Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Originally published in 2017.
First, it was the check engine light in my car.
Then it was the rear derailer on my bike.
With my two primary modes of transportation out of commission, I decided to take to the streets and try run commuting to work.
It seemed like the perfect way to boost my mileage and revamp my training with new routes. So I laced up my shoes, invested in some dry shampoo and hit the road.
Besides its obvious transportation value, run commuting has many benefits for even the most road-averse trail runners.
“I definitely believe that run commuting helps my trail running,” says ultra-champ Michael Wardian, of Washington, D.C. “It takes planning, carrying a load, perseverance and dedication.”
Much like packing and planning for a big trail run or race, commuting takes a bit of prep. I cross-referenced Google Maps and Strava for routes that balanced efficiency and less traffic. Find out how long your commute should take you, then give yourself extra wiggle room for clean up. Your office mates will thank you.
“Make sure you can shower at work and have a place to store clean and stinky clothes,” says Sharman. “As well as a determination to run rain or shine.”
I typically found myself trying to travel as fast and light as possible—just carrying the clothes (and deodorant) that I’d need for the day. However, there were several less-than-ideal trips that found me slogging either a gallon of milk, a laptop or one very unfortunate casserole. As good as most running packs are, I have yet to find one that can accommodate a lasagna.
Carrying a laptop takes some getting used to, as well. After an unfortunate incident involving my computer and some salad dressing, I began to wrap everything in ziploc bags. Because of all the jostling involved in run commuting, I discovered that foods like salads and grain bowls were much more portable than sandwiches, which are prone to disassembly en route.
“I think the attitude needed is just one of adventure and determination,” says Wardian. “There will be obstacles that try and derail your run commute, but if you are committed it will be one of the best things ever.”
Get in more miles
Run commuting is also an effective way to squeeze in extra miles by breaking up training into bite-sized chunks throughout the day. A three-mile run to and from work made logging consistent double-digit miles much easier than trying to bang out a half marathon right before work.
“Volume is important for training, and in cities it can be difficult to squeeze in enough miles, especially with most professional jobs,” says Ian Sharman, four-time Leadville Trail 100 winner. Sharman, who used to run commute in London, believes that run commuting can be hugely beneficial to any trail runner’s training with a little bit of planning and a sense of adventure.
“Although the terrain was typically not even remotely hilly, I included running around parks by taking a less direct route home,” he says. “That factored in some grass and dirt.”
Save gas money and add it to your running fund
Besides investing in a comfy pack and military-grade deodorant, run commuting is cheap. I didn’t buy gas, and my legs required less upkeep than my bicycle. Run commuting is also one of the greenest ways to get around, and I found that starting my day with a peaceful jaunt to work was much more pleasant than sitting in traffic.
“Run commuting has opened my eyes to the fact that you don’t have to drive everywhere,” says Wardian. “There are so many errands that can be done on foot and under your own power, and I love that.”
While run commuting is generally mood and energy boosting, it’s not without its challenges. I endured rain, wind, hail and plenty of less-than-stellar hair days. However, with minimal gear and a good attitude, I found the benefits of run commuting far outweighed both the scorching heat and sogginess.
Despite several slip ups like forgetting shoes and having to rock my sneaks with a little black dress, or arriving to work hours late after taking a wrong turn, I loved run commuting. I got to know the most efficient and scenic routes from my house to just about everywhere in town. I loved the moments of solitude it granted me at the beginning and end of every day.
Mike Wardian’s best advice for newbie run commuters?
Plan Your Run Commute
Gear up, size down. Travel-sized soaps, shampoos or wipes help save space and weight, and leave you feeling fresh after your morning commute. Dry shampoo or baby powder can help alleviate sweaty hairlines. I learned how to blow-dry bangs in a hand dryer.
Map it. Google Maps, Map My Run and Strava are great resources for in-town routes. Be sure to check for construction and account for morning traffic.
Dry-run. Practice your route the night before to work out the kinks, and find coffee along the way.
Pack tetris. Pack heavier items like a laptop towards the bottom and back of your pack, leaving room on top for lighter items or things that you’d rather not smush—like lunch.
Bag it. Protect the things that matter—your laptop, your clothes—from liquid assault, be it in the form of rain or stray salad dressing. Wrap your computer in a plastic grocery sack and put your clothes in plastic baggies.
Cool it. Give yourself plenty of time to cool off before stepping into the office. Stretch, drink water, take five minutes to breathe—or else you’ll find yourself sweating right through your shower.
Early Bird: A stress-induced PR is no way to start the day. Map your route and imagine running your slowest splits, hitting every red light and getting shin splints. Add two minutes to that for every mile. Arrive on time, or better yet, early.