Run Commuting

Geoff Roes talks about the stigmas of run commuting… and how to get around them.

By on May 22, 2013 | Comments

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?
Geoff Roes
Geoff Roes has set numerous ultramarathon course records including the Western States and Wasatch 100 milers. Salomon, Clif, Drymax, Ryders Eyewear, and Atlas Snowshoes all support Geoff's running. You can read more about his running on his blog Fumbling Towards Endurance and join him at his Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camps.