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

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

National Run@Work Day Announcement!

The Road Runners Club of America’s Run@Work Day is quickly approaching!   Since we’re really into run commuting around here, we wanted to have a day of our own, but in the spirit of all kinds of running, we’ve decided to combine it with the already-scheduled celebration on September 16th.

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In addition to scheduling a run with coworkers during the day at work or planning a quick jog at the end of the day, why not start planning on running to or from work that day?  Maybe you could lead a small group after work, winding through neighborhoods and dropping runners off where they live as you make your own way home?  Maybe you can do a post-work pub run, hang around for a drink and then run to your house afterwards?  In any case, it’s the perfect excuse to give run commuting a try for the first time!

If you have any questions or are just starting out and need some advice, leave a comment or you can send us an email at theruncommuter@gmail.com.