An Introduction to Run Commuting

Long before Minneapolis/St. Paul was judged the 1st or 2nd or 13th best city in America for biking, it was recognized by Runners World in the 1990s as America’s 2nd best running city. Rankings change to sell magazines, but it’s still true. The Twin Cities are a great running city, and they’re a great area for run commuting. In fact, because of our climate we’re a better city for run commuting than bike commuting.

It’s hard to tell where people are running to when you see them, but my impression is that run commuting is not that popular in the Twin Cities. The tell-tale sign is people running with little backpacks in the mornings and evenings. Go to London and stand by the Thames bridges at 9:00 AM or 5:00 PM and you will see throngs of people running to and from work. A runner in London explained this to me as a natural response to the choice of crowded tube or congested roads. And it’s true–London’s crowded transport options of every mode might lead you to run away from them. Here’s the thing about run commuting as we approach another Minnesota winter–it’s the best way to be positively giddy about the prospect of overnight snow in time for the morning commute.

London run-commuter. Photo from flickr user johox:

London run-commuter. Photo from flickr user johox:

So, what is run commuting? It’s running to and from work.

Who should run commute? People who like running and don’t like their current commute.

How do I do it? Just put on your running clothes and run to work. Then run home after work.

Why should I run commute? If you like running this is a great way to start and end the workday. Moreover, running twice in a day (“doubles” in running parlance) is good for your running! With doubles you can easily increase your mileage 25-30% above mileage on singles without much extra stress on the body, since most people recover from an easy run within 8 hours.

Who will regular run commuting work best for? People who live within a few miles of their workplace, and want to run more.

In some ways it is that simple. But two things make run commuting just that little bit trickier to organize than walk or bike commuting. First, you’re going to be sweatier. Second, it’s harder to carry things to and from work. Neither of these are insurmountable obstacles, but run commuting demands more organization than walk or bike commuting. Let’s get right down to it: if you run commute regularly you are going to be asking yourself at some point “do I have enough underpants at work?”

First obstacle: you will be sweatier and smellier. Here’s where our climate is great. Most of the year the Twin Cities is pleasantly cool and you can hit that sweet spot of being dressed enough to be comfortable but not sweating profusely. It’s really only in June through August that you’ll have a problem.

So, if you’re going to run commute throughout the year you really do need a way to shower when you get to work. Depending on your own and your workplace’s standards of hygiene, it’s totally possible to run commute without a shower on cooler days–if you have access to a sink and a face cloth. Clean yourself down with a soapy facecloth. Remember, hair holds odor. But a shower is better…if your workplace has remote or sub-standard showering facilities make common cause with other active commuters to get shower facilities. Unless you work in an area with extraordinary low land values and high plumbing costs, a shower is far more economical for your employer than subsidized parking spaces.

Second obstacle, you will have some sweaty clothes. Again, your solution will depend on your own and workplace standards of hygiene and how much personal space you have at work. If you have your own office or there’s locker space it’s much easier. If you work in congested cubeland it’s harder. For most people the solution is quick drying or odor-resistant clothing. Merino and bamboo are great fibers. Merino doesn’t dry especially quickly, but you can run for a week in a pair of merino underpants and they won’t smell. You might consider washing the sweatiest clothes (these will be anything right next to your skin) before hanging them to dry. Again, here is why you want quick drying fabrics. Bottom line: minimize cotton in your run-to-work wardrobe.

Compared to other active commuting modes, run commuting is less desirable when you’re carrying things. If you’re going to make it a good run as well as just your commute, you need a way to dispense with carrying a backpack on all runs. Thus, run commuters need to be well organized with their work-week clothing and food. For many run commuters this means starting and ending the work week with a non-running mode to get fresh clothes and food to work, and then home again with containers and laundry. Again, your solutions to this issue will be dictated by the space and facilities you have at your workplace. Own office (or plenty of space) and plenty of employee fridge space in the workplace? Then you are well set up for run commuting.

Get creative. I know people who run commute to a cube, and keep a plastic tub of fresh clothing under their desk. You can hang clean pants, shirts, dresses and skirts in a cube without too much trouble. In the winter I also leave a [non-running] jacket and hat at work in case I need to go outside from the office. One small downside of an otherwise ideal climate for run commuting.

Food is another logistical issue. For most run commuting means eating breakfast at your desk. If you normally pack a lunch you’ll need to think about how to bring in several lunches at a time.

Of course you will need to carry some things to and from work. A wallet and phone are the most likely candidates for carrying back and forth everyday. I highly recommend, without receiving commission, the SPIbelt. It fits around your waist, and can hold a smart phone and small wallet without bouncing around.

SPIbelt. Photo from flickr user blueb:

SPIbelt. Photo from flickr user blueb:

A small running backpack is useful for the days you do need to carry something. Hydration backpacks without the bladder can work well, or there are a range of specialist running backpacks available. Look for one with at least a waist strap and ideally a chest strap to minimize bouncing. Hopefully most days you will be free of large encumbrances.

Photo of Camelbak by flickr user wwward0:

Photo of Camelbak by flickr user wwward0:

It is in the winter that run commuting can really shine as a transportation mode. Everyone’s journeys are slowed by snowfall, but I suspect run commuting is slowed the least. I have a favorite easy loop to and from work that takes 38 minutes without snow. Even in 3-4 inches of fresh snow it’s still just a 45 minute run. And as most Minnesota runners know there is something glorious about cutting a trail through fresh snow, the childlike joy of being the first to put your footsteps in freshly fallen snow. Why not look forward to commuting in winter? Think about running to work. And home again.

Evan Roberts

About Evan Roberts

Evan Roberts is an Assistant Professor of Population Studies and the History of Medicine at the University of Minnesota, where he teaches and researches demography, labor and urban issues. He counts it as a successful week if he has run more miles than he has driven. Connect on twitter @evanrobertsnz or now Mastodon

19 thoughts on “An Introduction to Run Commuting

  1. Dana DeMasterDanaD

    A co-worker of mine, now retired, would bike 15 miles to work, leave his bike in his bike locker, run home, run to work in the morning, and then bike home. Rinse. Repeat. For more than 20 years. He is 71 and this years Twin Cities Marathon was his 126th marathon. And people think I’m tough because I bike when it’s raining.

  2. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    In Utrecht I once saw a couple of guys running on a cycletrack. And passing bicycle riders. I later learned that they’re Olympic hopefuls who attend the uni there and that while technically illegal on cycletracks most people and cops don’t often get upset about runners who keep a high enough average speed. I’d guess that it’s probably safer for them and others since they’re much closer in speed to bicycle riders than people walking and the cycletrack means much less stopping for them so they can maintain their pace.

    1. Dana DeMasterDanaD

      I have always wondered, though, why runners in the Twin Cities run the wrong way in the bike lane. I thought it was because the sidewalk was full of families and old people walking slowly and the runners didn’t want to mess with their cadence, but I often see this even when sidewalks are empty. What’s the deal?

      1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

        People in the U.S. have been over conditioned to walk/run/bike on the left facing traffic. Good for people walking and running on roadways, not so good on MUPs, paths, and tracks.

        When walking or running on a MUP, bicycle path, or cycletrack they should always stay to the right except to pass slower traffic. Walking, running, or riding on the left is dangerous for them and other path users. Runners should also use considerable discretion on a bicycle path or cycletrack and only use it if they can maintain a speed similar to bicycle traffic.

        1. Dana DeMasterDanaD

          I don’t mean on a path. I mean on the street. I often see runners running the wrong way in the bike lane on Summit Ave when a sidewalk is right there. Why is the bike lane preferable to the sidewalk?

          1. Reggie

            Running on asphalt is (marginally) better for your body than running on concrete. Most sidewalks are concrete and most streets are asphalt. I often run on the street, but I stick to the side streets and always stay on the right side of the road.

  3. Rebecca AirmetRebecca Airmet

    My husband sometimes run-commutes to 3M. It’s 8 miles. But he’s crazy. Not something I’d recommend for everyone, but if you like running, it’s a great option!

  4. Evan RobertsEvan

    I have been one of those runners going the wrong way up the Summit Ave bike lane (so running eastbound in the westbound lane). The sidwalks on Summit are in pretty bad shape, very uneven east of Cretin and if you’re going quickly it’s easy to stumble. In the spring Summit is really bad on the sidewalks because the homeowners there are frankly some of the worst in the Twin Cities for shoveling. The sidewalks become sheets of ice for large portions of March.

    So prior to the Twin Cities marathon (for which the toughest part is the climb up Summit Ave) I (and others, I’ve seen ’em too!) run in the bike lane to avoid the bad sidewalks. Much safer to run facing the bike traffic. Personally I’ve tried to only do this early on a Sunday when there’s not a lot of any traffic on Summit.

  5. Evan RobertsEvan Roberts Post author

    Walker, generalizing from my own experience and what I see others doing, there are parts of the Grand Rounds where people run the wrong way on the multi-use trails because it’s the side furthest from the cars and adjacent to the non-continuous “cow path” in the dirt beside the trail.

    I also notice people running the wrong way in the multi-use trails when the bike traffic is predominantly going the other direction.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

      This is fine when traffic is really low. As traffic increases it becomes quite dangerous for everyone; runners, walkers, and bicycle riders. Unfortunately there are no signals to tell everyone that traffic is now high enough that runners and walkers need to switch to the right side. (and there is sometimes an issue of some walking/running on the right and others on the left and runners and bicycle riders overtaking are having to weave in and out.

      Everyone always keeping right except to pass (single or side-by-side) makes everyone more predictable. Someone overtaking another can gauge their speed, oncoming traffic, and pass when safe and it’s much safer if they need only slow to 5 mph to wait behind a jogger than to have to suddenly stop because the jogger is coming at them and paying more attention to their music than other traffic.

      1. Reggie

        Unfortunately lane markings on many of the shared paths are inconsistent and confusing. Minneapolis and St. Paul delineate bike/ped lanes differently from one another. Hell, Minneapolis marks lanes inconsistently on different sides of the same river.

        I agree that everyone should always keep right – even when lane striping suggests that pedestrians should walk/run in the middle (!) of a shared path.

  6. ClaireB

    Running to work is what helped turn Ann Trason into one of the most amazing ultrarunners of all time.

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