The Distance Factor

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 viability 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 of 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 I now 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 affordable 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 can always 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.

By |2018-07-16T21:41:31+00:00July 16th, 2018|Categories: General, People|Tags: , , , , |0 Comments

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 more severe than even they can withstand.

But thanks to jet lag, I need no alarm to cajole me. I am up before dawn whether I’d like to be or not. At that hour, however, I still feel assaulted by the air. It is clear that the mugginess will be overwhelming later in the season.

The first Monday, I met a new colleague, also from the States, for a walk. We had made arrangements via email before our respective departures. I had anticipated I would need to be up and about, as soon as it became light outside. We met at the business school that is a new startup even among new startups. The Starbucks in the corner of the building was a convenient landmark. It offered a means to ask for directions without Mandarin language fluency.

Our morning meander was easygoing. There were multiple outdoor tracks we could visit. Three different universities, all leading institutions of higher education well established elsewhere, had been recruited by the local government to considerable acreage near the zoo. Each school had its own facilities. There is also an impressive gymnasium opened especially for a major athletics competition a few years back. That is on the list of attractions to check out. Its first-class equipment apparently is under-used. Perhaps the indoor course will be the best venue for further training.

We saw a few others exercising early. One or two solitary figures were engaged in qigong rituals, calm and calming to observers, with the silent fluidity of contemplative motion. A couple male runners, shirtless, were making good time. Street sweepers were finishing their shifts, construction workers beginning theirs. Female students riding bicycles or strolling arm in arm carried umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun. A few guards kept an eye out. There were fisherman hoping for a bite, their lines cast into a canal that ran along the perimeter of the grounds. Signs warned of snakes. They are mildly poisonous.

By a permissive standard, I have become a run commuter again. I am housed in a dormitory for, among others, foreign experts. I can mosey along the paved path to the law school in about three minutes; probably a jog would take me there in under two. It could not be more convenient for a short stay. Immediately upon arriving at the office, I had to return to my residential unit, because I neglected to bring an appropriate adapter for the electrical outlet. I thought briefly of doing without until the battery was exhausted, but I realized it would be unconscionably lazy to avoid the extra trip.

According to my GPS watch, I logged ten miles. An additional adventure was finding my own way to the administrative office to load credit onto my ID card. The campus is cashless. I did what I do while in Asia. I accost random non-Asians for help. A young European pointed me toward the proper office for my errand.

My initial plan was to shower twice. I figured I would sweat enough to need it. I instead am on a schedule of thrice. I wonder if I will adapt. Otherwise, my wife has warned me via our international video calls, I will dry out my skin and wash away essential oils. I cannot resist though. Even well short of the environmental maximums that will be hit in mid-August, I cannot make myself comfortable. I am aware of my body, in that manner that impairs the mind doing anything else other than dwelling on the flesh that constitutes one’s self.

Nonetheless, I am glad. This is progress.

By |2018-07-04T16:27:01+00:00July 2nd, 2018|Categories: General, People|Tags: , , , , , |0 Comments

Run Commuting Has Made Me a Better Person

The path along the canal where I am run commuting this summer, at the Peking University Shenzhen campus.

“You are very mild,” someone said to me the other day. She meant it as a compliment; she said that she had a similar demeanor. That surprised me. Most of my life, as a child and adult, I’ve been considered more belligerent, rude, grouchy, and sarcastic.

I attribute the progress to run commuting. Physical health and mental health are bound together in a cycle either vicious or virtuous. Regular exercise has positive effects for body and mind. How we interact with one another depends on how we feel inside ourselves. Science can confirm such effects. We do not have to be aware of our emotions to have our lives determined by them, and, for that matter, our unconscious selves may have the better of the ego we deem to be our own identities.

Run commuting has improved my personality. It has increased my forbearance, patience, and resilience. These traits are all important. They have nothing to do with my intelligence or the skills I have developed. Yet they make me a better employee and employer, as well as a more decent person.

There are direct mechanisms at work. I must plan to run commute to ensure I have everything I will depend on during the day. I need to be mindful while on the road to avoid being run over. To get the heart pumping early in the morning circulates more oxygen, which generates ideas, making me productive as a writer. The endorphins that are released make me calm and content.

The truth is there has been more than one day I have left the house outraged about this or that. Somebody has been disrespectful, ungrateful, or otherwise aggravating. My negative sentiments dissipate over 4.5 miles though. I cannot sustain them even if I wished to do so.

Probably a study could be devised to test the hypothesis that a run commuter is less likely to be resentful. Driving a personal vehicle in a crowded city and taking public transit are also probably not good for blood pressure.

Run commuting has not made me perfect. Nothing will accomplish that for any of us as human beings. But it has made me better.

The only other aspect of my life that has had the same influence, according to observers, is marriage. Another long-time friend once told me that my wife had, as she herself would attest, changed me. Run commuting and marriage might not seem comparable. But they are. Both are activities, not outcomes. The daily physical exertion is a reminder that the constant process is as important as any temporary result. You have to keep at it if you want to maintain the beneficial effects. That is the most important insight I have ever had: our days are meant to be engaged in, not to pass by as if we had no ability to participate. Run commuting requires nothing (if you have embraced the barefoot trends, not even shoes). Yet it calls for what is most difficult to summon: initiative that only we can take.

To run commute is to insist that the world is ours. It is material, surrounding us, demanding that we involve ourselves. Even in the rain and the traffic, despite our fatigue, it is imperative that we motivate ourselves to move ourselves.

The Road Back

Steps near my house that I climb as a test.

This is harder than I thought it would be. I had hoped to make a comeback. But the rare, serious autoimmune disease I have been diagnosed with is a doozy. Or more accurately, the drugs I am on have major side effects. After more than 75 half marathons in three years and a regular routine of run commuting 4.5 miles to work, I have been forced to take six weeks off. I have failed to show up for three different races I signed up for, even after downgrading the distance. The end is not in sight. But I am determined.

My wife, who has her own illness, gave me two pieces of advice. The first was, “Respect the disease.” The second was, “Suffer privately.”

I have failed to follow both her suggestions. I have turned the corner. I am heading in to the office, not just sitting at home.

I appreciate now, however, that I cannot simply will myself to perfect well-being. Autoimmune conditions have many triggers. Stress, and mental state more generally, are crucial factors in how the body functions. An unhappy attitude likely will cause a flare up. But its opposite does not promise a remission much less a restoration to health.

The cure is not worse than the disease. But the cure is not fun. Methotrexate, my main prescription, was a cancer drug, and it is deemed toxic. Constant fatigue, especially at my dosage (80mg once per week), is normal.

I am compelled to share though. For me, running and writing are related. When I run more, I write more. The blood flows; creativity results. In this forum, my writing is about my running. So I want to document, especially if it can help others, the process of recovery — or the ongoing adaptation to a new life. Running and writing seem solitary. But I like to run with, or at least around, those who challenge me. I wish to write for readers, even if I otherwise never interact with them.

Thus the running and the story of running will continue. I am chastened. I will have to start slow. I mean that literally, with the correct use of the word. I intend to begin again with walking. I will do a slower pace and shorter route, maybe just sauntering around the neighborhood, which has its share of hills, with my dog, to build up stamina. I have to wear a hat now and slather on sunscreen at SPF30 or greater. Severe sensitivity and the risk of burning is another issue on the list of what to confront.

Yet I am reconciled to myself. The alternative is despair or moping around. There is a better cycle. It’s likely that if I hadn’t been so vigorous in my hobby of running, which I took up only three years ago at 48 years of age, I would be much worse off at this point.

So I have to summon again that spirit that I needed to set off on the very first walk to work. I doubted then that any ordinary person could do it. I had to prove it to myself. A sense of community, that you will be supported by other souls who care, enables us in these struggles, because however independent we would like to picture ourselves the important journeys we take are in the company of companions.

By |2018-06-04T13:05:01+00:00June 4th, 2018|Categories: General, People, Challenges|Tags: , , |1 Comment

Run Commute “Cheats”

Here is a typical week. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, were run commute days. Thursday was low in mileage, but in part because of a transcontinental flight that took up much of it.

As a run commuter, I happen to be a bit of a cheater. I don’t mean a fraud such as Rosie Ruiz, who was stripped of her Boston Marathon medal in 1980 for not completing all 26.2 miles of the course or even very many of them. I merely mean I am not a stickler for results to brag about on Strava. I want to get some exercise into my day and get to work. Those are straightforward goals. I’m not looking to impress anyone.

A preface before my confessions. I am no slouch. In January 2018, I ran to work a dozen times; February and March have continued similarly. That is 4.5 miles, or as much as 4.75 miles depending on the exact route and meandering, including days that rained. On a few occasions, I also ran with my coach. On at least one of those days, I exceeded 15 miles on foot (and I have provided the digital proof).

Yet, I want to be honest and humble. I am not the run commuter I aspire to be. I did not run another eight mornings when I could have. There are various reasons. The least common among them, only through self-flagellation (figurative, not literal) is laziness. There usually was an impediment, and the most aggravating among them was the need to put on a business suit, followed by the disruption of airplane travel and ensuing jet lag.

What I fail at most often is in fact to run. The truth is, as I admit freely, I am technically a run-walker, not a true runner. I am a fast walker though. So I figure my run-walk routine satisfies whatever is the abstract, agreed-upon standard for what constitutes “running.” I am constantly striving to increase the speed and the length of the run portion of the cycle. I am seeing modest gains. At 51 years old very soon, but only three years into the sport on a serious basis, I figure the inevitable effects of aging — as they say, better than the alternative — will offset the progress of discipline. I cannot seem to break 45 minutes (10 per mile) over the distance I must cover, though I can make it just under 8 minutes for a single mile.

I have discovered a new tactic though. I feel good about this maneuver. Bike sharing is the latest trend. But it will be, I predict, more than a fad. I have now done a part-run, part-bike trip that allows me to indulge the fantasy I could do a biathlon or triathlon. (I grew up with a swimming pool, and I must be about the worst swimmer for someone who had that luxury, so there is more work to be done.) In San Francisco, they are rolling out undocked, electric-assist bikes! That means you can leave them anywhere within the authorized zone, and they offer a boost for the hills. The dual workout is wonderful. I am using different leg muscles, while also exerting the lungs to greater capacity. Run, then bike, and see the city as you could not enclosed in a vehicle.

Even my most obvious dishonesty is defensible. I have more than once hopped on the bus. The reason is keeping to a schedule despite the sauntering for a spell. I have competed against myself. All out, I am pretty sure I’d beat the bus. But at the run-walk pace (see above), I can save a couple of minutes with mass transit. Since in contemporary America, we suffer what has been called “bus stigma” — in the hit movie Speed, which made action stars of Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, her character is compelled to explain why she is stuck with the other losers who are aboard a bus in Southern California — I feel I am engaging in a worthwhile protest against the One Percent by boarding the MUNI; I can proclaim that I am a man of the people. Besides, the bus line I take travels through the historic Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, the home of the “Summer of Love” that transformed our culture.

Like everyone else who doesn’t quite live up to their aspirations, I suppose, I am compelled to rationalize. The point of run commuting is to get the blood flowing and accomplish the task of traveling from home to office, while being better to the environment. I figure if I have something of a shortcut, I am still better off than if I drove a car by myself, both to me and toward the world. My point is that the run commute is intended to be pleasurable and practical. It is supposed to decrease stress, not increase it. It’s not a sanctioned competition. Easygoing is fine. Most of the rest of my day is intense. People who do not run commute misunderstand. A good run commute is relaxing. It adds rather than subtracts to the energy I have. The psychological benefit turns into a physical one.

Nonetheless, every time I do not complete a run commute on strict terms, I feel guilty. And if I can set a new PR, even if it is only for my own satisfaction, I feel I am a better person.

The Perils of Crossing the Street

San Francisco Muni Train on the “F” line featuring vintage cars


I jaywalk. I admit it. I was well into adulthood when I realized this conduct was considered mildly criminal. My wife was once given a citation for it, which means I am not alone in failing to comprehend that it is frowned upon — or perhaps we have in common that we are scofflaws in this regard.

Yet I also am paranoid about crossing the street. When I run commute, I make it a point to stand well back at intersections. I have a specific memory. Or, more accurately, I was told a story once that was so vivid I felt I had witnessed the event myself, even though I was only relayed the situation; it’s a textbook example of hearsay but no less compelling to me for having heard it from a friend.

More than twenty-five years ago, so essentially in another life — I am twice the age now I was then — I was meeting my pal Chris. He was a bit late.

When he showed up, he explained to me he had seen a terrible accident. He saw somebody die. This was in San Francisco, downtown, maybe on Market Street, one of the major thoroughfares. He was walking. A bicycle messenger swerved in front a city bus, but come what may didn’t make it, and the guy was run over by the massive vehicle.

What made it compelling, however, was that Chris told me, at least in my memory, he watched, as did other bystanders, the death throes of the victim. As the victim was being crushed under the wheels and the weight, his legs twitched madly, with blood seeping outward. His description was completed by his shock, which was palpable; I shared it.

Even though I was not there, I have to say the incident made an impression. I visualized the gruesome scene as perfectly as if I had been there in the flesh. In the free association of trying to exorcise the image, I recalled childhood piano lessons that had failed to make me a concert-playing prodigy. There was a style of song, the tarantella, which had a mythology about dancing to death.

So when I am headed downtown in the early morning, I have trained myself to be mindful. There are so many cars pulling out of garages or turning behind me as I dash straight through the crosswalk, not to mention the buses, public and private, that come with great speed perpendicular to my path of travel, and the MUNI trains, which rattle the very ground. I appreciate, both in the sense of being grateful and in the sense of being awed, that this anecdote had such power. In my work as an advocate and a teacher of those who would persuade, I communicate using narratives and encourage the same.

I also have direct experience of the near miss. More than the moments when I personally came close to shuffling off my mortal coil, I am enthralled by what I was present for, observing in that manner that has the sensation of being at the cinema (what analogy was appropriate before moving pictures?), that surreal perception of slo-mo that somehow cannot be stopped despite its pace. Once, I had met a colleague at the Golden Gate Bridge to hike in, enjoying an urban landscape that tops my list of places to live, and as we proceeded along Crissy Field in the amiable conversation I associate with strolling, a woman of a certain age, oblivious to the risk, violated the right of way held by a luxury car being propelled forward far too fast. By some miracle, she was not squashed, not more than two arms’ lengths away, and, even more shockingly, she appeared to be undisturbed by the prospect of her demise; she continued in her daze. By coincidence, the driver was even more insensitive to what was happening around him, and, in a display of the inaction that is more remarkable than any action, he disappeared into the traffic rather than screeching to a halt.

The moral is what they say about getting out of bed in the morning. If we possessed perfect knowledge, we would not rise. All in all, I prefer the alternative. I hazard the run commute, and I am the better for it. I just have to pay attention to the lights — we all do.

By |2018-03-12T08:59:35+00:00March 12th, 2018|Categories: General|Tags: , , , , |0 Comments

The New Run Commuters – February 2018

It’s still winter in the Northern Hemisphere, and the handful of people that continue to run commute year-round in snowy regions have their fair share of sub-zero temperatures, icy paths, unshoveled sidewalks, and slush-filled roads with which to deal.

Enter Frederic Otis.

He only started run commuting two months ago, but to begin in winter, when the weather in Québec can be at its worst (and continue to run throughout) makes Frederic an especially notable New Run Commuter who will no doubt continue to run to work for years to come.

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Runner Basics

  • Name: Frederic Otis

  • Age: 36

  • City/State: Quebec City, Québec

  • Profession/Employer: CRIQ

  • Number of years running: 9

  • # of races you participate in a year: I have only ran one race… the Montreal Half-marathon in 2012. I plan to register for a marathon, or a 25km trail run, later this summer.

  • Do you prefer road or trail? I really like both! For me a great run is a mix of both. I’m lucky to live in an area where it is possible to vary a lot – road, trail, hills, riverside, etc. And, there’s also winter running, which is not quite road or trail… That would be my favorite, because the conditions change a lot, and rapidly. One day can be extremely cold, the next one windy, and the other icy like an ice ring…or all three together!

Frederic Otis

 

Run Commuting Gear

  • Backpack: Lululemon Surge Backpack It’s truly a great backpack, but I couldn’t bring my work clothes in it because they would be all creased up. I’d really like to try the IAMRUNBOX backpack for that reason.

  • Shoes: Summer shoes –  Vibram FiveFingers V-Run, Winter shoes –  Vivobarefoot Primus Trail SG

  • Clothing: Summer clothing – plain sports t-shirt and shorts. Winter – I wear merino wool base layer because it keeps warm and dries very fast.

  • Outerwear: Winter: My merino base layers (1 or 2) plus a soft shell to cut the wind.

  • Headgear: Summer : Ciele Athletics cap (another Montreal based company that makes great stuff), Winter – merino beanie for warmer conditions, or a country skiing hat

  • Lights: None, or a running light on one of my arms.

  • Hydration: For longer runs or when it’s hot, I use a Camelbak pack like this one.

Frederic’s gear

On Run Commuting

Why did you decide to start run commuting?

I finally decided to start run commuting in December 2017, once I was finally well established at my new job, and the distance from home seemed perfect. I just needed to find a way to organize my runs with 2 drop-offs : one of my girls to school and the other one to daycare. While reading on the subject, I ended up finding a great article that inspired me to make the move – Run Commuting Challenges – Parenting. I really have to mention that my wife (also a runner) is incredibly supportive, because it puts more pressure on evenings to go get the kids and get dinner ready.

How often do you run commute?

My run commute history began only in January this year. Since the first week back to work, I run commute two times a week. Gradually, I plan building up to 3 times a week in Spring.

How far is your commute?

It’s a total of 15-16 km to and from work. In the morning, it’s a smooth downhill run, but to get back home is much harder…especially when there’s lots of snow and/or ice.

Do you pack or buy a lunch?

I always bring my lunch to work even on run commute days, because it’s the best way to eat healthy food. Homemade meals are the best, and it’s so much cheaper! The only additional food item I have in my lunch box when I run to work is a Naak bar. It’s an energy bar made with… cricket protein powder! Crickets are the most sustainable protein source, and the bars taste very good.

What do you like most about run commuting?

What I like the most is being able to combine running and transportation to work (who likes traffic!). On about half of my run, I literally go faster than the traffic, which is a pretty cool feeling. Also, I get to be outside longer, and start (and end) my day with the best exercise in the world.

Do you know of anyone else in your area that runs to work? 

No, I don’t know anybody else who runs to work. I’m trying to influence a few colleagues though…

When not run commuting, how do you get to work?

I have to drive to work when I don’t run. Unfortunately, the bus that could take me to the office doesn’t work well with my schedule.

If you could give one piece of advice to anyone who was considering run commuting, what would it be?

Well for me it started with putting my daily routine on paper, and playing with it to fit running. It seemed so complicated at first, but in the end it’s part of my routine. If you are not sure of your schedule, why not try to do it on a weekend to see if your plan works?

Anything else that you would like to include?

Especially if you have to run in changing conditions, make sure to have an emergency kit: cell phone with battery charged, money, extra pair of socks, ID cards, etc.

Are you interested in being featured on The New Run Commuters? If so, fill out the form below and we’ll send you more details.

The New Run Commuters Submission Form

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The New Run Commuters – March 2017

Runner’s World magazine (Oct 2016) recently gave Seattle the silver medal for number 2 best running city in America (behind San Fran). Aaron Mercer, our runcommuter for this month, is a Seattle resident who uses his runcommuting to make the most of what the city has to offer. He braves the state’s rainy, wet conditions to runcommute almost every day. Aaron is helping his work colleagues stay healthy, too.

A scientist at Novo Nordisk, Aaron is also the Wellness Committee chair and promotes running to other employees. Aaron says he enjoys exploring his city on his runcommutes. He manages to incorporate cafe-testing into these runs as well, taking advantage of Seattle’s abundance of coffee joints. An excellent idea for all runcommuters: the combination of running and coffee is a classic, and what better way to start (or end) the day…especially when it’s raining!

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Runner Basics

  • Name: Aaron Mercer

  • Age: 33

  • City/State: Seattle, WA

  • Profession/Employer: Research Scientist, Novo Nordisk

  • Number of years running: 17

  • Number of races you participate in a year: 4

  • Do you prefer road or trail? Trail, but I have learned to love the road again with all of my run commuting.

 

Run Commuting Gear

  • Backpack: Formerly an Osprey Manta AG 28, but I recently made the switch to the IAMRUNBOX Pro.

  • Shoes: Anything around 7 – 8 oz in weight from Brooks or Saucony. Their shoes fit my narrow feet better than most companies’.

  • Clothing: A mix of tech shirts and shorts, as well as race shirts. I never match, because run commuting is about form over fashion!

  • Outerwear: I have a few running jackets from Brooks, but I typically layer a short sleeve and long sleeve tech shirt because winters are pretty mild in the Pacific Northwest.

  • Headgear: I typically don’t wear a hat but I will wear sunglasses in the warm/sunny months.

  • Lights: Black Diamond Sprinter. It has good lumens for the dark and drizzly evening commutes in Seattle.

  • Hydration: I’ll hold a water bottle if I bring anything at all. I tend to only bring extra hydration for runs longer than 10 miles (16km), or when the temperatures get too warm outside (above 75F).

 

Aaron Mercer

Aaron’s runcommuting route.

Beer Run!! Aaron and his friend Pete ran 10 miles between 5 breweries. Did they follow it with a coffee run?

Aaron’s runcommute pack, in his home’s appropriately white, scandi interior. 

On Run Commuting

Why did you decide to start run commuting?

Evening traffic in Seattle can be atrociously slow, and my run commute many days is as fast or faster than most forms of transport. My office is next to Amazon’s ever-expanding campus in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, so traffic is almost always a grind. Runcommuting also gives me a chance to get in miles without cutting into my family time outside of work.

How often do you run commute?

2-4 days per week after work, but even on my “non-running” days I add in 2 miles of running between the most efficient bus lines to get home [editor’s note: we consider any combo of running+vehicular transport to be runcommuting! So, Aaron runcommutes more than he admits ;-)]

How far is your commute?

10.5 miles (16km) for the full run, and around 2 miles if I mix in bus commuting.

Do you pack or buy a lunch?

Either, depending on what leftovers I have at home, and how much volume I have available in my backpack. My go-to spot for eating out is a Vietnamese food truck called Xplosive that seems to live on the Amazon campus — their vermicelli bowl is my favorite way to get veggies/carbs/protein when I’m in a hurry. I’m also fortunate that my job provides catered lunch twice a week.

What do you like most about run commuting?

1. I enjoy the efficient use of my time, since I get my commute and exercise finished in one activity.

2. Runcommuting keeps me disciplined with my eating and sleep habits to keep up with the demands of 20-40 miles of running per week.

3. It gives me a chance to explore the city. Seattle has a lot of history and interesting neighborhoods, so runcommuting gives me a great opportunity to scout the area. It’s also a good excuse to try one of the dozens of independent coffee shops here.

What are the weather conditions like for your runcommute?

Temperatures are always fairly mild in Seattle, but there are many days with rain and slick pavement. True to the stereotypes it is cool, wet, and cloudy for most of the year. It’s good running weather even if footing can get a bit tricky.

Do you know of anyone else in your area that runs to work? 

No, but I do see other people running with backpacks in the city. I would assume that they are runcommuting as well. There are many, many people in my office and in Seattle who bike commute, however.

When not run commuting, how do you get to work?

If I’m not running, I will either car pool, or mix in 2 miles of running to get to-and-from express bus lines. Once Seattle finishes expanding its light rail network, I will be two blocks from one of the stations.

If you could give one piece of advice to anyone who was considering run commuting, what would it be?

Invest in decent gear, and monitor your shoes for wear and tear. It’s hard to keep up with runcommuting multiple days per week with busted gear or a busted body.

Anything else that you would like to include?

My PR for a slightly longer run commute (11.46 miles) was set in October with a time of 1:18:32 (6:52/mile pace). I strive to beat that pace every time I run home!

I chair the Wellness Committee for Novo Nordisk in Seattle. My role is to oversee the budget for sports and events, as well as organizing our office’s participation in the annual JDRF Beat the Bridge Race. I encourage all Seattleites to run the race, and to join Team Novo Nordisk if they would like some camaraderie!

Even runcommuters need a holiday…Aaron in Tucson.

Are you interested in being featured on The New Run Commuters? If so, fill out the form below and we’ll send you more details.

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Review: Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20L

Is THIS the best run commuting pack…ever?

For some people, perhaps even many people, the answer is yes, the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 is the best run commuting pack ever.

Those who read my review of the OMM 20L will recall that I opened that review with a similar question, and a similar answer. There are reasons for this: firstly, I cannot deny that I enjoy using the question as a rhetorical device, but, secondly and in my defense, I have had the good fortune to test two outstanding run commuting packs this year, both of which are destined to become classics, in my opinion. Both the OMM Adventure Light 20 and the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 are brilliantly designed and made, and both function perfectly for the daily run commuter who totes medium to large loads of clothes/shoes/food.

 

The difference between these two packs is profound, however. The Ultimate Direction Fastpack is what is called a running ‘vest’ in the trail-running world. Right here on TRC Josh reviewed the smaller sibling of the UD Fastpack, the UD Peter Bakwin Signature Series Vest 3.0 (see review), so you may already be familiar with the new generation of running packs invented – and designed for – trail and adventure-running. My ‘Pack Off’ article comparing the relative merits and downsides of the two styles is coming to TRC soon!

The UD Fastpack 20 is across-between the traditional and the vest style. It is not a compromise, however. It is a fully functioning backpack with all the advantages (and possibly disadvantages) of no waist strap and double sternum straps on wide chest straps, instead.

Test Model

Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20L

Size: Small/Medium

Carrying Capacity: 20L

Cost: US $105

Add-on: Hi-Vis Rain Cover (X-Small)

Performance and Evaluation

For run commuters who have struggled with the combination of traditional backpacks and running, the UD Fastpack may be the answer. Say goodbye to the uncomfortable waist belt that pummels your stomach and bowels, and the (especially for women) awkward sternum strap that is never quite in the right position, and the shoulder straps that (again, especially for women) don’t sit comfortably on the torso. Embrace the freedom and comfort of the vest pack and run until you drop!

One of the recurring questions about backpacks is whether or not they can be tightened onto the runner sufficiently to prevent swaying and bouncing whilst running. Some people have suggested that the lack of a waist belt on vest-style and hybrid packs is responsible for a greater sway and bounce. Professional US ultra-runner Megan Hicks wrote a review of the UD Fastpack in which she says she wouldn’t use it in the Marathon des Sables, because it is less stable than traditional backpacks with a waist belt. However, Megan runs at an average of 10km an hour during the MdS, for an average of 6 hours a day. I run a lot slower, and for approximately 1 hour per run-commute leg. I have found the Fastpack to be just as stable as my traditional backpacks, with the same load (medium-full) and at the same speed. Perhaps, like Megan, those who run very fast with a very full pack will find the Fastpack sways more. Run commuters who fall into this category are lucky, and get the satisfaction of being fast to compensate for having to wear a traditional backpack! Seriously, though, unless the pack is very full — for example with everything you’d need for a three-day self-supported back-country camping trip — you’re unlikely to feel any difference in the movement between this pack and a waist belt/sternum strap pack.

Pros

Very comfortable, particularly for the internal (and external!) organs!

Multiple run-accessible storage areas

Very lightweight

Advanced hydration system

Double sternum straps

Not as ‘action sports’ as many other vest packs

Double sternum straps

Did I mention that it’s super comfy?!

Cons

Expensive

Slightly floppier, more sporty, less ‘office-y’ looking than many traditional backpacks

No rain cover

Sway/bounce may be very very slightly more evident than with a traditional backpack (though I did not experience this)

May be too large for smaller or thinner people

Chest and straps

This is where the action is on this pack. The vest-style flaps that come from the inner-back edge of the main compartment, over the shoulders and down the chest, are key to the comfort of the Fastpack 20. These flaps feature large pockets that can hold water bottles, smartphones or food, for easy access whilst on the run. Running horizontally between the two flaps are two chest straps, which can be adjusted vertically by sliding them up or down their rails, similar to the more limited adjustments that can be made to the single sternum strap usually found on a traditional backpack. Together, the two sternum straps on the vest pack secure the chest straps tighter or looser against the torso, and thereby cinch the pack more tightly or otherwise to the body.

The two sides of the chest have a different configuration of pockets. On the left is a water-bottle pocket with a pull-cord tightener, and underneath this is a smaller zip-up pocket that can easily hold a Clif bar and a credit card and car key. On the right is a pocket that is closed flat against the chest strap by a vertical zip. Opening the zip gives you room to stuff a water-bottle into that pocket, by virtue of a small expanding pleat. When the zip is closed the pocket still has an open top, and is the perfect shape and tightness to hold in a smartphone. Underneath this zipping pocket is a smaller pocket about the same size as the one at the bottom of the right chest strap. The one on the left is closed by a Velcro fold-over tab, however. This means you wouldn’t want to put anything precious in it, only cliff bars/food, as there are gaps where a key could potentially escape. All in all, the chest pockets are very well thought-out, and allow access to lots of food, water, phone and other necessities, whilst on the run.

 

Each sternum strap can also be tightened or loosened. Together with the strap that connects the bottom corner edges of the main compartment to the bottom corner edge of both vest flaps, this allows for further customization.  Playing around with different strap positions and tightness is worth it when you first get the pack, as the different configurations can change the feeling of wearing the pack a lot.

An example of the chest straps at three different positions can be seen in the photos below.

Sides

On either side is a large, mesh water-bottle pocket. It is not closed, but an elasticized rim keeps the bottles in. This elastic is not as tight as on some packs I have worn. Once I took out two full bottles in these pockets when there was nothing really in the main compartment, and the lack of padding from the main pack meant that there was more leeway for the bottles to agitate out of these mesh pockets. They didn’t actually fall out, but I was worried once or twice, and I had to keep checking… Otherwise, if the main compartment is at least half full, the water bottles feel pretty secure, even when running fast.

Main Compartment and Access Rolltop

The main compartment is like a sack, and it closes in the roll-top style, first being pressed shut with Velcro and then rolled over like rolling up a carpet, until it is tight against the pack. At this point each end of the roll is clipped in to a strap that comes up each side. The strap is then pulled tight, cinching the whole thing vertically while the roll secures it horizontally. This is a very effective closure method, though it does take a few more seconds to do than a single zip would (such as is found on the Osprey Stratos and Talon series, for example). The strap on each side that cinches down the roll does create the only annoyance I have experienced with this pack – the long, dangling excess lengths of each side strap can whip around as you run, sometimes even coming round and lashing you in the front (possibly as punishment for the evil thoughts I have about car drivers…). You can’t trim them off—as Josh shows you how to do here in the ‘Pack Hacks’ series—because the extra length is needed on occasions when you fill the pack to full capacity. (See photos) What you can do is thread the excess strap into one of the daisy-chain loops on the front of the pack, which keeps them out of the way.

The main compartment itself is huge and empty, awaiting your clothes and lunch. If you don’t put anything in the main compartment, but do fill the front pockets with heavy items (such as full water bottles), you may find the front pulls forward/down, which can cause pressure on the back of your neck. This is an unlikely situation to be running in, however. I did this once, just for the experiment to see what would happen, but in the normal run of things it’s not a configuration most run commuters will want to try. If you do, for some reason, want to carry tons of water but nothing much else, it’s better for the weight distribution to put the bottles in the side pockets of the main compartment, behind and under your arms. This scenario is not fool-proof either, however…(see comment in ‘Sides’, below).

Back

The back of the pack consists of a machine-knit fabric that is slightly thicker than t-shirt material, overlaying a nylon or other material than can just barely by glimpsed underneath.

There are no seams on this back panel, making it very smooth against the back. The whole back panel as well as the backing on both over-the-shoulder and down the chest vest flaps is a single piece of material. There are no seams or joins anywhere where the pack touches the wearer, except for where the yellow material meets the soft grey edging material. This trimming material is also soft. The pack did not cause any chafing on my back at all, ever.

Inside the main compartment of the pack is a Velcro-closed compartment that holds a foam pad cut into the shape of the back of the pack, and which gives the pack a firm, stable, back padding. This foam pad is smooth foam on the side that faces into the pack. On the side that sits against the wearer’s back, the foam pad has many little nipple-bumps all over it, for massage-style comfort. This pad can be taken out of the pack and used to sleep on etc when you’re doing a stage-race in the Sahara Desert, or when you get tired on the way home from work and want to take a quick nap in the park.

 

Hydration System

The Fastpack 20L does not come with a bladder or bottles, but hydration compatibility is one of its design priorities. There is a dedicated hydration bladder sleeve inside the main compartment. Immediately above this is a Velcro ‘hook’ for hanging the bladder from (so it doesn’t slump down into the sleeve). Above this, in the center of the top of the pack, underneath the grab-handle, is the hole for the bladder hose. There are two elastic/nylon strips on each vest flap near your clavicle bone for the hose to route through. Then there are two large mesh pockets on either side of the pack, as mentioned above, for water bottles. Finally (sort of), there is a pull-cord-closing bottle pocket on the left vest strap. If all this still didn’t give you enough storage for fluids, there is also the zip-closing pocket on the right vest strap, which can be opened wide enough to hold a 600ml bottle if necessary.

 

Above: An example of the amount of liquid you can carry in the UD Fastpack when simply using the designated pockets: 2L bladder, 3 x 750ml bottles, 1 x 420ml softflask. Of course, if you wanted to, you could also put a mini-keg in the main compartment….

Conclusion

So, how does the UD Fastpack 20L perform as a daily pack for run commuters? The answer is: extremely well…. For some, this will be the perfect run commute pack and, like the OMM 20L pack, the only pack they’ll need for both the daily run commute and the Marathon des Sables or the 4 Deserts adventure races!

Additional Pictures

By |2016-12-21T12:47:00+00:00December 21st, 2016|Categories: Gear, General|Tags: , , , , , , , |8 Comments

2014 International Survey of Run Commuters!

THE POLL IS NOW CLOSED

Thank you to everyone who participated! Please stay tuned for the results

Ever want to know how many people are run commuters? How far they run? Which city or country has the most people who run to work? We’d like to know, too! Please help us learn more about the run commuting world by taking part in the first International Survey of Run Commuters!

The survey will be open until September 30th, 2014 and we will publish the results on The Run Commuter in late-October.

Note: You don’t have to be a run commuter to take part. This survey is open to current and former run commuters, as well as anyone who is interested in run commuting.

Once you’ve completed the survey, be sure to share it with your friends and running groups!

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