What I Carry

All of the items described in the post, with a bonus photo of the dog, Bebe.

Here is what I carry on my morning run commute. I am a minimalist. That philosophy requires discipline. Every now and then, I wish I had brought along this or that, but that is rare enough – I’m fine with the risk.

I use an ultra-lightweight backpack. It is a cheap but durable nylon number by Marmot. It isn’t specialized for this purpose. If I cinch the shoulder straps, it is stable enough. The interior contains a divider between two compartments, which allows me to stow sweaty clothes after changing. There is a little zippered top area, too. I liked it enough I bought a spare when it was on sale, so if I need to throw one in the wash or take one on a trip, it’s fine — I travel enough that I sometimes leave the extra at my elderly father’s house, so it is there when I check on him. The only problem with this model is it lacks any padding. I cannot throw it around for fear of damaging the gadgets inside. That only means I need to be careful. Or I could buy a separate case for the tablet. (For races, I switch to an Ultimate Direction vest.)

Inside the backpack, I have keys (two: house and office) with a high-powered flashlight attached, on a tiny locking carabiner. I have a driver’s license, work ID, credit card, and MUNI pass for the trip back, in a card case style “wallet;” an iPhone; and an iPad with my files for work. It is that last item that has made the run commute feasible. Basically all my data is accessible.

Oh, I also have a camera with me. I almost always have that, a real camera, typically a vintage film camera. That is extravagant. It weighs as much as everything else put together. I took up running and photography simultaneously, and for me they are associated activities. Others likely would forego the film camera.

Finally, I have a partial change of clothes: fresh socks, t-shirt, and shirt. I also have a lightweight towel meant for athletic use, about a quarter the size of a bath towel and much thinner. I sometimes carry another pair of pants or an extra pair of shoes, especially if there is inclement weather. I’d prefer not to do that though. I wear pants that are acceptable, as I judge it anyway, for a casual work environment. (My wife has a “no-fly” rule: if I am out with her, my pants must have a fly; these do.) I also have a cap, because my mother taught me to err on the side of putting something on my head when it was cold. (The running cap is soaked through with sweat when I arrive, so that has to be swapped out.)

There are omissions. I sometimes wear headphones, but I’m ambivalent doing so. If I will be going back and forth — a great day includes a round-trip run commute — I might pack a spare battery.

All of the above are shown on a list. I am an inveterate maker of lists. That is a bit OCD. But I wouldn’t be comfortable if I didn’t check off these items before I started out.

Run commuting compels me to plan. I have to consider what else I am doing that day, to ensure I bring what I need. If I am headed to the bank, for example, I add my ATM card in a separate “wallet.” But I do not want to be burdened by baggage. Most of the stuff I own, I don’t use. I no longer feel any need to acquire material goods in general, unless I am confident it will become integral to my life. I’d rather be out there running. There is always someplace else worth the journey.

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.

Why I am a Run Commuter

The US Mint in San Francisco, which I pass on the most challenging route I can take, up and over between Mt. Sutro and Twin Peaks.

Run commuting has made me a better person. I am not who people believe I am. To wake up early and trek into the office on my own locomotion is intrinsically worthwhile. Yet it also is consistent with my plan for self-improvement. Please allow me to explain.

People regard me as among the hardest working individuals they know. I once said to a colleague that I felt I wasn’t hard working enough, and he replied explicitly that there was something wrong with me if I were sincere in the statement. That is no brag. Throughout my career, I have worked so much that people who have commented on it have not intended it as a compliment. When I practiced law, albeit briefly half a lifetime ago, I billed at a 2750 hour per year pace. I’m told that remains a respectable amount even now.

But here is my secret. I am among the laziest people I know too. I can cite various examples. If I am working, I won’t bother to leave my desk if I am thirsty or need to use the facilities. In the interest of efficiency, I wait to rise from my seat until both conditions are satisfied. Observers assume I am ambitious. To the contrary. I’m an idler. I like to sit at home with the dog.

There is no contradiction between being hard-working and being lazy. The hard-working persona is cultivated; the lazy one, natural.

When I was a kid, I enjoyed the T.H. White retelling of the King Arthur legend, entitled The Once and Future King. Written with World War II ongoing toward an outcome that seemed at best uncertain, the tetralogy of novels has endured as the version of the myth for our era, featuring Camelot, the sword Excalibur, the wizard Merlin, and so on. It was the basis for the Disney cartoon. The monarch is an orphan transformed into various animals to learn by allegory. What made an impression on me is the defining dialogue between the ill-made knight, Lancelot, and the Queen, Guinevere, who are carrying on, certainly within the awareness of Arthur, who regards the French chevalier as his only friend and the champion of the round table. Lancelot, asked by the Queen why he strives to be so virtuous, confesses it is because he is so wicked. The sentiment is profound, for any of us who aspires to personal progress. Our perfect selves are not our true selves, and although we might not achieve the former within our lives we need not be as awful as the latter.

Social scientists now have data about how we make decisions that suggests we can change the architecture of our choices. The Nobel Prize in economics this year went to the professor who has promoted the concept of “nudges.” We can alter, in the aggregate and on average, behavioral outcomes while respecting free will, by changing defaults from opt-in to opt-out and otherwise being conscious of the framework within which we pick among options. We, many of us anyway, will save money if enrollment in the retirement program is automatic — though within our ability to change, since we won’t bother. We will tend to control our portions by putting out smaller plates and consume less sugary soda by insisting on smaller containers. These are important insights about how our brains function, whether we consent. We can fool ourselves, not necessarily for the worse.

Run commuting has become my means of enforcing discipline for myself. It is effective. You can structure inertia to favor continued activity. In my fantasy life, I have long been a runner. It was easier to implement my imagination than I had supposed, following Lancelot and using “nudges.”

To begin, I set appointments with others to walk, eventually adding speed to the stroll. The commitment made all the difference. I had to live up to it. Otherwise I’d be disappointing a colleague. In some instances, we dubbed it a “walking meeting” — I was thrilled to discover that, like run commuting, the walking meeting turns out to “be a thing” as kids say nowadays. I even arranged, as a teacher, to lead groups of students, adding a coffee break at the end, though fewer than half who RSVP’d typically showed up for the 7am start.

Then I became known as a run commuter. The security guards on campus become accustomed to seeing me arrive in my hi-viz yellow windbreaker and a cap soaked through with sweat, disappear into my office for a moment, then show up once again in my regular outfit for the day. The expectation of others is vital to my motivation. It might be less enthusiastic than the cheering from the crowd during a race, but it serves the same purpose of inspiring. Even though run commuting is becoming more popular, anyone who engages in it likely is enough of an outlier to develop a bit of local fame. It’s only slightly more common than, say, riding a unicycle.

Here is my discovery — not original, even to me, but rather one of those aspects of human nature I keep realizing after forgetting how integral it is to all of us. Repetition forms habits. These can be good practices, despite our more acute awareness of their bad counterparts. I run on my own now. I run without people taking notice, even to “run” errands.

Run commuting has trained me. It has become a mindset. Its value extends beyond the exercise. I have become more deliberate in planning my day and more mindful in carrying out activities shown on the calendar. I appreciate both the moment and the surroundings.

In a sense run commuting has become my philosophy of life.

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

Am I a Runner?

A few medals

 

“You’re not a runner. You’re a racer.”

That was what my coach said to me. She was neither complimenting nor criticizing me. She was describing me.

This is the story of my running career, such as it is. In 2015, I ran my first half marathon. My cousin and her husband had come to visit. He was running the San Francisco marathon. He told me if he could do it, I could too. I have since repeated that sentiment to many others, because it is true.

Inspired by casual conversation, I signed up. I figured I would try a half marathon. That is 13.1 miles. It seemed just within reach.

I finished. It took just under three hours. I was stiff and sore for two days. But I had found myself. The experience was that combination of joyful and miserable that compels repeating — I was once in the San Francisco Chinese New Year’s parade, riding a convertible at night in the cold rain, waving nonstop while trying not to fall off the back of the vehicle; that was the perfect combination of fun and discomfort that should have a name.

That year, I did another ten races. I did not train. I didn’t do anything in between. Except I regularly walked to work. I didn’t taper in that routine.

Perhaps I am obsessive. In 2016, I ran a total of 36 half marathons. I had set a goal of 24, but I got carried away. I brought my personal record down to 2:30. I looked for events wherever I went. In 2017, I managed approximately 27 half marathons. I am not quite sure because I stopped keeping track with care. I ran at altitude, above one mile, in Fort Collins, Colorado. I added different distances. There were multiple night races carrying lights. I achieved a 2:17 in the San Jose Rock ‘n Roll. But I also learned I couldn’t fly coast to coast, arrive late at night, and perform the next morning.

At some point, my wife decided I needed professional help. She concludes that about various aspects of my life. So, she hired a trainer for an assessment.

When we met, Angela put me on a treadmill and filmed my butt. She informed me my stride was asymmetrical and inefficient. I bought a package of sessions.

We are working on making me more of a runner. I’m not a runner in another sense. I am a run walker. I alternate. I have thought I ought to learn race walking. That sport may be just my speed literally. I admire its quirkiness. It has that punctiliousness about rules that appeals to me as a law professor.

For now, I run about a mile at a time. Then I walk a bit. I goad myself. Others use the same technique. I say when I cross that intersection or pass that tree, I have to get going again, then I have to make it at least to the next similar marker and so on. I pick a personal pacer. I remind myself not to be creepy about following someone.

So, I still am not fast, but I am persistent. I have never not finished. I have run back-to-back races, Saturday and Sunday, more than once. This past New Year’s Eve, I ran with a friend who is faster. I finished at the top of the bottom tenth. The next day, I ran with her sister who is even faster. I finished at the top of the bottom sixth. Considering the earlier excursion and the elevation gain of the route, I was satisfied to see the improvement relative to the field even if I remained at the back of the pack.

Along the way, I became not a runner, but a run commuter. I was I delighted to discover that to be a run commuter, as kids say nowadays, “is a thing.” I want to make progress in this pastime. My coach assures me I am ready for a full marathon, especially having completed the final warm up for the New York City marathon, an 18 miler that consisted of three loops of Central Park. She also tells me I can be considerably faster if I were disciplined, running more often and actually running when I “run.”

Thus, I turned the stroll to work into a jog, and, now, a run-walk. There are two long, gentle downhills, at the beginning from my home into the park and at the end through Hayes Valley toward City Hall. On both these stretches, I really move. Ever so briefly, I am a real runner. Yet I can report that through all this I have not once laced up my shoes to run, other than to a destination or in an organized event. I don’t just go out to run. It doesn’t interest me. I love running. I simply don’t do it for it’s own sake.

There are many types of runners. I guess I have created a category for myself. I’m an anti-runner who happens to run. There must be others out there.

The Math of Run Commuting

Twin Peaks, San Francisco, where my morning run commute starts

Here are my calculations that turned me into a run commuter. I concluded that I could invest twenty minutes of time per day for a full workout. I was already considering the idea. But I was persuaded by the argument from efficiency.

I live in San Francisco. That is an advantage. People travel by every conveyance in the Bay Area: cable car, ferry, bicycle, motorcycle, and powered skateboard are acceptable means of arriving at the office. There is no judgment, and what you wear, or even if you are clothed, is not regulated as would be true most other places. The city also is compact. It is seven miles by seven miles. My home is on the “other” side of Twin Peaks. My office is near City Hall.

My primary mode of transit was either the MUNI train or my vintage Honda Hawk GT V-twin cafe racer. By the former, it was about 25 to 30 minutes door to door; by the latter, perhaps 90 seconds faster, but with the tasks of putting on and taking off a high visibility riding suit over street clothes. I actually tracked it for these purposes.

I was walking everywhere anyway. So I did a test. On foot, without too much exertion, I could make it in under an hour. It is a 4.5 mile route with the option of a modest hill, through the park overlooking the famous “Painted Ladies,” the Victorians seen on postcards with the skyline in the background. With a bit of training, and considerable sweat, I have brought my PR down to 47 minutes. It is realistic to believe that I could achieve 45 minutes.

Painted Ladies, Alamo Square via Wikimedia Commons

At that rate, the run is an incremental increase of 20 minutes over the alternatives. That seemed to be a worthwhile investment for the benefit of clearing my head and exercising my heart.

The mornings are almost always cool, sometimes foggy. I have quite a bit of company along the route, especially in popular areas such as the “panhandle” of Golden Gate Park. Every now and then, I will double the distance by returning in the afternoon with a slightly slower jog. If I am feeling like a bit of leisure, I will take my camera for a photo stroll. On the occasions I fall behind, I allow myself to cheat. I will catch a bus through the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. I figure I’m still better off having done a couple of miles under my own locomotion, than if I hadn’t bothered at all. I’m not trying to impress anybody.

The most important social science finding to report is borne out by research. You can form a habit quite easily. Laziness is a habit, as is its opposite. I could have been accustomed to, and probably was, staring at my smartphone while on the short train ride from the Forest Hill Station (said to be the first such subway stop with a building in the West) to the Civic Center Station. After finishing my first run commute, however, I became addicted to it, and as a consequence, if I take too long of a break my body protests the withdrawal into inactivity.

Before I tried this experiment, I would not have believed it was possible for me to do it. But it has worked better than I could have imagined. I run commute about three days per week. No doubt others can best that if they try.

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