Run Commuting

I’ve written often of the satisfaction I get from using my body to travel into wild and remote places that I couldn’t get to as efficiently any way other than running. When I talk to other trail runners about why they run, this seems to be the number one reason that consistently comes up. We like to explore, and we like to do it in a way that’s fast, simple, and healthy for us, and for the environment.

The other, often overlooked benefit of having the fitness to and the interest in running long distances is the use of running as a way to get from one point to another with a more functional larger purpose. Using running as a way to get from point A to point B doesn’t, of course, require point B to be some far-away, remote place that we would never go to otherwise. Point B could also be your job or the store or a social engagement.

Very few people seem to use running in this way. As a means of commuting around town, driving, biking, walking, and public transportation all seem to be very widely used and widely recognized methods, while running tends to be looked at as odd and silly. There are a few obvious reasons for this, but when you stop and look at these reasons there really isn’t anything all that odd and unusual about run commuting.

Probably the number one reason why most people don’t run commute is that they don’t want to be wearing goofy running clothes and sweating like a pig when they get to where they are going. Certainly this is a valid concern, and a logical limiting factor in many cases, especially in very hot weather. There are a lot of quite simple ways around this hurdle, though. Most importantly is the reality that you don’t have to wear goofy running clothes to go out and run somewhere. We think nothing of hoping on our bike and riding 10 miles across town in our everyday clothes, but very few people ever run more than a couple blocks in anything other than run-specific clothes. There’s really no logical reason for this other than the fact that biking around town in “street clothes” is totally accepted in our culture while running around town in the same clothes is not.

An old-timer friend of mine has told me a great story which illustrates this point, and shows that this has been the case for several decades. The story goes that when he first began running in Alaska (more than 50 years ago), it was really only something that was common as a competitive endeavor. People didn’t just go out and run for the hell of it, and most certainly not in Juneau, Alaska. Well, he wanted to go out and run for the hell of it, so he did. People also didn’t really have running-specific clothing at this time. Unless you were a competitive runner (which in those days likely included less than a few thousand people in the entire country) you didn’t own running shorts and a singlet, or for that matter running-specific shoes. Instead, if you wanted to run you wore jeans (or cut-off jeans in warm weather), a cotton sweatshirt or a flannel shirt, and some tennis shoes. In other words, if you wanted to run, you ran in the same clothes that you would wear to walk down to the store to get a gallon of milk. This doesn’t mean it was publicly accepted though, as running in general was not publicly accepted, unless it was part of a competition.

My friend though, he just wanted to run, and that was what he did. At least until he had people call the cops on him because they thought he was suspicious running down the street. After this he began to transition to trail running because at least he could run without any people seeing him and wondering what he was up to. This is by far my favorite “why did you start running trails story.” The point I want to come back to, though, is that even 50 years ago running around town in street clothes was unusual, and likely to raise some eyebrows.

In the time since then, running has become universally recognized (at least in this country), but running in street clothes still draws the same double takes that it did 50 years ago. It’s hard to go against what society views as normal, but all we really need to do if we want to be wearing our street clothes when we get to the café where we’re meeting a friend for lunch is to realize that there really isn’t any reason why we can’t just run across town in these clothes.

The sweating like a pig thing can be a little harder to work with, but certainly not impossible. When we go out and run for exercise or for exploring wild and remote places we are expecting to sweat and we push ourselves at a pace that often leads to large amounts of sweat. With the exception of midday summertime weather, most healthy and fit runners can slow down considerably and run for several minutes (or even hours) without sweating much at all. If you sweat profusely at eight min/mile pace in 50 degree weather, try slowing to a 12 min/mile pace and see what happens. Most people will sweat very little in temperatures below 60 if they slow down by several minutes per mile from their “normal” pace.

The other major challenge that makes run commuting potentially difficult is that we are so often needing to carry a decent amount of stuff with us when we are going to and from places in our everyday lives. This is another issue though that in many cases can be handled with very little difficulty. We pretty much all have running packs nowadays that we use for long races or training runs. Throw in a 100-ounce bladder, a dozen or two gels, a light jacket, and you can go run for 30-plus miles in the mountains with no resupply. We think nothing of doing this on a fairly regular basis so why then can’t we readily wrap our minds around the idea of running to class with three or four books and a lunch, or running to the store to get some groceries for dinner? Obviously, there are certain times that we need the cargo capacity of a vehicle or a bicycle, but the majority of times that we are moving around from place to place in our everyday lives we are carrying less than 10 pounds of stuff with us.

Another thing that comes into play when we begin to think about using our fancy running packs to carry things other than food and water for long runs is that we can also use them to help with the first problem I presented: that we don’t want to be wearing goofy (and sweaty) running clothes when we get to where we are going. In most cases we are going somewhere where we can change into street clothes (that we can carry in our running packs) when we get there. There are even times when you could take a shower when you get there. Say for example that you’re going to a friend’s house for a barbecue, or you are lucky enough to work somewhere with showers.

I recognize that there are numerous situations when run commuting doesn’t make sense, but I also believe that there are numerous situations in which it makes perfect sense, but it’s not something that we often think about doing. I include myself in this. It’s just not something that I think to do very often, but then most times I do I find myself thinking how logical, easy, and enjoyable that was. Certainly running across town to go pick up a book that you’ve had on hold at the library isn’t as memorable or as exhilarating as running up your favorite mountain, but it might just be more memorable and more exhilarating than driving to get that book.

[Editor’s Note: iRunFar’s Bryon Powell once reflected on discovering run commuting six years. ]

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • We know you run commuters are out there. What are your tricks of the trade for getting past some of the challenges like sweating, needing clean clothes at your destination, and social stigmas?
  • Have you encountered a situation in which you just couldn’t make run commuting work because of the logistics (other than distance)? If so, what was it?

There are 66 comments

  1. Eric Ahern

    I agree with this sentiment to some extent. I've started run commuting recently, and at times it can feel like a chore. However, I think there can be a training benefit for ultras in that you need to overcome your low motivation, like a low point in an ultra. Other days it is just a pure joy, and I tack on extra miles in the afternoon (the RT is only about 7 miles). Still other days, when I'm really not feeling it I bike instead. I don't need to run commute every day, but I find it a great time-saver and boost in my training to mix it in.

  2. Jason

    I run commute occasionally and am very lucky since I have a shower I can use at work. It is about 13 miles each way and a great way to get in some miles during the week. If I didn't have the ability to clean up after my run to work there is no way I would even consider doing this.

  3. Julie

    Hi Josh…I am going to be run commuting from the commuter rail station (north) to Cambridge starting in September…what's it like in the winter? I know it will be cold/rainy/snowy etc but do you avoid roads? Take sidewalks? Ice?

  4. Tim Maddox

    I run commute 3-4 times a week, @ 5+ miles each way. If I run at lunch twice a week, I can pull in 50 miles a week. This frees up a bunch of time for the stuff I usually neglect on the weekends.

  5. Pau Vives

    I run commute every day from my home (in Barcelona) and my job (13 kilometers away, crossing the Tibidabo, a 500 m high mountain), where I teach in a high school. After some months of being the less popular professor, I found a swimming pool not far from the school, and I pay 42€/month… for a shower. I bring my clothes with one of my thousands trail-running bagpacks (my obsession: I'm an expert!).

    Since I do this (just running: no series, no fartlek, but a great volume: around 100 – 120 km in 5 days) my times and results in long distance races have improved amazingly.

    It's tiring sometimes, but I swear that even if I am destroyed after a very long working day, after 5 minutes of running I feel incredibly good… endorphines!!!!

    I laughed a lot reading this comments. We are not alone out there!!!

  6. Terry

    Highly insightful, Roes. Personally, run commuting works for me dependent on situation; usually it's a lot more about maximizing time usage for training. There was a period of time when I had to help out at church during the weekends, thus missing out running in the trails. I made it a point to run about 30-35km from home to church, compensating for lost opportunities for training sessions. I need not worry about being there sweaty and stinky; brought along liquid soap and fresh clothing in my S-Lab 12 since the church has a shower facility.

    Since it will take time for me to get home and prepare for a run, these days, I choose to run from work to home, in process, making a little more allowance of free time at home.

    As for running in street clothes (shirt and jeans), done that. Not some thing you will find someone doing in Singapore cos you will also appear a oddball there. Sometimes, I did that out of pure laziness to change into running apparels.

    Other times, I just forgot to bring along my running shirt and shorts.

    Would like to note about the bit regarding sweating too much as it is depending on which region of the world you live in. In Singapore, the humidity can be notoriously high so if you have to keep yourself from perspiring too much, you gotta run VERY VERY slow.

  7. Josh Katzman

    Julie,

    I usually just stay on the roads. This winter was wicked bad, but the roads were pretty good, even when we had some ridiculous snow falls – sidewalks tend to be icier/narrower. The good news is that they typically do a really good job plowing around here, so I've never felt too sketched out by the traffic – I try to run toward traffic so I can jump into the snow bank if a car is about to clip me. The bikeways tend to remain pretty icy (plowed, but no salt is put down so they can be pretty slick).

  8. Rob M.

    The shoe, Hoka One One are great for such terrain (or lack of it). I don't know if they are available in the UK but definitely worth checking into to stave off sore joints. But like all aspects of running it may not work for everyone.

  9. Becky

    Ditto. I keep a lot of stuff at work (shoes, a couple of sets of clothes, towel, soap, etc). I generally run commute to work only 3/5 days so that on Mondays I can load up with enough food for an entire week of lunches and snacks. Then on Fridays I bring home the dirty clothes and empty containers. I bike or drive those days, depending on how much there is to carry. So, not perfect but 3/5 days is better than 0/5 days – right?? Run commuting is great for me because like most people I spend most of the day at a desk and getting in a run before starting work keeps me from getting too antsy. I've got shower access at work, which is fortunate.

  10. Bryce

    It's 16.7 miles from home to work. Living in Portland, Oregon I love running hills and in the rain. I get off the commuter train 3 miles early and run the remainder to work in the morning before sun up. Running across downtown then over a bridge and along riverside on a bike/pedestrian path. Lots of cars & bikes & runners. For safety I have flashing red light on chest and one LED flashlight in each hand so I can be seen from all sides. As time allows I'll get off the train earlier and run longer.
    I keep week's supply of clean clothes in. locker at work with soap & shampoo & etc.

  11. akshipmate

    I've been evolving from walking to running 5+ miles to work. Running saves enough time to shower at a fitness club near my job.

    On weekends I stage clothes at work and in my club locker, and food at work. I make sharper clothing decisions Saturday afternoons than at 5 AM weekdays, plus I can now wear less practical clothing at work. Therefore, I've actually been looking _more_ professional since I started run commuting.

    Thank you, Geoff, for your article, and others for your comments.

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