‘Run commuting’ is exactly what it sounds like
Yes, some people make the conscious decision to run to work in place of taking the car, subway, or train. It’s not like a marathon a day, but it can be great practice if you, like me, have a marathon coming up.
The idea of running to work isn’t totally foreign to me. When I lived in Portland, Oregon (an extremely commuter-friendly city), I ran 5 miles downtown on my days off as part of an exploring adventure. Sometimes I’d even run to work if I had an afternoon shift and there was enough time to shower before clocking in.
Now, I live in New York City, and have a schedule where run commuting just might work. I decided to really commit to the experience: run 5-plus miles while carrying all my stuff for two weeks. It seemed a little unrealistic… but I wanted to see if I could do it. Plus, it’d be good training leading up to the half-marathon I’d signed up for at the end of the month. Here’s how I made sure I was doing it right.
Getting expert advice and setting up my gear
As someone who was working out two days a week, I was confident I’d be able to handle the demands of each morning run. The catch was all the prep and making sure I could fit everything I needed for the day in my run pack. So, before getting started, I talked with Yusuf Jeffers, CPT, head coach at Mile High Run Club, for advice on how to make my goals a success.
“The hardest part of your challenge is going to be finding the gear you need. You’re going to want shoes that encourage that you strike the ground with the balls of your feet, a backpack that distributes the weight of the gear you’re carrying, and either a handheld water bottle or camelback that will help you stay hydrated during the run,” he said.
When it came to gear, according to the expert, I was set. My Osprey running backpack had a camelback-style water jug attached and fit my work clothes, deodorant, and planner. I had a pair of running shoes I loved, a Samsung heart rate monitor, and the Nike+ running app that would log my counts of miles run, pace, and route.
Run commuting gear
- sturdy running shoes that are best for your individual needs, like running stride and arch
- a backpack that evenly distributes weight
- handheld water bottle or camelback-style water jug
- app to track your runs
Jeffers also warned, “To last two full weeks, pay attention to your form as you run. Think about your connection to the ground and work your way up. Think of how your feet are striking the ground. You want to have a neutral strike, keep your torso tall, don’t slouch, and keep your head up and looking toward the horizon.” He also suggested that I stretch and use a foam roller on my downtime to keep my muscles feeling good.
Here’s how the 2 weeks went
My schedule may be a little different from others. I work four days a week: two days at a CrossFit gym and two days as a temp in an office that’s much closer to my apartment.
Day 1: ‘6 1/2’ miles
I got lost. What should have been a 6 1/2-mile run ended up being just over 8 miles. Fortunately, the run was slow and easy, and I still got to work with enough time to use a foam roller, shower, grab coffee, and change before taking over the front desk.
My only mistake was not properly fueling up after getting to work. I hadn’t accounted for how hungry running was going to make me, and had to order a high-protein salad to fuel my body. I made a mental note to “eat enough” the next few days.
Day 2: ‘2 miles’
I ran into a totally different issue that morning. After checking my email (on a whim), I found out I needed to bring my laptop to work — but my laptop didn’t fit into my small backpack. I had to forgo my run commute, change into the work clothes, and hustle to the subway with my normal-sized backpack and laptop in tow.
While I failed my challenge, I was glad I didn’t leave my 5-pound laptop at home. I still went to CrossFit and ran 2 miles after work to keep up with my training, though.
Day 3: 7 miles
On the third day, I was back to the 7-mile commute into Manhattan. This time, I didn’t get lost. I picked up a whole-wheat bagel with bacon, egg, avocado, and cheese on the way, and made it to work in time to shower, stretch, eat breakfast, and send some emails before clocking in.
Pro tip: Giving yourself extra time is key to run commuting. Of all my run-commute days, this day was by far the most fun. I was able to surpass the stress of being late by getting in early.
Day 4: 2 miles
I needed my laptop at work again, so I prepared by setting my alarm early and walked the 2 miles to work with my laptop-sized backpack strapped to my back. It took 30 minutes, and all I needed to do to look ready for work was a quick swipe of deodorant.
Pro tip: Walk commuting is second-best to run commuting. While it does require you to give yourself more time and to avoid hitting the snooze alarm, it’s a good alternative to not running at all.
Learning from week 1 for week 2
The following week fell into place, with me trying to plan even further in advance. I also handwrote a checklist of things to be even more prepared, since I was practically living out of a backpack for two weeks. The checklist helped me relax a little — I knew I wasn’t carrying more than the essentials.
Dr. Laura Miranda, DPT, MSPT, CSCS, and founder of PURSUIT, says that “the hardest part of run commuting isn’t the run itself. It’s the preparation: Figure out where to shower, what to pack, what toiletries you’ll need to bring, and how to do that before you actually need to be at work.”
And she’s totally right.
Since I work at a gym, I had my shower situation figured out three days out of the week. This made things easier. My shower situation the other two days a week, on the other hand, was awkward. One of my friends, who run commutes most days, has a gym membership right across the street from her job. This means she can stop in there for a shower.
As a temp, I didn’t have a key fob to access the shower, and had to walk around my office awkwardly looking for someone who could let me in. Not ideal. Thankfully, most of my co-workers were incredibly supportive of my little run adventure. All I got was a little teasing for showing up to work so sweaty.
The end of the experiment
I had to end my experiment two days early. Jeffers recommended that I do a slow shakeout and get rested two days prior to my half-marathon. On the day before the race, I focused on static stretching, foam rolling, and carbo-loading. I skipped the 7-mile commute to work. This ended up paying off on race day: I felt well-rested and ready to conquer the course.
Despite slacking on my training before my run-commute experiment, I completed the half-marathon five minutes faster than my previous record. By running 8 miles to work every other day and taking CrossFit classes in the afternoon, I was able to push myself 5 more miles on race day.
Takeaway I’ll definitely add some run commuting into my training plan, especially for the Central Park Half Marathon I plan to sign up for early next year. If I do it right this next time around, I’ll be sure to enjoy it for what it is: part of my training.
How to add some exercise to your commute
When it comes to run commuting, you can’t be too hardcore about it, says Miranda. Run commuting doesn’t allow for much flexibility. Instead of deciding to run every single day for two weeks, you need to make it part of your lifestyle. This is why she recommends that people only run to work one to two days a week, and find other ways to make your commute more active.
Here are Miranda’s tips for adding some exercise to every trip to work:
- Run part of the way.
- Bike, rollerblade, or skateboard.
- Walk and squat.
- Turn your subway ride into a sweat sesh.
- Play the “red light” game.
1. Run part of the way
If you live too far for running to work to make sense, try driving the majority of the way, parking a mile away from work, and running that mile, suggests Miranda. Then, when your endurance has increased, you can park a little farther away from work. “Just make sure that you are not ever increasing your mileage per week by more than 10 percent, or you’ll risk overuse injury,” adds Jeffers.
2. Bike, rollerblade, or skateboard
Don’t forget about rollerblading or skateboarding, which are both incredibly good exercises, especially if you have previous experience with them. Whichever wheel transportation you choose, map your route ahead of time so that you’re sure that you’ll be commuting on a safe route. Just be careful not to do too much too soon, or it could put a strain on your body.
3. Walk and squat
“If you walk to work, try getting a little more exercise into your commute by doing 10 air squats at red lights, five pushups at park benches, and 10 lunges every time you pass a hotel lobby,” suggests Miranda.
4. Turn your subway ride into a sweat sesh
Pacing on every subway or train platform could add up to as much as one to two hours of extra movement a week. And when you’re on the train, never sit. Simply standing will require you to engage and brace your core so that you don’t fall while the train is moving.
For an even more active commute, add some farmer’s carries by holding your purse or bag in your hand, do some calf raises at each stop, or do some single leg stands. Whatever exercise you manage to squeeze into your commute, Miranda suggests to try doing it at a 20-second on, 20-second off interval pace.
5. If you drive, play the ‘red light’ game
“While you drive, work on practicing perfect posture: Keep your back straight, engage your core, and squeeze your shoulder blades together,” explains Miranda. Even focusing on your posture in this way can help counteract a day spent hunched over the desk.
To make the commute even more active, try doing 10 seconds of glute squeezes at every stop sign before continuing, or do an isometric row at every stop light.
- Begin by sitting up straight, and then drive your elbow into the seat behind you by squeezing your shoulder blades together.
- Hold this contraction for 10 seconds, then release.
- Repeat until the light turns green.
These isometric rows work your entire shoulder girdle, rhomboids, and crucial postural muscles, as well as help generate upper body power and force, explains Miranda.
Is this realistic?
Depending on where you live and your fitness goals, run commuting — even once a week — may not be realistic. But Miranda’s tips — taking the stairs, parking farther away, pacing whenever you’re waiting for an elevator, subway, or train — are practical. They can also make a real impact on your overall time spent moving, getting your heart rate up, and calories burned each week.
Sometimes living a healthy life is in the simple things, like a glute squeeze or extra set of stairs, says Miranda. What’s important is the conscious dedication to making your commute work for your health, as opposed to against it.
Gabrielle Kassel is a rugby-playing, mud-running, protein-smoothie-blending, meal-prepping, CrossFitting, New York-based wellness writer. She’s become a morning person, tried the Whole30 challenge, and eaten, drank, brushed with, scrubbed with, and bathed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books, bench-pressing, or practicing hygge. Follow her on Instagram.