First thing, you can do this. If you like to run and live within running distance of your work, you can turn your commute into daily a workout—as long as you know how to get around a few common obstacles. It’s worth it. There is no better feeling than starting or ending the day with a run that also eliminates your need to be stuck in mindless traffic or tied to a bus schedule.
Four years ago, I started running every day to my job as a corporate attorney in downtown Denver. It’s as professional a job as they come, but I didn’t want to have to get up an hour early to get a run in—only to sit in traffic twice a day for the 2-mile trip downtown. Fortunately, my firm is ahead of the game and installed a nice shower and locker room for bike commuters and mid-day workouts. And that’s really all you need to turn your commute into a running workout.
I thought through all the things that kept me from running to work, got some pieces into place, and then picked a Friday to give it a try. Since, then I have run to and back from work every day, in summer and in winter, in just about any weather, for about four years. It became a rhythm that is easy to sustain. And pretty quickly, a funny thing happened. Getting to and from work became one of the highlights of my day.
Why should you run to work?
It turns your commute into a workout.
I don’t have time to go for a run before work, and I don’t usually feel like running when I get home hungry and tired at 6:30 p.m. Running to work gives you a baseline workout everyday. I get 4.4 miles a day — 2.2 miles each way. That’s not much if you’re training, but if you’re just trying to stay weekend-fit, it’s a good base. And any day you want to log a few extra miles before or after work, you can just extend your commute by a couple miles.
You beat traffic.
Traffic is a terrible way to start your day. Just awful. And if you live within a couple miles of your work, chances are good you’ll get there faster on foot in some cities. You won’t have to worry about public transit timetables and delays, and you’ll feel a little gloat of pride soaring past traffic bogged down in congestion. If only those poor saps had their running shoes, right?
You save money.
If you pay for parking near your work, run commuting will save you the cost and hassle of parking. For me, that saves $200 a month. If you have a gym membership, and all you really do at the gym is run on the treadmill, running to work will let you cancel that membership. Then there’s the biggie—if you are normally a two-car household, run commuting might let you be able to scale back and make-do with one household car.
You feel great.
I usually start my run commute in a groggy mind-fog. I arrive at work half an hour later inspired and ready to focus. There’s no stronger cup of coffee than brisk gait at sunrise, watching the light come up over the city. And on the way home, the run lets me leave the stress of work behind. I arrive home tired but refreshed, rather than sapped from staring at brakelights and itching to get some exercise in.
There are two basic ways to run commute—two-way commuting and one-way commuting. Two-way run commuting is when you run to work and run back home. One-way commuting is when you take public transit or car share to work and then run home (or visa-versa).
Yes, you need to live within running distance. Sort of.
There’s only one way around this one. So let’s start by being clear, to run to work you need to live within running distance of your work, either one-way or round-trip.
“Running distance” is a relative term. I knew an ultrarunner who ran 8 miles each way to his job as a judicial law clerk. The guy logged 80 miles a week just getting to work and back. That’s crazy. I live a short run from work, which is a great distance. It takes me 22 minutes or so to get to work, which is about how long it takes to take a bus (and unlike the bus, my running shoes are never late, never leave without me).
The ideal distance is about half of your daily run—so if you typically run 5 miles a day, you are in in good shape if you live 2.5 miles from work. If you live more half your daily-run distance from work (say, you run 5 miles a day but live 4 miles from work), you should probably start with one-way run commuting to try it out. Run home every evening and see how it goes. If you live more than your daily run distance from work (say, you run 5 miles a day but live 8 miles from work), you’d need to do an occasional one-way run commute or—if you’re lucky enough to have public transit nearby, you can theoretically ride in a few miles then hop off and run the rest.
Morning commute? You’ll need an office shower
If you’re running to work in the morning, you’re going to need a shower at work. A growing number of offices have them. If you have one, keep a bathroom kit in a locker or in a gym bag under your desk (soap, shampoo, a spare towel, and toiletries). Don’t do a double shower; do it all at work. I do my entire morning routine at work–shower, shave and dress. And if you run to work regularly, don’t bring stuff back and forth. Just leave a second shave kit, makeup kit, blow drier, or whatever else you need in your locker at work.
If your office hasn’t caught on and you don’t have a shower, you’re probably stuck doing one-way runs for your homeward commute. The only way around this is to join a gym a short walk from your work. Use the gym’s showers and bathroom to get prepped in the morning.
Just don’t work too hard on the morning run. Take it easy. That way you won’t still be sweating at your first meeting. If you want to boogie, do it on your evening run.
The clothes thing is complicated, but you can do it
Clothes are heavy, and stuffing them in a running pack can leave them wrinkled. The best approach is to leave a week’s worth of clothes at work and only run back and forth with a few light items. Offices that have showers also sometimes have locker rooms where you can hang a suit bag full of clothes for the week. That’s the perfect solution. Otherwise, you might have to store your clothes in your office and retrieve them each morning when you arrive at work. A duffel under the desk works great.
My office has a clothes rack in the locker room where I can leave 5-6 pairs of work shirts and pants. I leave a belt and my shoes in the locker. The only clothes I have to run back and forth with are underclothes and socks.
Use your local cleaners
Having a stash of clothes at work means you need to have a way to clean them near your work. Some offices, like mine, arrange dry cleaning drop-off services at the office itself. That’s perfect—you just leave your clothes in a bag and they come back to the office clean. Otherwise, you’ll need to schedule a dry cleaning/laundry service yourself. Work it out so there’s always a laundered set of clothes being delivered about when your clean supply is dwindling. It’s actually easier than it sounds. Worst case, you’ll have to run back and forth from home with a set of clothes, which isn’t all that bad.
The laptop situation
Try not to run with a laptop. If you you absolutely must, make sure you have a Flash Memory drive like the MacBook Air or replace your hard drive with a Solid State Drive (SSD). These drives have no moving parts, so they don’t get jostled to death like a traditional hard drive would. Do not run with a laptop that has a traditional hard disk drive (HDD). You’ll shake it into an early grave.
The extra weight of a laptop can easily add 4-6 pounds of weight to your back, and I don’t typically like running with more than 8-10 pounds onboard, so it really bogs you down. But if you do, make sure you have a good pack for it, with a fair bit of padding in the laptop sleeve, like the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 15 I use.
Pick the right pack
If you’re going to be spending every day going back and forth with a running pack, you’ll want one that’s specifically designed to stabilize and distribute the weight of running gear.
I ran for about 3 years everyday in Ultimate Direction’s Fastpack 20 and absolutely loved it. Since the 20-liter version was a bit more room than I needed (and is tuned slightly more to the flashpacking set), I recently started running every day with the Fastpack 15. The shoulder harness on these packs are built like a running vest—supple fabric that cushions the load by distributing it evenly over a broad area of the chest and shoulders, rather than by cushioning the straps. The two chest straps lock in a very stable, jostle-free fit with loads up to about 10-pounds. The bags also have a roll-top design, which helps compress loads so they don’t jostle, but they expand to handle bulkier loads if needed.
On the Fastpack 15, I love that you can zip open the back panel without unrolling the top to get into the cargo area quickly. There are harness pockets for a smartphone, wallet, and keys, and a nice foam back panel to protect your back from sharp corners of, say, your shoes or a lunch kit. For those running with shoes, there are dedicated sleeves you can stash them in to keep them away from your clothes. There’s even a padded laptop sleeve if you have to run with a laptop. I think this is pretty much the perfect pack for run commuting.
Pack it right
To keep your clothes from getting wrinkled, roll your shirt up in your pants. Hang them both up as quickly as you can. If you are packing shoes, cover them somehow (like with a shoe bag) or wrap your clothes in a small travel cube to keep your clothes clean.
Keep the weight close to your center of gravity. Heavy stuff should go on the bottom near your lumbar, light stuff on the top. Pack heavy stuff close to your back and lighter stuff further away from your back.
Pack the right gear
Keep a really lightweight running shell buried at the bottom of your pack in seasons when you can get hit with surprise storms. My favorite backup is The North Face’s Ultra Lite Waterproof Short Sleeve Jacket because it weighs nothing and—since it has no sleeves, it doesn’t steam up badly (you generally don’t need waterproof sleeves for short urban runs in the rain).
In shoulder seasons and winter, I also pack a pair of stretchy running sleeves, a beanie, and a pair of lightweight gloves for unexpectedly chilly mornings or evenings.
I also sometimes run with an ultralight pair of lightweight windbreaking pants. My favorite are Patagonia’s Houdini Pants, a 3.4-ounce weather resistant pant that packs into a ball smaller than your fist. These also come in handy when the morning weather is surprisingly colder or nastier than the evening weather, or when the morning is shorts weather and the evening looks like cold rain (which is not uncommon in Denver).
If you’re ever run commuting at night, do yourself a favor and wear a headlamp. You might not need the light, but it helps cars see you, especially when you are moving quickly. Based on our wear testing, the best running headlamp is Black Diamond’s Sprinter, mostly because it is so lightweight (3.7 oz), extremely comfortable, and comes with a bright, rear facing blinking red safety light. For runners who really want to be seen, the Light & Motion Vis 360 has bright safety lights shining in all directions. It’s a bike light, and a bit heavy for runners, but it’s not uncomfortable if you’re wearing a beanie. I alternate between the two, but mostly run with the Sprinter.
And don’t forget the ZipLoc. When you pack a lunch, pack it in light plastic tupperware inside a gallon Ziploc bag. Running with a lunch can loosen lids, so you want the bag as an extra layer of protection. You can also toss in your phone, wallet or anything else that can’t get soaked if you’re running back in a maelstrom.
Just try it.
If you’ve read this far, you are probably interested in giving it a try. Just do it one day. You’ll be amazed how easy it feels, and how it just quickly becomes part of your routine. Running to work makes the toughest days a lot more bearable, and you’ll love how you feel–at work and at home.
Let me know in the comments below if you are interested in run commuting and have any questions.