density. There are costs too of course. Yet on the whole, to run commute is to engage directly with the people around you, on the ground. It is to value human interaction, sustained relationships, and civic engagement.
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 worse even than 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 start up even among new start ups. 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 also is 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 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.