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.
What I carry on a typical day
From the rooftop deck of where I work, you can just about see where I live; my dorm is in the next tower directly behind the building on the left.
The feasibility of run commuting depends not only an ability to run but also the length of the commute. No matter how dedicated a runner you might be, you have to consider the feasibility of the commute distance. My decision to be a run commuter is about my desire to run as much as it is about my lack of desire to be much of a commuter. You have to travel to appreciate your home. My summer in Shenzhen, China, made me realize how much each of us can control an aspect of our lives that we should not mistake as circumstance: whether we live close to work or not. I want to stay within the limits of my ability to carry myself on my own two feet to my desk each morning. (I am doing 4.5 miles on average, in San Francisco. I might be willing to take that up to 5. I doubt I have the skill to push past that number.)
My preference has always been to have a house near the office. I am sympathetic to those who have made another choice, considering family or other factors, and far be it for me to pass judgment. But I wonder if each of us makes ourselves miserable by increasing the miles we have to journey to a job on a regular basis, while also adding to the burden on the environment with a carbon footprint more substantial than needed.
When my wife and I married, she moved into half a duplex I owned in Washington, D.C. The unit was behind a fast-food restaurant, which I took to be a convenience during my days as a bachelor, but to which she, especially as a vegetarian, objected to as a nuisance — you could just about place a drive-through order from the bedroom window. I was a law professor a few blocks away. That was not an accident, because I had sought out real estate that would be walkable to campus. In those days before I embraced the run commute regimen, however, I exhibited a moral failing that now I regret, I complained to my wife about the ten minute stroll, and I even drove sometimes (confession: often), my excuse being the heavy casebooks I had to carry. She pointed out I could become a clerk at the deli around the corner if I really wished for convenience,
Later, I had an opportunity to move back to my hometown of Detroit. I became a law school dean. My wife wished to remain in the capitol even as I returned to the Motor City. We bought an architectural landmark downtown, which was feasible in that magnificent wreck of a metropolis, symbolic of all that happened in twentieth century America, especially the development of car culture. As absurd as it might have seemed to fly back and forth, I did a few calculations, In a typical week, I commuted only as much as the average suburbanite who toiled downtown in terms of the time in transit.
This summer, I am humbled to be a visiting professor at Peking University School of Transnational Law. The institution, which uses Chinese and English as the language of instruction (I am capable only in the latter to my chagrin), is in Shenzhen, a city that sprang up as a special economic zone across the border from the then British colony of Hong Kong. I was presented the option of a dorm room in the tower for foreign experts or a long term stay at a hotel just off campus. Consistent with my philosophy, I went for the former. By my calculation, I am three minutes from the newly opened law school building at a crawl or probably ninety seconds in a sprint. (The old building was even closer, across a reflecting pool.) It being typhoon season, last Thursday I was at the exact midpoint, having waited for a clear moment, when the skies opened again. No benefit to you turning back, I trudged forward, arriving drenched.
Other than that, my stint here has been without mishap. Since I am overseas, and only temporarily, I feel as if my horizons have expanded, not constricted. It is true I live so close to work I can come back “home” for lunch. That is an advantage. I love being embedded within the community. I am dedicated to my teaching. There isn’t a moment wasted in traffic. I always can wander farther for entertainment. One night we journeyed to an Italian restaurant in an upscale mall. My sense of scale adjusts. Thanks to the ability to hail a car when needed, I am not constrained.
I like the countryside and rural areas with open space — for a weekend excursion. I would rather not be stuck in a subdivision where I would depend on an automobile even to shop for groceries. There are material benefits to population density. There are costs too of course. Yet on the whole, to run commute is to engage directly with the people around you, on the ground. It is to value human interaction, sustained relationships, and civic engagement.
The gym of Peking University’s Shenzhen Campus
I find myself in an unlikely place to resume running. I am in Shenzhen, China this summer. For those not familiar with the boom town, which boasts one of those stories that defies belief but exemplifies the power of the global economy, it is on the mainland next to the former British colony of Hong Kong. After being granted permission to experiment with capitalist markets early on, it developed into the third most significant city of a nation that continues its rise, ranking with Beijing and Shanghai. Like everything else that happens with a population exceeding a billion, the place is one of those you-have-see-it-to believe-it phenomenon, with the constant of change promising opportunity to all who would pursue it. As many skyscrapers and apartment complexes have gone up in short order, there remains more foliage and open space, less traffic and pollution than you might expect or fear, relative to rival metropolises.
While here to teach American law at Peking University’s southern satellite, in English — itself a test of how the world will come together — I am trying to recover from a health challenge. This is not easy. The heat is much higher than I am accustomed to. The humidity too. Climate change likely is worsening matters. The locals complain that it is worse even than they can withstand.
But thanks to jet lag, I need no alarm to cajole me. I am up before dawn whether I’d like to be or not. At that hour, however, I still feel assaulted by the air. It is clear that the mugginess will be overwhelming later in the season.
The first Monday, I met a new colleague, also from the States, for a walk. We had made arrangements via email before our respective departures. I had anticipated I would need to be up and about, as soon as it became light outside. We met at the business school that is a new start up even among new start ups. The Starbucks in the corner of the building was a convenient landmark. It offered a means to ask for directions without Mandarin language fluency.
Our morning meander was easygoing. There were multiple outdoor tracks we could visit. Three different universities, all leading institutions of higher education well established elsewhere, had been recruited by the local government to considerable acreage near the zoo. Each school had its own facilities. There also is an impressive gymnasium opened especially for a major athletics competition a few years back. That is on the list of attractions to check out. Its first-class equipment apparently is under-used. Perhaps the indoor course will be the best venue for further training.
We saw a few others exercising early. One or two solitary figures were engaged in qigong rituals, calm and calming to observers, with the silent fluidity of contemplative motion. A couple male runners, shirtless, were making good time. Street sweepers were finishing their shifts, construction workers beginning theirs. Female students riding bicycles or strolling arm in arm carried umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun. A few guards kept an eye out. There were fisherman hoping for a bite, their lines cast into a canal that ran along the perimeter of the grounds. Signs warned of snakes. They are mildly poisonous.
By a permissive standard, I have become a run commuter again. I am housed in a dormitory for, among others, foreign experts. I can mosey along the paved path to the law school in about three minutes; probably a jog would take me there in under two. It could not be more convenient for a short stay. Immediately upon arriving at the office, I had to return to my residential unit, because I neglected to bring an appropriate adapter for the electrical outlet. I thought briefly of doing without until the battery was exhausted, but I realized it would be unconscionably lazy to avoid the extra trip.
According to my GPS watch, I logged ten miles. An additional adventure was finding my own way to the administrative office to load credit onto my ID card. The campus is cashless. I did what I do while in Asia. I accost random non-Asians for help. A young European pointed me toward the proper office for my errand.
My initial plan was to shower twice. I figured I would sweat enough to need it. I instead am on a schedule of thrice. I wonder if I will adapt. Otherwise, my wife has warned me via our international video calls, I will dry out my skin and wash away essential oils. I cannot resist though. Even well short of the environmental maximums that will be hit in mid-August, I cannot make myself comfortable. I am aware of my body, in that manner that impairs the mind doing anything else other than dwelling on the flesh that constitutes one’s self.
Nonetheless, I am glad. This is progress.
The Best Run Commuting Backpack Ever?
OMM (standing for Original Mountain Marathon) is a brand well-known to UK and Euro trail runners, but it has yet to become popular in the US, which is a pity. I would go so far as to say this is a ‘best-kept secret’ of running packs. The OMM 20L may be the best run commuting backpack ever, and for those so inclined, it doubles as the best multi-day trail running pack ever, too! It is relatively cheap, hugely comfortable, robust, thoughtfully designed, and has tons of storage room.
For these reasons, no doubt, it has been the backpack of choice for the winners of some epic races: this year alone Eion Keith was wearing it when he won the notoriously grueling Spine Race in England – 268 miles non-stop over snowy English high country in mid-winter. Elspeth Luke wore it to run 1100k over Scottish mountains in record time. And it’s not just for cold-weather conditions: Aussie pro racer Samantha Gash wore it to run the 4 Deserts races across –as the name implies–four of the world’s serious deserts. Many athletes use this pack at the 6-days, 250km stage-race in the Moroccan desert, the Marathon des Sables.
So, how does such a hardcore pack work for everyday run commuters who just want to run an hour to work through suburban streets? Brilliantly, that’s how!
On the lower half of each side of the main compartment is a mesh pocket with elasticized top edge. They are water-bottle pockets, and have been designed with great consideration for the needs of adventure runners, for whom hydration is essential. The pockets are deep, each amply holding a 600mL bottle. This is true even when the main compartment of the pack is full. The other brilliant thing about their design is that they are angled slightly backwards, so that the top of the water bottle is tilted fractionally towards the direction you are facing. This makes it easier to pull the bottles out and put them back in, while running. The bottles don’t jump out of these pockets even when there isn’t much in the main compartment of the pack. Overall, excellent design and performance.
Main Compartment and Top Access Pouch
The main compartment is basically a cylindrical sack with a drawstring closure. Over this fits a hood that buckles down with a strap that runs vertically down the front of the backpack and clips to the lower quarter of the front of the pack (the ‘weird’ strap described above). The main compartment holds a LOT of stuff. You could easily get a medium-thickness winter coat in here along with shoes, clothes and lunch.
As you can see in the photo above, there is a zipped pocket on the top of the hood that covers the main drawstring compartment of the pack. This zipped pocket is almost the same width across as the hood itself, so it can hold a wallet and phone, or even a small Tupperware container, easily.
Back, shoulder straps and waist belt
The padding on the OMM Adventure Light 20 is generous, light and comfortable. It is also positioned where you need it and not where you don’t. The back is kept firm and self-supporting by a removable foam pad that sits inside the main compartment in its own sleeve. This pad is so light, and helps keep the overall structure of the pack so comfortable, that after I tried running once with the pad removed I resolved never to do so again — it’s simply more of a gain to have the foam pad in there.
There are two identical pockets on either side of the waist belt. Both pockets close with zips. They are large enough to fit a smartphone, and there is some flexibility as the lower half of each pocket is made of a mesh that stretches slightly. I found these pockets to be very useful for carrying my phone, food snacks, and accessories like gloves, hat or headlamp.
The OMM Adventure Light 20 does not come with a hydration bladder or bottles. As discussed above, the side bottle pockets are perfectly designed and executed for their purpose. With both bottle pockets carrying 600ml — or 750ml at a pinch — bottles, this would give you 1.2L – 1.5L fluid. You could also remove the foam back pad from its dedicated sleeve and put your hydration pouch in there. There is no other pocket in the main compartment to hold a hydration bladder, and unless you had a completely full load it would slosh around a bit if in the main area.
A top-drawer backpack for adventure running AND run commuting!
It’s the end of April and it is time for another edition of the Run Commuting Story Roundup! There seems to have been an increase in articles about lately, and while it’s probably tied to warmer temperatures (people more likely to run) we like to think it’s because run commuting is becoming more popular.
If you have written a post about run commuting on your blog, or have read a news article or post about run commuting that you want us to know about, send us an email and it may show up in a future Run Commuting Story Roundup.
If a Goldilocks exists in my modest collection of running caps, it is Alpine Dam’s Shoreline model. The sweet spot especially is its brim.
That is no small praise. There is a glut of trucker caps proffered to the running community these days. They have grown increasingly popular since Anton Krupicka wore a trucker cap in his Leadville 100 victory. They espouse, perhaps embody, the simplicity and care-free attitude self-proclaimed dirtbag runners seek to claim – yet that counter culture cap, once de novo, has become de rigueur.
Salt-crusted hats are where it’s at.
Short of blocking sun, containing hair, or concealing a bald spot, choice of such caps really comes down to brand. They are, like bread, permutations of only a few ingredients assembled in different manners and amounts.
I have several, some of which were race takeaways, others I’ve purchased since my wife encouraged me to wear sun protection during Atlanta’s immolating summers. The reasons that have led to my abandoning some are precisely why I have grown enamored of Alpine Dam’s cap in the several weeks since they provided it for review. My disdain and disappointment in most are enumerated thus:
Brim too long
Dome too high
Material destroyed by my incessant and salt-heavy sweat
There is a little room in the Shoreline’s crown, so air can move through and hair isn’t plastered to my scalp, yet not so tall that it looks absurd. Same with the brim: not a stub, as on bicycle caps (Krupicka’s current favorite, by the way), nor so long that it juts above your vision like the Star Destroyer in Star Wars’ opening scene, or that you feel you’re wearing a Goofy cap from Disney World. Even Beyonce looks a fool in a Goofy hat. You want to look good on your commute: you want to feel you look good, too.
The hat also wears well for hard-style poses amongst a trucker’s wasteland.
Here’s what really sealed it for me about the Shoreline: those long brims also obscure headlamp beams. That is important when you are run commuting in early or late hours, or running ultra distances. One shadow is enough to grab a toe and send you sprawling, leaving your flank scraped by Supermanning down a sidewalk, or your sternum marred by trail Braille.
The Shoreline cap is royal blue, with a mesh back and a foam front panel, sporting a flashy sherbet-hued logo: big, bold, and satisfying, like a glimpse of Atari, and absent the glaring day-glo safety colors so prevalent in active wear of late. So the cap is attractive, if unobtrusive.
You’ll notice it is choked with salt. As The Run Commuter founder (and my best friend) Josh can with a sneer of revulsion attest, my sweat is so salty that it appears I’ve been laboring the live-long day in the mines of Syracuse, New York, rather than enjoying an eight-mile run. It has honestly ruined cotton caps by destroying and warping the fabric. So far, the Shoreline’s foam has stood firm and shown no discoloration.
The logo is reminiscent of a mountain elevation profile, and wondered whether it was that of Mt. Tamalpais, located near Alpine Dam HQ in Marin County, California. Company founder Adam Melenkivitz clarified it is intended as the former (his daughter chimed it looked like their maps), and not actually Mt. Tamalpais. Rather, something with which anyone familiar with such profiles could identify.
He continued, “Specifically, the sharp end of the logo is how I imagined the climb from the Alpine Dam years ago … well prior to Strava. I always saw this as a winding, sharp climb in my mind. At the time, I had to work up to this ride, so ‘Alpine Dam’ was big goal for me. Alpine Dam for me wasn’t just the dam, or lake and the trails, but the entire experience of the loop.”
That’s a noble goal. It appeals to me, as certainly it will to others. It’s my Thunder Rock, or someone’s Iron Man, or another’s 15K. It might be your run commute.
The one detriment I’d note in the cap again comes back to sweat. Alpine Dam sent two models: the Shoreline, which I tested, and the BoFax, which my wife claimed. Hilary commented that she would like an integrated sweat-wicking band inside the BoFax. Neither model carried one, but it wasn’t much of an issue to me. The Shoreline did just fine, drawing sweat up into the cap’s body and brim.
One last thing I appreciate about the brand, which might be a deciding factor to some, is that Melenkivitz in his correspondence, and in Alpine Dam’s media, consistently references his kids. They are heavily involved in the products – selecting logo colors; doodling mountains on the patio; reviewing design ideas. Alpine Dam offers a few kids’ models, too. So though dirtbag runners seem to lean toward lone wolf branding, Alpine Dam might position itself across a variety of pursuits and social activities, as well as with active families.
That’s a rich market, neither too big, nor too small: just right.
To see more of Alpine Dam’s products (currently with a 30% off code on the homepage!) visit their website.
Alpine Dam provided us with the trucker hats for review, however this did not influence my opinion regarding this product. The thoughts and pictures contained in this review are my own.
This small, light backpack is simple yet sturdy and is perfect for a certain type of runcommuter. It is about as basic as you can get in a pack designed specifically for running/sports. The Speedlite 10 is a great runcommuting pack for those who value durablity, quality, and simplicity, but more significantly, those who want a pack that they can forget about while running. This is one for runners who don’t want to access much whilst on the run.
The top zip opens the main compartment from halfway down each side of the pack. Below the zip on each side is a mesh pocket with elasticized top edge that keeps the pocket in close to the pack. These mesh pockets work fine when the pack is relatively empty. When the main compartment of the pack is full, however, it’s very difficult to get a drink bottle into the pocket. This means that if you want to carry water to drink while runcommuting it has to be either a very small bottle (like 150ml) or you’ll need to use a hand-held. This could also be annoying if you are using the pack during the day and just want to have somewhere to put your full-size water bottle.
Main Compartment and Top Access Pouch
There are no compression straps on either the front or sides of the pack, but this is not really a problem, as the pack is not very deep, and this –combined with the fairly stiff fabric – means that even when the main compartment is entirely empty there is no swinging or flopping or dragging.
For its compact size, this pack holds a fair bit of stuff — enough for many runcommuters. It will take a pair of size US9.5 (women’s, US8 men’s) shoes, and a full set of pants or skirt, underwear and shirt. It won’t have room left for a jacket, however. Without the shoes, the main compartment will fit the pants/skirt, underwear, shirt and lightweight jacket.
I have used this pack in hot conditions, with my work clothes loaded in the main compartment with no plastic or other dry-bag covering. Despite my ladylike perspiration, the clothes remained dry and fresh. This is due, I think, to the thick-ish mesh back panel and the water-resistant inner coating of the main compartment. Together, these features kept sweat from soaking through. However, my longest run in these conditions was one hour, so people running longer or who are more serious sweaters (though I am not a lightweight!), may find moisture transfer occurs. A dry-sack to contain your clothes before you put the whole sack into the main compartment will also serve the function of compressing your clothes to prevent rumpling and load-bounce. (As a related point: the Deuter Speedlite 10 is too small for the iamrunbox clothes organizer).
Back, Shoulder Straps and Waist Strap
For me, the main down-sides to this pack are related to the straps. The shoulder straps have a little bit of mesh on the underside, but are not actually padded, and the material they are made from, while robust and durable, is quite stiff and harsh. Several times I have ended up with chafing on the sides of my neck from the straps, after runs of over an hour. However, this was always when I was wearing collarless, thin running t-shirts as my only layer. I think this would not be an issue for people wearing jackets/second layers/rain shells etc. I suspect, also, that the chafing is related to the size of the straps/positioning of the sternum strap on me specifically.
The waist strap also has an annoying problem. While the waist strap itself is basic but comfortably unobtrusive, there are two little plastic holders, or ‘strap wranglers’, on the waist belt, one either side of the main clip. These are supposed to keep the extra waist-strap lengths from flying around, unfortunately, on my pack they don’t really work. As I run they quickly either slide along the waist strap right up to clip, making them useless. Or, the excess strap ‘jumps’ out of them, again making them redundant. If you look at the photo on the right, above, you can see how the strap-wrangler has slid almost up to the belt clip on the left. On the right is an example of the extra strap simply falling completely out of the strap-wrangler and dangling to its heart’s content.
This is not a pack for the technology-attached. There are no pockets on the front straps of this pack, so forget about checking your phone whilst on the run.
This pack would be perfect for runcommuting if you don’t want to drink, eat or text whilst on the run.
The Deuter Speedlite 10 does not come with a hydration bladder, so if you want to use one it would need to be bought separately. I said, above, that this is a great pack for those who don’t want to drink on the run. This claim could be modified to: this is a great pack for runcommuters who don’t want to drink on the run, or, for runcommuters who think they might like to dabble in trail running as well. You certainly can drink on the run without taking off the Speedlite 10, as it has a hydration tube opening at the top edge (right hand side only). Inside the pack is a dedicated pocket in which to put your hydration pouch. However, when I put a full 1.5L bladder into the pack there was no longer room for a runcommuter’s clothes + shoes combo. But on a trail run there’s no need for clothes storage room, and the pack is a great size for the trailrunning necessities: food/gels, rain jacket, space-blanket, hat, map, etc.
About four years ago, in the midst of my transition from conventional running shoes to more minimalist ones, I was offered a quick glimpse of what I thought were the ugliest shoes ever made on this planet: the Hoka One One. I just could not picture myself run commuting in them without becoming the laughing stock of the Ottawa running community.
Then, in the past months, The Run Commuter published a few (serious) articles about using them for run commuting. At about the same time, I started having some troubling leg pains, which forced me to cut back on my run commuting habits (I also turned the big 4-0 around the same time). This was not a good thing, and I started looking for ways to be able to get back to a normal run commuting regime. I tried many things (physio, osteo, massage, sports medicine, etc), but none of them really solved my problems.
At the end of February of this year, being a bit despaired to see my weekly run commuting mileage go down in such dramatic fashion, I tried something bold: I bought a pair of Hoka One One Huaka. This turned out to be a very good decision.
Within days, I was able to run distances that I could only dream of running a few days before. My run commuter partner made lots of fun of my shoes, going as far as telling me, jokingly, to run a few feet in front of him to avoid him the embarrassment. I did not pay any attention to him: these shoes were getting me back on the roads and it felt great. To this day, running in my Huakas is still the same treat that it was the first time.
Hoka One One shoes are a great addition to the toolkit of serious run commuters that have entered the master zone. They are a great shoes to wear at the end of the week, when your legs are tired and the pain is uncomfortably increasing.
Running with a pair of Hoka One One is like running on soft packed ground all the time. Despite their thickness, the stability is OK, and weight is similar to any normal running shoes. Their only downside is that the increased volume of foam tends to wear off faster than in a normal pair of shoes. Despite that, I intend to keep a pair in my run commuting rotation at all times, even if I have to buy them more often than other shoes.
This month we are proud to present our first British run commuter, Georgia Halls! Georgia lives and runcommutes in London. As the first Brit to be featured on this site, Georgia represents the huge number of London runcommuters from what is arguably the most thriving run-commuting metropolis of the world.
Georgia has organised things so that her runcommuting fits into her marathon training schedule. Weather forecasts are crucial to Georgia; she checks the upcoming days’ weather predictions and plans to run on only the nicer days. Georgia also has a refreshing attitude to the timing/speed of her runcommute, paying attention to how she feels during each run, and in response running “that little bit faster or slower depending on how I’m feeling”. A very wise method of staying free from injury and exhaustion. Georgia uses Nike + to track her runs, and provided us with some classic ‘London’ photos from her route – including a daffodil lawn.
Thanks for being our first London run commuter, Georgia!