Why take public transport or drive to work when you can get there under your own steam?
I’ve run with two left shoes,” chuckles Paul Ali from Reading. “I’ve run with odd socks, with a jacket on but no top underneath. Once I was running home along a line of traffic with my clothes stuffed into a backpack not designed for running. As I ran the zips loosened and the contents of my backpack opened like a parachute, spreading them along the floor behind me. Much to the amusement of all the drivers, I had to retrace my steps and collect all my possessions, underwear and all.”
Though run commuting will always have inherent, usually humorous hiccoughs such as these, the self-propelled method of transportation has grown hugely in popularity over the last few years. Research by Royal Holloway, University of London, found running to work had almost tripled in two years. Of 235 people surveyed, 42 per cent ran to or from work two or three times a week and 84 per cent run commute all year round.
The study also found that the percentage of women running to work was higher than that for cycling (35 per cent compared to 27 per cent). “Run commuting offers much potential as an alternative urban transport mode and reimagines what commuting can be,” said social geographer Simon Cook, who led the study.
Thousands of runners have also signed up to Run2Work , a grassroots scheme attempting to provide a voice for run commuters and make the practice more accessible. The sweatiest kind of commuting won’t fit everyone’s lifestyle (not every workplace has showers for example, though that needn’t stop folk running home).
But runners around the country are realising that running to work is cheaper, greener and healthier – and it also makes it easier to get those training miles in. “What’s not to love?” says Ally Young, who has a more scenic commute than most, along part of the Pennine Way in the Peak District. “The fresh air and the changing seasons. It costs nothing and it’s an hour of me-time. It gives me that smug feeling of already having done my run for the day and knowing my own body propelled me to work, not a vehicle.” She works with her husband, who often run commutes too. “We run in together and get a valuable, uninterrupted hour of chatting. I drive him mad though, due to my inability to ignore dogs. I have to stop and stroke them all.”
“It’s guilt-free running that doesn’t eat into family time,” says Glasgow-based, Scotland international, ultra-runner Debbie MartinConsani. She started run commuting after her son was born, to free up evenings. “It’s fresh air, saving money and beating the traffic –rather than being stuck in gridlock or on a packed train. It’s getting the miles in too, perfect for recovery runs. Most importantly, a run is a great way to start the day.”
For many it’s also a great way to de-stress after work, with a cleansing gap between office and home, where endorphins can erase frustrations of the day.
Ian Walker is a fine example of fitting a run into a commute that isn’t obviously exercise friendly. “I used to have a really long commute from Salisbury to Bath. About once a week I’d get off the train at Bradford-on-Avon and run to Bath along the canal, about 10 miles.” He’s since moved to a village just outside Bath. “Now running is my usual method of commuting, and I probably run to work and back four days a week. If going for a run is something I need to do when I get home from work, I might find excuses to skip it. But if running is how I get to and from work, it just gets done. It’s part of the routine.”
Indeed, most of these run commuters have found inventive ways to turn their journeys into varied training sessions. “My favourite route is a hilly 10.5k cross-country run, but I often mix it up,” says Ian. “Sometimes I’ll take a slightly shorter route down the main road, which is usually a tempo run. Or I’ll take a longer route home and deliberately keep the pace nice and easy. Mixing it up and having as much variety as I like is great.”
“As it’s cross country, the terrain is different most days,” says Wiltshire’s Carl Zalek, who loves watching the sun rise on his winter commutes. He picks cross-country routes on his three-mile journeys to avoid car fumes. “It means I mix up my running even on the same regular route. It’ll be slippery if it’s been raining, then perhaps sticky the next day, harder ground when it’s cold. If the wind has blown sticks and trees around I can do some hurdles, too.”
Some planning and creative thinking helps make a routine journey varied. “It’s five miles to my work,” says Ally, “but there are many different routes. I can extend it up to 12 miles. It’s really hilly here, so hill reps also feature. Sometimes I’ll try and beat my Strava segments, or do some fartlek.
The possibilities are endless
Disadvantages and misadventures
There a some unavoidable downsides to run commuting however. As for cyclists, the potential for unfriendly weather is one. “Having to carry several kilos of laptop, clothes and lunch can get a bit wearing sometimes,” says Ian. “Actually, carrying all that kit is amazing resistance training. But there are days when the weight gets to me and my legs feel like they’ve no spring in them at all.” “If it’s been raining on my way to work, that kit won’t have dried out when I put it back on to go home,” says Carl.
Of course, any run can become a misadventure, mirthsome or otherwise, and commuting is no different. “We once got lost in a field of cows and there was a barbed wire incident,” says Ally. “Followed by my lovely husband accidentally kicking a rock at me and cutting my leg. Turning up to work bleeding isn’t a good look.” On a serious note, Paul’s experience of run commuting is a reminder of the danger of roads. “There have been a couple of incidents at zebra crossings,” he says. “Drivers have failed to take notice or care of people crossing and I have nearly been hit by a car.”
Though such things could happen to a pedestrian. But otherwise, most stories of running commute misadventure are harmless, save perhaps for some embarrassment. As well as running home in two left shoes, like most of the runners interviewed here Paul has plenty of stories of forgetting key bits of kit. “Running home becomes difficult when you forget your trainers altogether,” says Paul. “Or find out the pair of shorts you packed are actually your daughter’s leggings!”
Carl has obviously suffered the same fate. When asked for advice for others thinking about run commuting, he says: “Just do it. But make sure you don’t forget your pants.”
Words: Damian Hall