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