How I (Quickly) Became a Run Commuter

Chances are, like most of society in the 21st century, you’re simply too busy. Finding time for the things that need to get done is hard to do, let alone your own personal time. If you’re a runner like me, making time to squeeze in the miles can be challenging. But we all know that it makes us happier and healthier. Plus, it’s an essential part of working towards time and distance goals. I recently started a Ph.D. program in Applied Economics; any economist will tell you that “time is your most valuable resource.” I quickly found myself with 12-hour days of commuting, work, class, and meetings—and that was before factoring in a run, cooking dinner, working on assignments and research, and—gasp!—trying to relax enough to fall asleep before repeating everything again the next day. As I started to get into the swing of things—finding the best route to work, not getting on the wrong bus to get to class—I realized that in a typical day, I was spending at least 90 minutes commuting. At a relaxed pace, I can run about 11 miles in 90 minutes, which is just about what I would ideally run most weekdays anyways. I first heard of “run commuting” through an Instagram post by Mike Wardian (be sure to check back for my future blog post titled, “All of the Reasons I Admire Mike Wardian”), so I was pretty sure that a prerequisite for completing such an endeavor was to be superhuman. But, as I sat on a bus for about 60 minutes each day as part of my overall commute, I began to wonder, what would I prefer: 60 minutes of sitting on a crowded bus with college students or 90 minutes of running to cover the same distance? Perhaps in a somewhat exhausted and delirious state from an oversized burden of mathematical proofs, I ordered a pack suitable for a light run commuting and anxiously awaited my first trek. Needless to say, I now consider myself a “run commuter” (it turns out you can be an average human being!). Here are some of my thoughts on run commuting and tips and tricks from my own experience on how to make your run commute successful and enjoyable:

Why You Should Run Commute

Most of us have to go to work five days a week. That means we also have to find a way to get there. Did you know that a combined 85% of Americans either drive to work alone (75%) or carpool with other people (9%)? Run commuting can be an effective way to not only get in the miles, but you can also help the environment and save money. Think about your current commute to work. Is it stressful? When was the last time you felt stressed out while running? Running to and from work can be a way to relax before the workday begins and decompress when it ends. Plus, is it just me, or is one of your favorite parts of the day that moment when you trade your work shoes for your running shoes? Of course, if you live quite far from where you work or do not have a safe route to run there, this may not be a great option. But you may be a prime candidate for the lunchtime run!

Tips for Run Commute Success

So, how can you make your run commute a successful and enjoyable experience?

My #1 Tip: Invest in Good Gear

Really, I just mean a good pack. Running with something on your back is never enjoyable. One of my favorite moments of running an ultra is when I take my hydration pack off at the end of a race and instantly feel 50 pounds lighter. (No, my pack never actually weighs that much… But when you’re running 50 miles it tends to feel that way). The point is, if you’re going to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders (or the weight of your work clothes and carefully packed lunch), it might as well be comfortable. There are many packs that would be suitable, and online reviews help a great deal, but I’ve found true love with the Ultimate Direction Fastpack. This pack has just enough space for me, but also comes in three other larger sizes. I typically fit a change of clothes or two, some food, a water bottle, my cell phone, and my iPad. The adjustable straps make it easy to get a proper fit depending on its contents, and the flexible, yet sturdy, backboard ensures that nothing is poking my back.

Plan Ahead

If you’re going to commit to run commuting, you’ll also want to plan ahead and give yourself time. Planning ahead means checking the weather forecast. If it looks like rain, maybe pass on a run commute that day. I would also recommend keeping a few resealable storage bags in your pack. In the event you get stuck running in the rain, you can at least use them to save your electronics and important papers. As I mentioned earlier, I’m a student, which means homework. To make sure I never have to make the excuse “my run commute ruined my paper”, I always zip assignments in a resealable storage bag; you can do the same so you don’t need a similar excuse for a colleague. Planning ahead also means taking some time to get your pack ready, ideally the night before. You should think about what you’ll wear running and what your change of clothes will be. Try to pack clothes that aren’t too bulky. I love an oversized sweater myself, but realize that a top the size of my cat is not ideal for a commute. Since I tend to get cold at work, I just keep a small blanket at my desk. You can usually find me cozily wrapped up in it throughout the day.
And, don’t forget to give yourself time, unless you function well under pressure.
Know the route you will take and realistically estimate how long it will take you to get from point A to point B. This is probably more important in the morning as you are heading to work, but just as essential if you have somewhere to be after work. If it’s your first time running a particular route, give yourself extra time and maybe don’t try it on the day you have a meeting with an important client first thing in the morning. You’ll also want to factor in a few minutes once you get to work in the morning to get changed and freshen up a bit. You want your commute to be enjoyable and not a race against the clock. However, if that’s what it turns into, just think of it as your speed training for the week (don’t worry, I’ve been there).

Keep some essentials at your destination.

The best thing to keep at work is a change of shoes, rather than carrying them with you. Shoes can be bulky and heavy, so simply keep a pair or two at your desk that you can change into. Keeping an “emergency outfit” at work may also save you from an uncomfortable day in the event you forget an essential clothing item. If you’re lucky, you may work in a place with access to a shower. In that case, you can keep a small set of toiletries and a towel where you work and shower once you get in. If not, you may want to invest in some athletic body wipes to clean off any sweat and odor. Be mindful that “sweaty runner bod” is not for everyone and that keeping proper hygiene is respectful to your colleagues. If you’re not going to wake up early enough to have breakfast and/or coffee before you head out, you’ll probably also want to have those items waiting for you at work. I find that granola and oatmeal are great items to keep on hand. If you have work-sponsored coffee, great! If not or if the office coffee is not up to standard, try a nearby coffee shop. Once they know your name and your order, you know you’ve made it. This winter has been particularly rough. I’m in Minnesota where it is still below freezing and snowing, so I like to keep a box of Flora herbal tea and a jar of manuka honey at my desk. I find a hot cup of tea with honey is the perfect way to warm up. I also always pack some homemade trail mix made of almonds, cashews, golden berries, Heaven Mountain goji berries, and Flora Baobites. It’s a perfect class-time or meeting snack.

Finally, have fun with your commute and track your progress.

Use your run commute to explore new parts of your community by trying new routes. Take photos. Say good morning or hello to people on your way. Your route to work may not be the most scenic, but maybe you will catch the sun rising or setting. Stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and enjoy the beauty around you: you’re free. And don’t forget to Strava your run; if you don’t, it didn’t happen... I’m joking, of course, but I really do enjoy and recommend tracking your run commute miles. Strava even has a cool feature where you can tag your run as a commute. If you don’t want people seeing the run or your route itself, you can set it to private. Either way, in your training log you will be able to see how many miles you accumulate just by run commuting!
Michelle Pratt grew up in the Catskill Mountains of NY where she spent a great deal of time wandering around the woods. She is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota, a Graduate Research Assistant at the Minnesota Population Research Center, and the Thacher Park Trail Running Festival Race Director. Click here to follow Michelle on Strava.