Weighing in on everything from avocados to Zimbabwe

Weighing in on everything from avocados to Zimbabwe

Run the Streets: A Guide to Run Commuting


posted by Leila Z. on

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In a city like Seattle, any commute that doesn't involve you driving a car is a blessing. When I first moved to Seattle in 2009, I generally opted for walking a mile and a half to work or busing a bit further to school, and every time I passed over I-5 I silently said a prayer of gratitude not to be on it.

Beautiful downtown Seattle, and less beautiful I-5 S. (Photo taken from billgillam.com)
Once I moved near Green Lake, I stuck with the longer bus commute (35 to 40-ish minutes) for a couple of years. Most mornings I would wake up, go for a run around the lake, then catch the bus into school while catching up on my pleasure reading. Eventually, however, I upgraded my bike from a vintage Schwinn with faulty gears to a Cannondale Quick that could nimbly go up most hills, even with a granny like me at the helm. I quickly abandoned my bus commute.
Combining two great loves: mbira and bike commuting

I quickly grew to love many things about bike commuting. The speed, for one: true to its name, the Quick helped me to beat the slow Metro route 48 bus more often than not. The exercise, for another, and the way it was built into my day. And finally, I felt happier being closer to the outdoors at least twice a day, and felt pleased by reducing my carbon footprint ever so slightly. But my bike was stolen -- twice (despite the $120 heavy-duty Kryptonite NY Fahgettaboudit lock I purchased the second time) -- and by the time I finally learned to keep it indoors, it seemed more efficient for Greg to start riding it on his 15+ mile commute rather than me on my 3 mile one. I was back to the mercies of King County Transit.

At the same time, I had resolved to complete the 2014 Runner's World #runstreak. Why commit to running at least a mile a day from Thanksgiving to New Year's? In my case, to have fun, to have a modicum of external accountability, and to shake things up a bit. In the course of runstreaking, I found that, on some days, running to and from work was the easiest way to get that mile in during a hectic December. I had become an accidental run commuter! It has been nine months and counting and I haven't looked back since.

Why should you consider run commuting? Here are my top 5 benefits of run commuting:

1. Expanding the world. Have you ever chosen to not do something based on traffic or parking? Bus schedules? Run commuting (within limits) opens the world in a new way; even if too far to go solely on foot, often a combined bus/run approach can get you pretty much anywhere in Seattle. Conversely, my bit of Seattle (within a 3-4 miles radius of my house) has become known to me in a way that it never could from a car.
2. Learn to love hills. Seattle is hilly, and I am from flat-as-a-pancake Oklahoma. My main criterion for a run used to be (lack of) elevation change. But with run commuting, there are places I need to be, so I suck it up and run -- or sometimes walk -- up those big hills. Do it often enough, and you don't even notice anymore.
3. Efficiency. You build the exercise into your day, get to be outdoors, and all of a sudden have finished your miles for the week. What's not to love?
4. Going home is great motivation. I'll be honest -- I don't always feel like running home at the end of a long day. But knowing I'll have a hot shower/dinner at the end, and that the alternative is to stay and keep working... well, it works wonders for my motivation!
5. Strength training. Most days I run with a running backpack. The Deuter Race X has worked well for me, and these days I don't even notice it when I run. Still, it can add between 5-10 pounds to the weight my legs have to support. I've gotten strong from it, and initially was so amazed at how fast I felt without the backpack. As six-time USATF outdoor 800m champion Alysia Montaño said about running through her pregnancy, "my legs were so much stronger after basically working out with a weight vest on for nine and a half months."

As light as a 5-10 pound bag of air...
Run commuting is not all roses, though. My top 5 disadvantages:

1. Wet. It rains in Seattle (duh). Be prepared on the other end (towel, change of clothes, warm coffee).
2. Smell. I sweat a lot, especially in the summer. I make use of the Shower Pill (or a knockoff) to make things a bit more hygienic. Your office may also have a shower, which leads to...
3. The need to plan ahead. Running clothes, work clothes, soap, shampoo, hairbrush, etc. Things can get complicated quickly! You have to be organized. My schedule changes somewhat frequently, since I have multiple offices, so I tend to schlep things everyday; some people bring everything they will need to the office on the weekend and leave it there for the week.
4. Weight considerations. The difference between carrying 5 and 10 additional pounds is substantial, and you(r back and legs) can tell. Turn a critical eye toward what you carry. Do you need to carry water? Can you leave some clothes at work for the end of the week? If you take your lunch, do you carry it in glass or plastic?  
5. Chafing. With all that wet/sweat/clothes, I sometimes have chafing issues related to the backpack, especially around my collarbones. Use Body Glide if it's a big issue. During the summer I have taken to run commuting every other day, or run without the backpack, to let things heal a bit.

Finally, a few words of advice. Do invest in some gear (backpack, headlamp, reflective vest) that will make your commute a bit easier and/or safer. I wouldn't recommend wearing earbuds of any kind, after a few close shaves with inattentive drivers (PEOPLE GET OFF YOUR DAMN CELL PHONES! Especially you in the white Kia...).  And smile! :) People may well stare at you run commuting, but it's only because they're stuck in their cars, envious.




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