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Celebrate Earth Day: Let's Get Ready to Run Commute

Have you seen those articles about how the lack of automobile traffic caused by shelter-at-home orders has helped to alleviate air pollution across the globe? These reports are generally accompanied by before and after pictures of cities known for their air pollution. The dissipation of urban pollution and the emergence of clean air might be one of the only positive outcomes of the current pandemic.

On Earth Day 2020, it does raise the question of what we would like the world to look like after the pandemic. From an environmental standpoint, it is readily apparent that humans can radically influence air pollution through their own actions. Although many of us are now stuck at home, when we do start going back to working at a workplace, let’s do it in ways that reduce our carbon footprint and air pollution. When you return to your work commute (whenever that may be), try the run commute! This is a blog that I wrote awhile back about run commuting. It’s an Earth Day friendly idea that I encourage everyone to think about for the future.

         

                You can avoid this                                                          by doing this

Are you tired of sitting in a traffic jam on your way to and from work? Sick of waiting at the bus stop or train station or finding that work is intruding on the time you have for running? Looking for a low-cost way to reduce your personal carbon footprint, having just read about how increasing carbon emissions are going to make it impossible to accurately use carbon dating as a way to study the past? Why not explore run commuting?

Running to and/or from work is a great way to commute, beat transit stress, and get in some miles. It saves fuel, it often saves time, and it reduces stress. As a writer for The Telegraph pointed out: “Running releases endorphins, delivering an immediate boost. In the long term, it can help alleviate depression and anxiety, as well as reducing the risk of illnesses like heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Pretty much the exact opposite of commuting, then.” 

However, there are a few logistical considerations to make when setting out to run commute. You’re going to have to make some lists and do some planning, but luckily, you are not alone. There is a growing contingent of run commuters around the world and they like to write about it and offer advice. The best of these is The Run Commuter, a website that has great advice and profiles of various run commuters –– telling how they actually accomplish their commutes.

Types of run commutes

What you will learn by reading up on run commuting is that it’s surprisingly common and also very much tailored to individual circumstances. Some runners are hard core and kick their cars to the curb for good. Others run commute only a few days a week. Finally, there are some people who are partial run commuters –– riding the bus or driving part of the way, then running the rest. There’s a lot of variety (depends on where you live, what your ideal weekly mileage is, weather conditions) and really no wrong way to try it.

Deciding to do it

Is this right for you? Here are some considerations: Do I want to be more eco-friendly? Am I motivated to try something different and become less car dependent? Am I looking for a way to get more running into my life? Am I at a place in my life where I can take off for work a little earlier or come home a little later? Can I create a running route that gets me to (or from) work? Do I have the flexibility in my job to come in early and splash around in the sink or leave in running clothes? Is there a place to store my backpack and towel without inconveniencing my coworkers? Will my boss think I am a nut? Do I have the time?

I have the ideal situation. I live about seven miles from my job and can run through a mix of urban and suburban streets to get to work. I work at a running store that has a shower and co-workers that are very supportive. My child is older and my family schedule is flexible. I wanted to make more environmentally friendly decisions. Therefore, run commuting made sense for me.

Consider The Time/Money Proposition

Time is money…but like money, you have to figure out how you want to spend your time that aligns with your values. For me, I wanted to spend my time being with my family, running, and working at a job I loved. I didn’t want to get home from work and then immediately head back out the door to train. By using my commute time as training time, I am able to spend more time with my family while putting in quality miles. We can be a one-car family (with one set of car payments, insurance payments, and maintenance fees) and put the money that would have been paying for the other car towards things like vacation and college fund.

Run commuting to work, moreover, unexpectedly improved my time management skills and made me more realistic about what I can accomplish in the time I have. I have the tendency to “one-more-thing” myself in the mornings before going to work. I could probably get up at 4:30 AM and still feel rushed. Once I chose to run commute, however, I had to become pretty disciplined about my morning routine. I just can’t cross off everything on my to do list on days that I run commute. I have to pack up and leave with sufficient time to face any road uncertainties (like long traffic lights), arrive at work, clean up, eat a snack, and be sufficiently recovered from my run to work. Ten minutes of extra time in the morning changed my commute from anxiety provoking to relaxing.

Setting up the work environment

If you decide to go for it, you’ll benefit from having a small place to stash your stuff. Shoes, shampoo, dried snacks, and towels are heavy and bulky; it is usually more convenient to leave these at work. It is also a good idea to have a change of emergency backup clothes at work, just in case you forget something. This can help to remove some anxiety; the stories about forgetting one’s pants are funny to listen to but not so great to live through. Most workplaces will have someplace to stash these items –– desk drawer, locker room, spare cubicle, etc.

Equipment

Now that you’ve decided to take the plunge, you’ll need some gear. Aside from comfortable running apparel and a good pair of shoes –– I just happen to know a store that can help you with that! –– I suggest that you invest in a running backpack to help shuttle clothes and food to and from your workplace. The capacity of the backpack depends on how much you will have to carry every day.

Everybody is different, so you’ll want to get something that works for you. For comfort’s sake, be sure to choose one that has both a sternum or chest strap AND a hip belt. These two straps help to reduce bounce and movement of the pack while you run. Although most backpacks offer considerable adjustment possibilities, it is important to try it on to assess the fit. If you wind up with excessive length of straps after you adjust the backpack, you can secure them with a rubber band or a bit of Velcro.

Other features also are handy. Even if you don’t intend to use a water bladder, a separate waterproof zippered compartment works well to separate wet, sweaty clothes (especially if you stick those clothes into a Ziploc bag) if you need to transport them back home.

You will also want to outfit yourself with lights and reflective elements if you are commuting early in the morning or when the sun goes down. There are several types of blinking lights that can easily be clipped to the back of your backpack. In addition to making yourself seen, it is useful to invest in a headlamp that will allow you to see uneven pavement and various obstructions when running in the dark. Both of these elements keep you safer if you run in low light conditions.

Once you’ve got your gear, take a shake-down test run before the day of your first commute to dial in fit, figure out if there’s any hotspots (a little piece of tape works wonders to prevent chafing on the neck), and feel the heft of the bag. The weight of the backpack will initially slow your pace and it is good to account for this when planning how much time it is going to take to run to work.

Planning the Route

After you have acquired and tested your equipment, you will need to plan your commuting route. In all likelihood your commute will involve running in more developed urban areas. This inevitably means cars and congestion. Remember that you will be commuting when drivers are at their most impatient. Therefore, it is important to practice “defensive” mindful running.

Number one rule: Don’t assume anything. In this day of texting while driving, there is a very good chance that drivers are not aware of your presence. Assume that they aren’t before you cross any streets.

Number two rule: Roads designed to expedite car traffic are often not the best for run commuting. Traffic circles, for example, are great for automotive traffic but can be extremely dangerous for runners. If someone stops for you in the intersection of a traffic circle and it contains two oncoming lanes, do not assume that the other approaching car will stop.

Balance the need for mapping an efficient route to your workplace with the need for creating a safe route. Don’t be afraid of adding distance to avoid busy roads. I run about two miles more than I have to so that I can enjoy the paths and sidewalks of a university campus rather than dealing with hazardous intersections and people who mistake Central Avenue for a NASCAR track.

Cleaning Up

If you run to your workplace, you will need to clean yourself up after you arrive. If you’re lucky enough that your workplace has a shower, there’s no problem. Just be sure to have some toiletries and a towel around. If you have to take a “bird bath,” baby wipes and dry shampoo are your friends. Some run commuters have also reported that installing fans at their desks help with cooling down.

If your workplace doesn’t offer a shower and looks askance at your run commute efforts, look into cleaning up at a nearby YMCA or health club. Other run commuters report that you can negotiate a very low monthly rate at some health clubs if you are merely using the locker room and showers. Remember, as well, that a nearby YMCA or health club –– can help you with strength training on the days that you are not running.

The Voice of Experience

My final advice:

  1. If you have any concerns about how an item is going to travel in your running pack –– Ziploc it!

  2. If you are transporting liquid shampoo, be sure to double bag.

  3. Don’t put your keys in the same pocket with your cell phone. Your screen will get very scratched.

  4. Bananas aren’t very durable and will mash up over a long run. I should have just packed a smoothie.

I encourage everyone to give run commuting a try. Once you figure out the logistics (gear, route, clean up), it really is just about running. The great thing is, you can get some miles in while accomplishing something else that you also need to do and arrive at work with a lower stress level, having bypassed the drive, train ride, or bus. You can also be happy that you are diminishing your carbon footprint and helping the environment at the same time that you are getting to work.

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