Thursday, March 29, 2012

Run Commuting: You Know You Want To

This Tuesday brought the return of one of my true loves.

Run commuting.

Many people in the DC area bike commute, but for me, it isn’t really a workout. A standalone bike to work, without added loops around Hains Point or hanging out on bike trails 15 miles out of my way, is either 3.2 miles of dodging cars and potholes on Connecticut Avenue or 5 miles of stoplight-filled rolling hills on Reno Road (read: braking on every downhill to not get hit and climbing every uphill from a dead stop at a red light). Obnoxious.

While those routes are more or less useless for a bike workout, the fact that I am relatively close to my office means that I can run to my office to squeeze IN a run workout and squeeze OUT a Metro ride.

Sounds like a good deal all around, yes? Since some of you might want to give it a try, let’s go over the how-to details, design-build construction planning style (conceptual phase, design phase, build phase, operations).

Come on, I’m an engineer. Deal with it.

Conceptual Phase
Here is where you need to define what you plan to get out of your run commute. Key questions to ponder:
  • Is this how you will get to work every day? I’m not a daily runner, so this isn’t an option for me – but it could be for you.
  • Will you use this as one-way transportation or two-way transportation? Two-a-day running is also not for me right now, so I only run commute one way.
  • Do you plan to use these runs as a way to incorporate key workouts, or as additional mileage? I only run commute scheduled workouts – and since coach gets me a schedule early in the week, I can easily identify days that are good for a run commute.
  • What daily schedule is necessary to support a run commute for you? Will you need to wake up earlier to get to work on time? I generally get to sleep a little later because I’m not spending time commuting after my morning workout, since the commute and morning workout happen simultaneously. But if your trip into work is a bit longer, you might need to head out earlier.
Design Phase
Now that you’ve determined what you want to get out of your run commute, you need to figure out how to make that happen. More key considerations:
  • How much are you willing to carry on your run? And how much do you absolutely need to take to and from the office on a daily basis? Can you reconcile the answers to those questions? I ran to work with a backpack once. Never again. I’ve cut down what I need to take back and forth to an absolute minimum.
  • What can you leave at the office to reduce what you have to carry? I personally keep business clothes and shower supplies in a desk drawer there so that I have less to carry on my run.

  • How will you carry what you need to bring back and forth on a daily basis? Pockets of your running shorts? Backpack? Fanny pack (sexy)? I use a small Nathan’s runner’s pack to carry the essentials – money, credit card, ID, Metro card for the trip home, USB drive with all my work on it, and phone. Done.

  • Which scheduled workouts can be part of a run commute? Easy runs? Tempo runs? Short runs? Long runs? Since I am close enough to the office, I can do any run longer than 3.2 miles or 30 minutes. Easy. However, if I’m going for a super-controlled even pace run, the hills near my home make that almost impossible.
  • If you are only using this as a one-way commute, how will you deal with the other commute leg? Mass transit? Ride from a friend? I just use Metro on the way home, so while I cut out my morning Metro misery exposure, the afternoon dose is still there. So it goes.
Build Phase
After identifying your general approach to run commuting, you need to prepare for each specific run commute, as no two run commutes are exactly the same.
  • How much time or distance to I need? Since my scheduled workout is almost always longer than the shortest route to the office, I determine in advance where I’ll tack on the distance with extra loops or out-of-the-way turns.
  • How can you route yourself to avoid stopping constantly? This is a major issue in densely-populated urban areas, but you can generally find routes where you won’t have to stop often. For example, I’ve found that running along Massachusetts Avenue between Dupont Circle and the DC-MD line will require very few stops at traffic lights. There are probably similar options for you.
  • Does the terrain of my route support my workout? Want hills? I can put those in my route easily. Want to smoke a tempo workout with a net downhill run?

  • If I don’t run with a backpack, where do I get my food for the day? This might be the most important question of all, especially if you’re doing a more intense or longer run. Because I am an over-organized freak, I bring all my lunches and snacks into work at the beginning of the week, so I just pull lunch out of the refrigerator.

This is where you actually do your run. If you’ve thought through everything else, you’re in for a low-stress and healthy commute into work to start your day off right.

Do you know what you’re not in for? Looking cool.

That’s OK. Better than being offloaded at the Woodley Park Metro station for the 18th time.


  1. Love the run commute. I just got a new piece of office furniture this week that looks like a wardrobe. I'm super excited about it because I plan to start bringing in all my clothes/food for the week :)

  2. I should get myself one of those bags. Last time I run commute, I ran home with a fully loaded backpack (short before leaving work I thought it would be cold and took an extra jacket with me... I didn't need it at all). It was ok to run with the backpack, but not great.

  3. Is that the $20 you are giving me to do your workout for you? Even better! I will do your run commute for you!

    And are those credit cards? I accept Visa and Mastercard. Hopefully will be taking American Express and Discover cards by end of the quarter.

  4. I love run commuting. Too bad I'm not trying to run a bazillion miles a week, then I could run both ways, every day.

  5. Neat. Of course, as an infosec geek, all I can focus on is the fact that you carry your work in a USB drive...

    1. Yeah, that wouldn't have worked at my old job. And I obviously can't carry anything non-public or proprietary, but I work with almost none of that.

  6. I work about 12 miles from home by highway, 15 back roads. I've considered hitching a ride to work and running home whe I'm at the point in marathon training that I have a medium long run midweek. I love that this works so well for you!

  7. Capital Bikeshare for the ride home and you can skip both metro trips!

  8. This is awesome! I love the idea. Like I said on dailymile, I think commuting to class more often would save so much gas coverage and get easy miles without doing 10 mile runs everyday (boring...and I love running).

  9. That's amazing. I only live 2.5 miles from work so I'd love to run but the no shower thing is a deterrent. I'd LOVE to bike but I have no where to lock it up and I can't even leave a freaking sharpie unattended without it getting stolen. The organization in this post astounds me.

  10. PLease-hot pink and short shorts are where its AT. Do you actually have a shower at work? That would be a stopper for me....well, plus the fact that I live 16 miles from work and would need to get up about 3 hours earlier to squeeze in a run :-P

  11. Not bad arguments, but I still prefer to commute by bike. It’s faster, more fun, and I still get a workout! To each their own!