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 9 comments

  1. bmj

    I will sometimes run home from work (after taking the bus there). I typically carry my work clothes plus my laptop in a light pack (my laptop is pretty small, so it isn't too big of a deal). I'd consider running both ways, but I pretty much sweat with any physical activity, so I'd be a mess by the time I got to the office (and I don't access to showers).

  2. Pete Bakewell

    Hi Geoff, enjoyed the article.

    I would love to run more to work or social engagements. I could get over the looks of 'you are a nutter (British word for crazy), you ran 20 miles to get here?!' but the sweating problem is more of an issue if there weren't showers available.

    A lot of people work in urban areas and the commute would be all tarmac/asphalt and concrete, I worry if this is bad for your joints in the long term?

  3. beriba

    I get the bus into work then run home using my running pack to carry my work clothes. The run takes about the same time as the bus(a game of "beat the bus" helps give an incentive). I find that with working full time and having a family it's a great way for me to get the daily run in without it taking time out of other commitments.

  4. Stefan

    I run commute in winter quite often. Rest of the year I mostly go by bike. My commute is 50 miles. Therefore, I have to go the first part by car. However, by run/bike commuting I avoid having to cross town by car.

    My main concern with run commuting is that the route is quite boring. Furthermore, the distance is slightly to long for running twice a day. 2 times 10 miles. For ultrarunners this is no distance but I have to add the time for my car commute. Makes it difficult. Honestly, I prefer much more commuting by bike, hop into my car and get home to run up a 5000ft mountain behind my house.

    Regarding no showers in the office, this is my solution:

  5. Charlie M.

    Keys to run-commuting:

    (1) Live in a really humid area;

    (2) Take "Paper-Towel Baths" once you arrive;

    (3) Dry your running clothes on your desk in your cubicle/office;

    (4) Attend work meetings with salt stains on your face;

    (5) Run from work to night school and hand in sweat-stained papers;

    (6) Drink from the same algae-filled water bottle every day;

    (7) Forget to wash your running clothes and put them on again the next day;

    (8) Ride the bus wearing compression shorts and a tank top;

    (9) Wear a wrinkled suit to every Merit Review meeting;

    (10) Learn the location of every public bathroom!

  6. Curtis

    I started run-commuting last year and used it as part of my training for my first 50 miler. I had to think about a lot of the factors that Geoff mentioned in his article (carrying work items, changing into work clothes, cleaning up, drying off, etc). But with a good amount of planning I figured most of it out. In fact, the mental preparation of running to work probably helped me more in my training for ultras then simply the miles I was able to log as part of my commute. Being able to run ultras means being able to plan things out in advance, be prepared, solve problems, not make excuses… and allow others to think that you're a bit of a weirdo.

  7. Jonathan

    I love run commuting and do it as often as I can, including:

    – Run to/from train stations for the rest of my commute

    – Once a week I get off early from my train to get a longer commute run in, around 13 miles, mostely offroad.

    – Run to local store to get last minute shopping, I do this often – will sometimes end a run with a trip to the store, then run home with the shopping in backpack, or just carry it.


    – Shower if you can, use those travel 'fresh' moist wipes to clean yourself when you can't.

    – I carry a very lightweight absorbant travel towel too, which helps.

    – Alway run with water/something to drink, especially in the heat

    – Leave a set of work clothes at work, change them for fresh ones on day's you don't run in (I prefer not to run with clothing in my backpack, don't have room once I have sandwiches/salad and my Kindle, phone, etc.)

  8. Steve

    I "run" errands around town on occasion. It can be as simple as returning the movie rental or dropping an envelope off at the post office. I once tried picking up 2 gallons of milk and running with one in each hand. Dumb idea. Made it about 100 yards and realized it was going to be a long mile back to the house.

  9. Will

    I run home from work 2-3 times per week. Generally on those days I get the bus to work, then leave my work clothes in my office. The next day I get the bus home and take yesterday's work clothes with me. For the run I have a small bag that I use to take my wallet, keys, etc plus any papers I need for that night and maybe hydration if it is a longer run. Pretty simple system but takes the pressure off finding time for mid-week workouts.

  10. Max

    Looks like I'm not the only person who runs around town.

    I think a big part for why people don't accept run-commuting is because most people associate running with mandatory I-need-to-stay-healthy task rather than something enjoyable or viewed as a tool in its own right.

  11. David

    I have a pair of non-running shoes that go with everything that I keep at work. My work clothes I take daily in my running pack – using the UD PB vest currently. I have showers at work so that really helps.

    My real secret is turning a boot and glove dryer into a clothes dryer by adding a box on top of the tubes – – this way I can have dry clothes to run home in and I don't have to go through so many outfits a week and plan ahead. It's especially great in the winter, having warm clothes and gloves to get into before leaving.

  12. Josh

    Here's a quick list of things I do for my 5 mile run commute:

    – Take a shower before leaving

    – Iron and fold business clothes, pack into travel folder and/or backpack

    – Keep suit coats and shoes at work

    – Use a small fan in your office to cool down/dry running clothes

    No shower cleanup:

    – Cool down with fan, check email

    – Baby wipes on head/face/neck, chest, groin, feet

    – Apply deodorant/antiperspirant

    – Go to bathroom, rinse off head and arms, towel off

    – Use a little body spray

    We have lots of other tips (general and individual), gear reviews, and stories at

    Occassionally, run commuting home doesn't work for me because of child pickup times. I only have time to take public transit home, grab the car, and set off to pick kids up from two different schools before I'm charged extra for aftercare.

    Weather is never a problem though (I love running in the rain.)

  13. ALex

    So many great comments here, but what about nutrition? If I run 10-15 miles to work, what would be some ways to replenish when I get there?

  14. Brian

    Here in Oklahoma, running to a interactive workplace with no showers is not feasible even in the cooler months. Instead, I speed walk on all but the hottest days. You'd be surprised how fast you can move just walking if you really put your mind to it. And you generate very little sweat. I find this to be excellent training for ultras and mountain races, where this flat-lander does a considerable amount of walking anyway.

  15. Paul Mastin

    I remember one time I was going to help some friends with a demolition project at their house. I ran 5 miles with a hammer in one hand a crowbar in the other. Surely that looked odd. I do love to "run" errands, drop off or pick up prescriptions, to the library, stuff like that. But running to work is impractical, mainly because of the sweat factor.

  16. Jamie

    I started run-commuting to work whenever it snowed last year. I found it was much quicker and safer than trying to either bike or drive in Boulder in the snow. People are generally good about shoveling, but they don't like to plow the roads here.

    Once I realized how easy it was I ran most days, until I moved out of the city and into the suburbs. 20 miles each way could get a little long.

  17. jeff

    With a little logistical planning, run-commuting to/from work is easy. For example, on a Monday, I'll drive to work and bring with me the clothes that I would plan to wear on my running days along with a towel. Stage a second pair of shoes at work and you can skip needing to bring those. Don't have showers? Using the sink in the bathroom for a 'bath' works pretty well or keep a Nalgene in the office and fill it with hot water (from the tap or from a coffee maker) and take a bottle shower outdoors.

    Another option is driving one way and running the other. An example would be driving to work, bringing clothes for the following day and running home. Run back into work in the morning and then drive home the second day. This works well if you have a partner with a car at home. This gives you a vehicle at both locations should the need for transportation arise.

  18. Ben Z

    This has inspired me – I'm going to figure out how to run to and from work 1-2 times per week for the next couple of months. Thanks!

  19. Jen

    I am so glad to hear that I am not the only one to run commute. Everyone has been telling me that I am nuts for the last 5 years. My husband drops me off in the morning and I run/bike home depending on the training schedule and life interuptions. I get almost all of my weekday training miles in this way. I'd love to run to work in the morning, but the no shower, no hat policy at work creates some funky looking hair.

  20. Rich

    Run commuting back in college 30 years ago was how I transitioned from episodic running mostly as off-season training for other sports to being a life-long runner. Whenever possible over the years since I have done this, and without interruption (barring injury) now for the last 16 years. Typically I will run 45-60 minutes to work and 25-35 minutes home, but sometimes I will make a real double session out of it if I am prepping for a race. It is a great way to build up mileage without a lot of added time during the week. 15 minutes would be required for biking (or driving if I were to do so) to work anyway. I carry clothes and lunch each day. When my children were little they thought I ran for work – not to work!

    Alternatively if I bike commute it takes me somehow 1-1.5 hours to get to work even if in theory it can be done in 15 minutes, so by comparison run commuting is a real timesaver.

  21. Bastet

    I would see people out running on my drive home from work. I deduced that these must be independently wealthy people that don’t need to work 8 – 5 like the rest of us. So jealously I thought, well I want to get a run in before dinner too! The seed was sown. I have the ability to run; what I also needed was the skill to make it useful.

    Figuring out the logistics, what works and where things went awry is really part of the fun! I like the feeling of creating my own “system” :) 

    Now I realize I look like a crazy person running around downtown in my beater clothes and back pack, complete with blinky lights and reflective tape. But I tell myself I am serving my body and my community well by getting out there and being one less car.

    Thanks for the article.

  22. Amy

    I started run commuting in DC because my roommate got mugged the first week we moved into the neighborhood I'd bought a house in. I figured no one would mug a runner wearing a backpack, whereas they might mug someone dressed up for work walking to the metro carrying a purse. It was a 4-mile commute (6 or 9 if I ran through Rock Creek Park) and took the same amount of time to run or ride the metro. I was lucky enough to have a shower at work, because in DC in the summer, it wouldn't have worked otherwise. I miss my run commutes. I live too close to work in Portland to make it a great option.

  23. Matthew C Bryant

    This is what I do. Drive to work Monday with all my clothes for the week, then just run home Monday night, run back and forth during the week, drive home Friday with the weeks worth of clothes. Sometimes I need my car during the day for work, but in the evenings I just use my bike. It helps quite a bit that I only live 3.25 miles from work and I have a shower and a locker when I get there. A couple times a week I take a long way home for milage and/or adventure.

  24. Haley

    I love run commuting! It's really easy to do if you've got small kids, because the jogging stroller is a carry-all and you don't have to lug a pack around. Literally running errands gives me such a sense of accomplishment and helps me feel more like I'm in a walkable/runable neighborhood (even though I'm not). Whether I'm dining with family (8 mile round-trip), grocery shopping (4 mile RT), or dropping my son off at his dad's (12 mile RT), spending the extra time running there and back adds an element of "me time" to everyday tasks.

  25. Haley

    Keep food at the office to snack on when you get in. My typical office stash includes fruit/veg for the week (bananas/oranges/apples in my office and cucumbers/carrots/spinach in the fridge), coconut bars, rice cakes, peanut butter, honey, protein powder, cereal, individual servings of soy milk, etc. It can all fit in a desk file drawer to keep your co-workers from swiping your stash.

  26. Dominique

    One day this past winter there was a big snowstorm that took people 3x the usual time to get home from work. Luckily I had my running gear so I just ran the 3.5 miles home!

  27. Mike

    I tried running home for a spell (after commuting by train to work) but ended up finding it to be too much hassle. It turned running into a chore rather than something I looked forward too after work. I much prefer coming home and sitting with a coffee for a bit and then heading out.

  28. Nick

    I run commute on days when I have lecture classes in well ventilated rooms, and try to sit as far away from other people as possible. Depending on what I need with me, I either run with just a hydration pack and a notebook, or a stormproof ultralight pack. 10 miles RT, and I bring snacks. The run home is always hard after sitting in a chair for three hours.

    Grocery runs are fun too, only a 3 mile RT, but that return leg is a bear with 30lbs of groceries on your back.

  29. Jen Young

    I'd love to run, or even bike to work… but the sweat factor is insurmountable with our ridiculous humidity and no showers at work. :( Alas, until I change jobs, I will just have to long for my run as I drive home. :)

  30. Steve

    Thanks for the great article and comments. Jus the motivation I needed to get back to my own running to work. Coming off an injury I've been reluctant to commit to the 13 mile round trip, but I'm definitely capable now. Ive got a shower at work, which is awesome. My challenges are pre-staging some healthy lunches and clothes, motivation to run home when it's 95 degrees in the afternoon, kid's activities that i need to get home for earlier, and potential "bathroom" issues at 6 am. Most of these can be managed with some effort. I run with my Nathan pack with keys, wallet, phone, badge, maybe a sandwich or other portable lunch if necessary.

  31. bob dobbs

    hilarious, I could have written that myself.

    I just take a lengthy cold water sponge bath every morning to cool down. It helps that my building is heavily air-conditioned. People complain about the drying clothes and I'm like, whatever

  32. pk

    One more important thing (from eastern european perspective) about running to social engagements (and back):

    Certainly running 5k back home after 10 beers and a bottle off vodka doesn't make you sober – but it makes huge diference next day.

    It's probably about accelerating metabolism for the next few hours of sleep.

  33. J.Xander

    I am glad to see that others share my strategies. I thought I was alone! Although, I am afraid to wash my running clothes now as I think they may fall apart.

  34. Tom

    Back in the 60's when I was growing up in Gary, Indiana, there was a huge guy with massive shoulders that I would often see running past my house at all hours of the day or night.

    This was Pat Rhodes. who would commute (by choice) by running to and from work year round. He was a steelworker and the mill was about 5 miles one way from his house. He worked rotating shifts, so sometimes he would be running to or from work at 3 am. or any other time of the day. He often took a longer route home to add miles.

    Aside from sticking out as a grown man running down the road, Pat was hard to miss. He was over 6'4" and had a massive and wide upper torso, built from his younger days as a former State swim Champion. He would often run shirtless when it was over 90-100 degrees.

    Pat was inspiring as he was the first person I ever met who ran distances for fun. He would take his vacation time to travel to races. He was the first person I ever met that ran marathons.

    Pat once proudly showed me one of the first commercially available "cushioned" running shoes that he had bought, the white leather with green stripes adidas Country.

    He only wore them in races, preferring to run in his standard white canvas high top Converse all stars. He was very frugal and said he did not want to "mess up" his good shoes by running to and from work in them.

    He told me he enjoyed running in snow because he liked the extra cushion it provided.

    It was no problem for him to run to and from his blue collar job, where he became dirtier and sweatier than he was from his run. (it says a lot about the demographics of this forum in that the main concern with run commuting seems to be being sweaty at work…)

    Pat became legendary in northwest Indiana running circles by running in and directing races, volunteering, and quietly setting a positive example.

    He ironically died in a freak accident when wind blew a tree over onto him, during a rare time while he was actually driving to a fitness club…

    I often think of Pat and his no nonsense attitude when I have run to commute to work, as work, to visit other people, to get to races, do errands or to just get someplace else.

    Run Commuting: just do it.

  35. Andy

    On the days I work 12-hour shifts it would seem like there would be no time to get a run in, so running into work is the best way to maximize my time. Aside from the fact that I need to be in by 5:15AM and it's 22 miles one way it's quite easy. Knowing that someone else is counting on you to show up so they can go home is a great motivator to keep on running, and at the end of the day there is no guilt in driving home..

  36. JP

    Another vote for running home drunk from bars. You get that feeling of floating over the terrain that you only get sober when in really top form :) Until you fall.

    I live in a city where run commutes happen a lot. A lot of workplaces here have showers and that seems to be the main thing stopping a lot of people.

    I also used to run commute in a big city where riding my bike was dangerous on the road… cutting across roads to avoid lights while running meant I was rarely more than 5mins slower running the 7k than I was riding it.

    Its a shame there arent more workplaces with showers and decent changerooms in other parts of the world.

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