Review: Camelbak Fourteener 24

As run commuters, we often borrow products from other specialty areas, such as camping supplies, bike commuting accessories, or travel gear, and piece those items together to make the perfect setup for running to work. The Camelbak Fourteener 24 is marketed as a hydration backpack for hikers and has many of the features we look for in a good running pack, so we decided to try it out and see how it performs on the run.

Note: The model we tested was the 2017 version. Camelbak has since redesigned the pack and added some features that the 2017 model lacked.

Test Model

Camelbak Fourteener 24 (2017 model)

Size: One size fits all

Carrying Capacity: 24L, 1,280 cu. in.

Cost: US $150

Mods/Add-ons: Reflective patches, Nathan Orion strobe,

Hi-Vis Rain Cover (X-Small)

Performance and Evaluation

I have run approximately 120 miles with this pack so far, and I have found it to be one of the better large-capacity running packs on the market. The straps and waist belt are comfortable. The back padding allows for great ventilation. I can easily pack larger winter jackets and clothing in addition to all my other gear, so if I want to go out for lunch or ride transit home, I am ready for the weather. It does bounce around slightly even when all the straps are fully tightened, however the design of the suspension system distributes the movement in a way that is much less noticeable than on other backpacks. The added hydration system is perfect for long run or bike commutes on hot summer days, and is an essential addition if you plan to run an ultra-marathon or longer trail race with it.  Bonus: it doesn’t hold any bad smells, even after many miles and lots of lost sweat.  Let’s look at some of the features in more detail.

What I Liked

Carrying Capacity

Great Ventilation

Overall Comfort

Low Smell Factor

What I Didn’t Like

Straps loosen with movement

Only one, small, usable quick-access pouch

No rain cover

Backpack Details

Front

There is a LOT of front storage on this pack. The front zippered pouch is large enough to store two standard size water bottles and also includes smaller zippered and mesh pockets for storing small accessories like keys, wallet, pens, or flash drives. The back of the entire pouch is detached from the pack and serves as additional storage for things like a pair of shoes. They straps can then be tightened to hold everything firmly and keep it from falling out as you run. Underneath the front pouch are two loops for lashing additional gear, such as hiking poles or a rolled up jacket, and they can be tucked away into little pouches when not in use.

At the top of the pack is a zippered, fleece-lined pouch for carrying sunglasses, cell phone, earbuds, or work IDs.

Sides

There are large, stretchy pockets on both sides of the pack that can hold a phone, water bottle, or other hand-sized item. The pack’s external compression straps cross over the pouches, and when cinched down, will hold any items inside pouches tightly in place.

Main Compartment

There’s not much to say about this aside from the massive amount of space.

Back Panel

The back panel includes three raised areas as part of Camelbak’s “Integrated Ventilation” system. I did not think I was going to like the running feel of this at first, as most packs that include ribbed or raised areas tend to slightly rub my back or are just generally downright uncomfortable. However, I was very surprised that the system is not only comfortable, but the ventilation system works much better than another favorite design of mine – Osprey Packs Airspeed system.

Suspension System

Straps

The shoulder straps are generally unremarkable. In addition to the standard lower buckles used to tighten the pack against your body, there are upper buckles as well, to change the top angle of strap to better fit on your shoulders. The straps are fastened together horizontally with a single sternum strap, and once everything is cinched down and tight, the pack is tight and comfortable to wear.

Waist band

The waist band is wide and almost entirely padded, save for the area where the buckles fasten together. On the right side, there is a small, zippered pouch. It’s not quite large enough to hold a phone, but is perfect for a wallet or a set of keys. On the run, the waist straps tended to loosen and I had to re-tighten them every 10 minutes or so.  The waist band was quite comfortable overall, and created no noticeable chafe or irritation on the run.

Hydration System

The Fourteener comes with a sizable 3-liter reservoir. The entire system is pretty standard, with tube holders on the shoulder straps and a bite-valve mouthpiece. The bladder is quick to open and easy to fill.

Conclusion

This bag is probably overkill for most run commuters, but it really is fantastic. I prefer the Camelbak Fourteener over my all-time favorite Osprey Rev (discontinued) and another great – the Osprey Manta. The carrying capacity is insane, and I have lost items inside this pack more than once, only to find them again days later at the bottom of the front pouch. The additional space is perfect for those fall/winter transition days where the morning is perfectly comfortable for running in tights and a short sleeve shirt, but the afternoon lunch break or transit ride home requires a heavy winter jacket. Or, you decide to pick up a bag of groceries on the way home. Don’t worry – they’ll fit.

Additional Pictures

By |2019-08-28T09:14:21-04:00August 25th, 2019|Categories: Gear, General|0 Comments

From the Run Commute to the Running Life

I am an advocate of walking. I mean both the doing of the act and the contemplation of it. I am a run commuter primarily, a racer too, and a companion of the dog as she does her business. I also appreciate, and I would like to celebrate, the meandering, pointless walk, whether solo or with society, surrounded by nature or across the city. When I run commute to work, race a half marathon, or take out the dog, I have a purpose, and that makes all the difference — it is like watching a movie as a critic, taking notes in order to comment intelligently. Yet when I am enjoying an aimless prowl, with no destination despite the menace of the term, I can approach a satisfaction about life, if even a temporary respite from whatever otherwise demands attention, that is all the better for being vigorous, engaged with a world of sights, sounds, smells, even the touch of the sun and the wind, without being motivated otherwise. It would be a shame to lose that ability to be active and idle at once.

For all I care about the run commute, a central component of my identity since I took it up, I acknowledge its limits. The run commute has a definite beginning and a certain end. It is a break between the comfort of my home and the necessity of my office. During its course, I pass from relaxation in the exertion, to anticipation of earning my living, adding value as if moral worth could be crassly calculated, responding to others who would impose their wills, and in that transition I feel how desperate my life is, like everyone else’s. Running is free. It is fleeting.

Henry David Thoreau would understand and perhaps be unsympathetic. The great American Transcendentalist author; an abolitionist native of Concord, Massachusetts, mentored by his neighbor Ralph Waldo Emerson; assigned on the high school syllabus to modern youth who believe they have thought up “civil disobedience,” wrote a sublime essay about “Walking.” He had spent two years, two months, and two days at Walden Pond, setting down his thoughts to share, in a book that can be reread repeatedly to inspire an examined life, and he rambled about the wilderness to his benefit and ours. After that, he penned “Walking,” which was published posthumously, the author having expired from the tuberculosis which had troubled him intermittently for his brief stay on this earth. Anyone who wishes to honor walking must become familiar with Thoreau’s regimen and reflections. He is the definitive American walker.

Thoreau was sincere, not sarcastic, in describing how for health and spirits he needed “four hours at least” in the art of saunter every day. He traveled “any number of miles without a road” in a nation not yet united by the transcontinental railroad, nurturing the “savage within” as he studied seeds and the propagation of plants. He was spiritual in these wanderings. He was resolutely American, facing the frontier rather than Europe. His first book had been a failure. It told of a week long boat trip with his late brother. His style is peerless. An imitator — or Thoreau himself for that matter — likely would have difficulty persuading an editor to publish these pieces unique in substance as well as tone, what with a poem inserted in the middle of what must seem silly for being committed, though his humor is lost on us (in Walden, for example, he parodies Ben Franklin).

A study of Thoreau impresses the reader with how integrated his actions were, as a natural philosopher who knew no separation of science and humanities: his published writing was based on journals and letters, which also were based on lectures and conversations, back when entertainment was, if not private, then public within earshot, but not broadcast for lack of technology. Everything was “live” in the best sense; there was no recording. The exertion of the body was essential to the output of the mind. These phenomenon could not be distinguished in the false dilemma between the physical and the mental. The aspiration to a meaningful existence is about the best any person could express.

A century later, Annie Dillard appeared as an heir to Thoreau. Her memoir, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, came early, as she was only establishing her independent personality; it was about her sojourn, just past the edge of the Roanoke, Virginia suburbs, as original as Thoreau’s retreat to a pond. Married to a college professor of hers, apparently not wholly happily, but with a cat in tow, she called herself a “poet and walker with a background in theology and a penchant for quirky facts.” She, too, kept a journal about the abandonment of domesticity, blending walking and seeing and experiencing, and, subsequently, writing. Watching, then recalling for the benefit of the reader so vividly as to reproduce the direct observation in the mind’s eye, a giant water bug suck the innards out of a frog too dazed to comprehend its impending demise, before the insect glided away from beneath its meal, she more than matched any literary progenitor in raw spirituality. She has since continued to offer insights about how to conduct yourself, internally and externally.

Thoreau and Dillard exemplify what I can only gesture at. For them, walking is the same as writing. To walk is to prepare to write, and to write requires the walk. The writing is, more than once, about the walking. These are not academics enfeebled by books. These are individuals immersed in an environment that is rendered tangible by the verbal representation. Aristotle and Socrates, peripatetic in the public square, lecturing to students who followed them, were walkers who happened to be teachers as well. The hobbit Bilbo Baggins, fictitious though he may be, discovered the world beyond the Shire, an idealized English village, and the world within himself, a sturdy fellow with furry feet, on a journey “there and back again.”

Rhetoric has power. To write is to be convinced of that reality. To walk is to urge yourself forward. A walk is not abstract.

The run commute is an obligatory version of the walk. It is practical, professional to a fault. It is not the same as the stroll, the march, the promenade, or the expedition. The other forms of the walk deserve praise in their own right. These are all about much more than transit; they are about our realization of ideals.

By |2019-08-19T12:29:01-04:00August 19th, 2019|Categories: General|0 Comments

Adding a Bike Commute to the Run Commute

I have added to my run commute with a bike commute. As much as I revel in the run commute, crediting it as a life changing habit, I am thrilled by the enhancement of the bike commute. For any run commuter who has access to the bike commute, I recommend it with enthusiasm. Here is how it works.

My home is in San Francisco, the city proper, just southwest of the geographic center of the 7 mile by 7 mile square. My wife and I had the fortune of purchasing at the bottom of the recession, shortly before real estate commenced its absurd appreciation at an accelerating pace to exorbitant prices and beyond. My office is in the Civic Center neighborhood. It is within sight of City Hall. The distance between home and office is 4.5 miles to 4.75 miles, depending on the exact route. It is not difficult to cover that on a daily basis.

For three years or so, I have been a run commuter. I am actually, as I have documented here, a run walker. I have no problem with that; it’s all about the ratio. I am always trying to increase the run portion and decrease the walk portion. It is no longer eccentric, however, to use this technique. There are training programs for long distance races based on the alternation, and I see even groups out there doing a timed sprint, then slowing down to a stroll. The Swedish have a name for it: “fartlek.” You can buy a t-shirt emblazoned with the term that seems scatological to English speakers.

I have lost count of the number of these runs I have done. I forget to start the smartwatch from time to time, and although I admit to backtracking to begin again I’m not obsessed enough to want everything recorded in Strava. Of these, only a handful are roundtrip. I typically hop on the MUNI train on the return leg. There isn’t a good reason for that. I could double my mileage easily enough. It is a slight uphill the whole way. That mild deterrent is the likely explanation for the weakness of follow through.

Once the run commute became routine, my attitude changed. I craved more physical exertion. The bike commute is a natural extension.

There are two competing bike share outfits in the Bay Area. One is affiliated with Uber, another with Lyft. These tech giants are planning to become transit companies in general, integrating automobiles with other modes. Apparently there is a legal dispute between them, and the city government, about the agreement granting licenses. The Uber option, orange battery-assisted vehicles under the brand name JUMP, are dockless; the Lyft rival, white and blue in both conventional pedal and new powered versions, share the name of the automotive giant Ford, with dozens of docks where once there were parking spaces. (Since I wrote the foregoing, Lyft has “rebranded” as Bay Wheels, with a black and pink motif. Citi Bike in New York City apparently is another tradename they use there.)

Both of these choices have geographic limits. Each excludes the western half of the city, “the Avenues” (dubbed the Richmond district north of Golden Gate Park; the Sunset, south), presumably because the density and the demographics renders it less lucrative. Their incursion to the Mission District has been received poorly, as another form of gentrification. In Spike Lee’s 1989 movie Do the Right Thing, the white yuppie who has moved into the black and brown neighborhood is a bicyclist wearing a Boston Celtics jersey, both intended to signify privilege and indifference. As a colleague of mine with training in economics and tax policy, also an avid biker, pointed out to me, the hostility to bike sharing is irrational since the price point is accessible. Yet these sentiments likely are about symbolism: my enthusiasm for bike share may be an indication of my bourgeois comfort.

Be that as it may, I tried a bike share when I had to meet my wife and another couple for dim sum (Chinese brunch consisting of small plates displayed on carts, which are wheeled around for you to pick from) someplace mass transit could not reach in a decent time. I had considered running over there, but it wouldn’t be as convenient on a social occasion as when headed to work, to wipe clean, change clothes, and be presentable. I have not hesitated to run errands in a literal sense, hoofing it from store to store, if I can carry what I anticipate buying in a backpack, but this seemed an ideal moment to check out this new phenomenon. I had to run a bit to the service zone. Our house is half a mile from the JUMP outer limits and a mile from the nearest Ford dock. I arrived early at my destination. I locked up according to instructions. It was fun.

Then I thought to myself I ought to continue the experiment with the commute. I did not need much persuading. You can locate the available units on a computer or smartphone. I have found, and I should point out, the technology is not totally reliable. Sometimes, bikes are there but don’t show up in the app, other times vice versa. The scan to unlock mechanism is okay. The failure rate is acceptable. You only need to look around for another ride.

I have used Uber/Jump and Lyft/Ford, selecting by proximity. I ended up subscribing to the latter after estimating the figures. The rides are $2 each for 30 minutes. The subscription has an annual fee which, if I log 81 rides, will be worthwhile. Considering the price of a mountain bike at retail, this arrangement is a bargain. It also enables usage on a one-way basis, which would be difficult with conventional ownership.

That is the new normal of our post-modern economy. We rent rather than buy. Look at how software is sold nowadays. Developers have wised up that there are not enough upgrades to keep customers paying if they are satisfied with what they are using, so they have adopted the model of a recurring fee.

The e-bike is a revelation. If you are not familiar with its power, that by itself why you should expend $2 for the experience. It fools you into believing it is natural, that you have the ability to cruise alongside cars, effortlessly. The speeds that can be achieved, even on flats, is impressive. The boost is welcome on hills, so much so that it feels like punishment to go without. A consistent eight miles per hour is possible. That means half as many minutes for the commute in the evening as in the morning.

There is a critical mass of bike commuters where I am. The dedicated bike lanes are an innovation. Bike commuting should be promoted as beneficial for individuals as well as society even if the rental boom is criticized as a blight (scooters are the worse nuisance scattered about and in use on sidewalks). There also is safety in the general awareness of drivers surrounded by cyclists. This is not a fad.

The run commute and the bike commute engage different muscle sets though each improves lung capacity. My legs have become strong. My butt has yet to catch up. Pedaling is excellent exercise. It even inspires thoughts of a triathlon. (If I take up swimming in earnest, I will write about that. Maybe best to look for a duathlon — skiing and shooting are the activities in a “biathlon.”)

My loyalty remains to my own feet of course. The bike commute is a supplement, not a substitute, for the run commute. A bike is not guaranteed to be around, which is the main problem. (A confession by way of digression. I do not wear a helmet. I know; I know. I should, and I’m shopping the collapsible designs.) But I am happy to have the bike, if I can find it, and it is better than crowding into a subway train. These are consistent with one another, philosophically. The run commute, like the bike commute, is about being more mindful and physically fit. That is a basic change in lifestyle.

By |2019-07-22T15:57:47-04:00July 22nd, 2019|Categories: General|0 Comments

The Best Sock: Darn Tough

I write to praise Darn Tough Socks. I attest at the outset that I have no conflict of interest: I bought these myself, and I receive nothing for penning this endorsement. I only wish to call out a product that has served me well. Socks are underestimated, and I have had enough problems with those that won’t stay up, which if you ask me means they fail either the most important or at least the second most important function of this piece of clothing — the only other things socks do are offer warmth and prevent blisters. The best are Darn Tough.

I have tried maybe a half dozen brands. I disclaim expertise beyond that of an ordinary consumer, afflicted with a bit of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Almost all of the low cut athletic models, won’t quite stay on. My feet are either men’s size 11 or 10-1/2 depending on the last for the shoe,  so it may be a consequence of socks being stretched a bit more than they should be.

For dress wear, I have an unusual preference judging by the proportions stocked at a department store if anybody still shops at such venerable institutions. I like over-the-calf socks. I’d rather not have exposed flesh under my pant cuffs. I do suffer a bit of sweating in the summer.

For the run commute, however, I almost always don form fitting socks that are invisible. I change at the office. There would be all sorts of issues attempting a run commute in full-on dress socks. The primary problem would be overheating.

Over time, I have been persuaded by the advertising. Merino wool works well. It wicks. It is suited for temperatures over three seasons. It won’t be the best under the direct summer sun. In San Francisco, that is not an issue. I would have scoffed at people who chose a place to live based on climate, earlier in my life, but I have matured and come around: a great benefit of where I have settled is that my wardrobe does not vary during the year, save for maybe one week when the temperatures are enough for my wife to state we need to have air conditioning (which we don’t, not uncommon for even upscale neighborhoods). I have various pieces of clothing made of merino wool (about which more another time). The tops also can be worn, other than if I have sweated strenuously, more than once between washings. The fabric isn’t scratchy at all. Beyond this specific make, I express enthusiasm for this material.

For those who are interested, Darn Tough has a good backstory. They take pride in it, as they ought to. They are a family owned business dating back two generations. They remain in the Green Mountains of Vermont. They are an American company. Pictures of what appear to be the entire payroll are displayed on the website. A customer service representative told me that mill employees will wear the same pair of socks for a month or more! That may be carrying it a bit too far.

I experimented a bit with the Darn Tough range. They have multiple weights. Given where I live and my personal preference, I opt for one of their lighter weaves. I’d recommend that for others, since it seems odd to have anything too thick without covering the ankles as well. They are much more durable than I expected. The pairs I bought initially show no signs of wear. They have outlasted the competition.

It would be churlish to complain about choice, but note that these folks offer many options. If you want cushioning, you can be accommodated. It would be best to visit a brick and mortar store to feel the product — my own opinion is you are morally obligated to buy at least the initial set of the item there, since you are availing yourself of the service of that physical encounter in person. Or study with care if you are not looking in person, because socks warrant the attention.

Others have observed the purchase price might appear high, but the quality is worth it, and there is a lifetime guarantee to boot (no pun intended). There are vendors who package a half dozen at a discount. It should be obvious, but it is all too easy to ignore the reality of the marketplace: if you want small businesses to succeed, you have to buy what they sell. I didn’t think of socks as an investment before. I do now.

I would not hesitate to purchase more of these in the future. Continuing patronage is the best compliment of any company.

By |2019-07-08T12:56:56-04:00July 8th, 2019|Categories: Gear, General|0 Comments

Competing as a Run Commuter?

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.

By |2019-07-01T12:46:08-04:00July 1st, 2019|Categories: General|1 Comment

The Run Commute and the Daily Uniform

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.

By |2019-06-24T12:30:23-04:00June 24th, 2019|Categories: General|1 Comment

What I Think About Murakami Running and Writing

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.

By |2019-06-17T11:26:53-04:00June 17th, 2019|Categories: General|0 Comments

Three Reasons to Always Use a Rain Cover

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!

By |2019-01-27T09:00:24-04:00January 27th, 2019|Categories: Gear, General|0 Comments

Review: Proviz REFLECT360 Running Backpack

Run commuting in the cold, dark days of winter can be challenging. If you keep normal hours, you often start and end the day in darkness. Footpaths are often not as well-lit, which make running on the road itself safer, but that renders you vulnerable to passing traffic who can’t see you. In an effort to make myself as visible as possible, I looked for the brightest backpack I could find, and strangely enough found it in the black backpack produced by ProViz Sports.

ProViz Sports are a UK-based company that specialise in highly reflective gear, using 100% CE EN 20471 certified reflective material to produce clothing and equipment designed to highlight users in low-light areas. They chiefly focus on cycling and cycling products, but recently produced a backpack tailored to running (and run commuters): the REFLECT360 Running Backpack.

Test Model

REFLECT360 Running Backpack

Size: Small

Carrying Capacity: 10L, 610 cu. in.

Cost: AUD $95/US $70

Add-on: None

Performance and Evaluation

It’s worth noting here that I travel light as my work clothes are on site, so I tend to go for bags 15L or smaller. As of writing I have covered over 100km with this pack, carrying my lunch, spare clothes, phone, stethoscope and important documents. The average weight for my setup is about 2 kg or 4 pounds.

I really liked the feel of this backpack. When packed well and adjusted correctly, the bag sat really snugly against my torso, and didn’t feel too loose or too tight. Despite the lack of external straps to tie down the main compartment, there was minimal bounce, which I think again throws back to the design of the backpack, which is quite compact. The back of the backpack is ventilated, and while there are no panels separating the backpack from your back, it is made of a firmer material which holds its shape quite well. I have had minimal issue with sweating or heating up so far.

The backpack has held up over sun, wind and rain, without getting too wet or soggy. It apparently can resist a 1500m water column so I guess you could go deep sea diving without wetting your belongings. But jokes aside, once it rained three times on route to work (that’s Melbourne weather for you!) and I arrived soaking wet with bone dry belongings.

The backpack has shoulder straps, waist straps and sternum straps. It has a central compartment, a smaller front compartment, two side pouches and two mesh side pockets. It did not come with a hydration bladder, although there is an option to insert one, which you have to buy separately (I did not).

The chief pulling point is the reflective fabric that covers most of the back of the backpack, several stripes across the front straps, and the stitching of the backpack itself –  something I didn’t even realise until I reviewed this article. I don’t claim to be an expert on reflective material, but it certainly does reflect the light from streetlights, car headlamps and even torches very well, even more so than the neon-colored fabrics that make some some other bags. Interestingly enough, it doesn’t reflect the glare of indoor lights or sunlight, which means that you won’t blind your fellow co-workers or other commuters, should you decide to take this pack out in the daylight. One amusing thing, though: I’ve also discovered that you can use the reflection of the ceiling lights on the fabric to turn on sensor-operated faucets from quite a distance, making this a useful party trick if you’re the sort of person to have parties in the bathroom.

Reflective material aside, the quality and design of the bag really impressed me. I’ve used several run packs over the 15 or so months, and it became clear very early on that this bag was designed with run commuters and cyclists in mind. For one thing, there is very little excess strappage. The loose ends of the waist straps are designed to be tucked into side pockets, and the sternum straps had very short loose ends, which did not bother me at all. The shoulder straps and waist straps are nice and wide. Another serious plus point for me were the zippers. The AquaGuard® zippers open and close smoothly without catching no matter how contorted the bag is, which makes it really easy to access stuff from the waist straps on the go.

I have a few minor issues with the bag. The mesh side pockets are quite shallow. They look like they’re designed to hold water bottles but I didn’t dare to put any in them, for fear of the bottles falling out during the run. They probably would hold small (150ml) water bottles, but I don’t think the standard 600ml drink bottles sit very well. I mainly used the mesh pockets to hold small items such as my headlamp. Secondly, there is no compression strap over the main compartment, which means that you have to really pack your bag well. Also, the waist strap pouches, while quite roomy, could not fit my gigantic iPhone 6+, but I don’t really hold this against the pack because I’ve never found one that could! Also, it only comes in black, but this doesn’t bother me.

What I carry on a typical day

What I Liked

Very visible

High-quality design

Water resistant

Breathable material

What I Didn’t Like

No tie down straps

Side pouches still can’t fit my ginormous phone

Minimal front access pouches

Shallow mesh side pockets

Summary

This is a decent run pack, with only minor issues that I think are more of preference than necessity, and would fit the run commuter with minimal luggage wanting to run at any time of the day, all year round. It definitely lives up to its claim of being visible, but also functions well as a backpack for people serious about getting to work on foot.

By |2018-08-20T13:39:05-04:00August 20th, 2018|Categories: Gear|1 Comment

A Run Commuter Anew

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.

By |2018-08-20T13:59:42-04:00July 2nd, 2018|Categories: General|0 Comments