As much as I enjoy some of the perks of my job (Amazing PTO! Flexible schedule! Remote work days!), the office location is not one of them. On average, it takes me anywhere from 50-75 minutes (via bus+train or two buses) to traverse the 5-ish miles between home and work. I’m usually lucky enough to be able to log off right at 5p, but even the earliest of starts means I’m not getting home until after 6p. In the past, that’s meant that any workout I’m hoping to fit in doesn’t typically start until closer to 6:30. I’m usually hungry, tired, and bribing my body to play ball.
I typically spend my entire commute crammed onto a bus that reeks of weed (I wish I was exaggerating, but no), jostling for standing room. Once I transfer to the train, I get on early enough that I’m able to grab a seat and zone out to my phone or book for 20 minutes. Then I walk 15 minutes home from the train station. My commute has felt increasingly like wasted time. The last month or so, as the days have gotten a little longer, and the weather a little warmer, I’ve toyed with the idea of a run commute: using my legs instead of public transit. I’ve never done a run commute before, but I knew that if I were to be able to figure it out, I could easily start using my “wasted time” as workout time, and kill two birds with one, weed-less stone.
One of the first issues I had to address was how to get my belongings home with me. I didn’t own any hiking or running backpacks, and leaving everything at the office wasn’t really an option (at minimum, I needed my keys, wallet, and phone). Some blogs showed how you could jerryrig a cheap drawstring bag into a useable running
backpack, but that only appealed to me for about 4 minutes (it seems doable, so check it out as an option!). After checking Amazon reviews, and various website suggestions, I decided that the easiest solution was likely to head to my neighborhood REI, ask a ton of questions, and try on a ton of options. I wasn’t looking to spend a lot of money, as 1) I have a finite amount of money and would rather spend it on fancy cheese; and 2) I wasn’t sure how much I would like the run commute, and didn’t want to invest heavily in something I wasn’t going to use very frequently. I explained to the guy at REI that I had heard good things about their Stoke 9 bag, which had been discontinued, but that I was looking for something small, light, bladderless (or at least not water-specific), and it had to have chest/waist straps (these keep your bag from flailing around while you move). He immediately suggested the Flash 18, their smallest, most minimalist pack. (They have a few sizes if you need more room, or are a dude with larger proportions; for example, T got himself a fancy, orange Flash 22, which was a bit large on me, but fit him pretty well.) These packs don’t come with bladders, but they have the capacity to hold one (internal slot, external loops and tube opening), which I think suits my needs pretty well.
I wasn’t able to try out my run commute for a few weeks post-purchase, as the weather wasn’t at all cooperative. Thankfully, the rain clouds and freezing temps were replaced with sun and heat this week, and I was finally able to lace up for my first attempt at a run commute on Tuesday. My plan has been to run commute home in the afternoons, which means I’d pack my bag with a running outfit+shoes, as well as my normal human needs, like wallet, phone, keys, sunglasses, etc. I didn’t have my watch or ipod with me (long story), but I’ve recently switched over to Strava from DailyMile (add me, please!!!), so I downloaded the app on my phone, and created a quick running playlist on spotify (you’re welcome to use it, too! Fair warning: It’s super random, as all my playlists are.); my phone now served as both GPS watch and ipod. (#blessed) I tucked my phone into the zippered, external pouch of the pack, strapped up, and hit the road. Because it wasn’t easy to access on-the-go, I intended on leaving my strava app running, regardless of stoplights, etc. I thought I had set it to auto-pause at stops, but I guess I have no idea what I’m doing (are you surprised?). I also didn’t bring any water with me; the distance was less than 6 miles, and I knew that I would pass a few parks, schools, or public buildings that would likely have water fountains. Spoiler Alert: It was hot as balls.
The run from work to T’s is about as straightforward as it gets; one turn, and then straight on ’til morning. I ran on the east side of the street, and about halfway through, as I was baking in the full force of the sun, realized that switching to the West side afforded me some much-needed shade. My running path takes me through some interesting neighborhoods, some of which are a little more safety-impaired than others, but I never once felt uncomfortable or nervous (Full Disclosure: I definitely anticipated that I may need to reroute for some stretches). I rocked some spandex shorts and a cotton tank, which worked well. I was pleased that the straps of the backpack didn’t bother my shoulders/neck, as I worried they might. The weight of the backpack felt completely manageable, and the pack itself barely shifted for my entire run. Everything felt really snug, and I was able to transport my entire work outfit (jeans, shirt, sneaks); wallet, keys, phone, sunglasses, magazine, and coffee mug without issue. I will say that my back was SOAKED post-run, but it was 90+ degrees, the sweat didn’t come through to my clothes, and I expected some heat to get trapped back there.
I felt like an urban panther, and I couldn’t help but grin the entire time. It was really cool to run through neighborhoods I rarely venture to, and feel that much more connected to my city. My legs felt strong, and I kept the pace pretty easy (and had no way of knowing what it was), but the sun itself was sucking the water out of my body. I felt like a dried out cicada shell. The fountains I thought would be ever-present weren’t so frequent, and I actually stopped at a dentist’s office halfway through to ask if I could use their water fountain. No one appeared at the desk, so after a few seconds, I sheepishly grabbed some water in a cup and bolted. It wasn’t nearly enough, so I ducked into a laundromat a block later and filled the cup a few times with warm water from their sink (#fancy). About a 1/2mi later, I got to the 606, a new, multi-use path in Chicago; and was able to grab some cold water from the adjoining dog park. I immediately had dogs swarming my legs. I thought they just wanted attention, but then I realized that they wanted water from the dog-level fountain, and turned it on for them. Gotta pay it forward for using their turf!!
A short time later, I stopped to take a picture, which I think is a really cool representation of my route: urban grit tucked in and around the calm, green arms of the Midwest. I never run with my phone, so I felt like one of the cool kids who documents their runs with photographic evidence. Or something.
The door-to-door time of my commute was 67 minutes, which is basically my average commute time via express bus, and includes an extended stop at the park for my water break. You can see from my pacing (below) that I also hit a fair amount of stop lights (essentially, every single one of those pace drops represents the 20-60 seconds where I’m waiting on street corners), but given that most of actual moving time seems to fall within the 9-9:30 range, I’ll assume that was my pace for the actual commute (which isn’t necessarily the goal, but still good to have in mind). My mind is so excited to feel like I found this hidden training secret, and that I’ll be able to so quickly and easily add mileage to my weeks without sacrificing my nights. On days where I want to extend my mileage even more, I’m able to detour to the lake path, which tacks on an additional 3-4 miles.
I finished my run pretty wiped (the dehydration was real), but I couldn’t stop smiling.I burst through the door, proclaiming to T, “That was AWESOME!” It was such a gratifying and visceral experience for me, and I just felt really grateful that I was able to use my body in that way. I won’t always be able to run, but while I can, I want to fill my time with functional, fulfilling, and fun activities. This run commute is something I anticipate doing 2-3x a week throughout the warmer months, depending on weather and schedule. When things start getting colder, I may have to adjust some things, but I’m definitely not opposed to continuing my runs into the winter months.
Do you guys run commute? Interested, but not sure where/how to start? I’m far from an expert, but feel free to ask me to clarify anything that might help your own process!