Recently, I became a run commuter. It changed my everyday life and it definitely impacted my training and my nutrition.
I have to say that my way to work is an easy 5k, and it’s mostly downhill in the mornings (when my motivation is low). I can even get a view on the Alps when the weather cooperates. So, overall, yes, I’m lucky, and I have near-perfect conditions for run commuting.
There were however a few things that I found really challenging and I’d like to share them here in the hope that it will encourage you to run commute (or help you to continue). For me, the challenge was (and still is) quadruple: 1/ Packing, 2/ Transitioning efficiently, 3/ Staying motivated, 4/ Handling nutrition.
a. Finding the right backpack
There is something that struck me when I started to run to work… It is damn hard to find a good running backapck with enough volume!
Yes, I had a good running vest for ultras but it can barely contain a rain jacket and 2 liters of water… With all the clothes that you need to carry, and maybe a small laptop (like a 11-13″ thin Macbook air or alike), you would need a 20 Liter backpack. I would say that a good backpack probably is one of the key elements for the long term success of your commutes. There are blogs that test backpacks for run commuters, I would definitely have a look before investing (have a look here). Personally, I gave my skimo bag (Dynafit RC20) a try, and so far, I am very happy with it. It’s waterproof (for rainy days) and so light that I sometimes just forget that it’s on my back.
b. Reducing weight
Even with a good backpack, it is not great to carry a lot of weight on your shoulders while running twice a day. I progressively learn to reduce the weight and volume of my stuff.
- small / packable shoes. If you work in a relaxed environment like me, no need to carry heavy leather shoes with you. It is even better if you can leave a pair of shoes under your desk, so that you don’t even need to carry anything.
- small / packable jacket. In Switzerland, it’s not uncommon to wear a down jacket to work. A down jacket is easy to pack and there is no need to worry about the way they will look like.
- Empty your wallet! Do you really need all these cards?
- Don’t take all your keys with you.
- If you can’t leave towel and shower gel at work, pick a microfiber towel rather than a bulky one.
- Transfer shower gel into a smaller vial.
Better is of course if you can leave stuff at work and shower directly there. It’s not my case but maybe you are luckier! That will make your backpack much lighter!
c. Being ready for weather changes
The main problem with the weather is that it can change! After a sunny morning commute, you may face some rain in the evening, and you’d better be prepared! Most of the backpacks are only mildly waterproof. Always have with you thick plastic bags (for clothes, and eventually laptop), and ziplock bags (for small electronic equipment).
2/ Transitioning efficiently
While the run itself is the easy part (after all, it’s just running with a backpack, duh), it gets more complicated when you reach your workplace. You are most often wearing sport tights, you sweat, and none of your colleagues is willing to sit next to you.
a. Finding a shower
If you have a shower at work, problem solved. If it’s not the case, like for me, do the following:
- talk to your colleagues, there may be a shower at another floor or in the company next door.
- If you are unlucky, locate a gym next to your office. It may cost you something, but try to negotiate the membership fees if you only plan to shower there. After all, you are saving the costs of public transport, so all in all, you are still saving money.
b. Drying your clothes during the day
Find a place where you can leave your clothes to dry during the day. If some places have a shower, they don’t always encourage the exhibition of smelly t-shirts during working hours. I still haven’t found a great idea for this problem. This is a trial-and-error process!
3/ Staying motivated
Like people around you will probably tell you: “it is insane to wake up in the morning to go running”. You may not agree with this (I definitely don’t), but I think it is however totally normal to have a low motivation from times to times. Here are some tips to help you deal with this.
a. Prepare your backpack and clothes the day before
Human behavior is often driven by the principle of least effort! If everything is ready to run commute, it will cost you more time and effort to unpack everything and get ready to commute with public transport. So, you’ll run. As simple as that!
b. Adjust your training
Running to work seriously increases your weekly mileage. Adapt your training progressively to this new training load. If you are preparing, let’s say, a marathon, remove the low intensity sessions from your training program and focus on quality (i.e. interval, …) sessions.
c. Incorporate rewards into your routine
Besides the principle of least effort, our behaviors are also driven by the obtention of a reward! Rewarding you with a stop at your favorite coffee place, your favorite bakery, or whatever pleases you may be a great supplementary source of motivation.
4. Handling nutrition
a. Find out how much you can eat in the morning
It is an important part of your success. There is indeed a very limited amount of time between the end of your breakfast and the start of the run. For me, there is typically only a 15 min window. So, a monster breakfast with eggs and waffles is out of question. It took me about two weeks of trials to find out that my stomach could tolerate :
- an espresso
- half a bowl of muesli OR a bit more than a toast with jam OR a fruit salad
Again, it is a trial and error process. You may even consider to skip the pre-run breakfast and have it later at work. Reduction of gastrointestinal discomfort should be your priority.
b. Finish breakfast at work
Reward yourself with a good breakfast at work! This can be part of your routine and help you stay motivated. Don’t overeat, just try to finish breakfast as if you were still at home.
c. Become a healthy snacker
Running twice a day, even short distances, may impact your appetite. According to the people I talked to and my own experience, it doesn’t make you have bigger meals, but it makes you want to eat more frequently. In Research lingo, it “decreases satiety” but not “satiation”. To deal with this, buy fruits and nuts and constantly have them on your desk. Like this, you will stay away from unhealthy temptations.
Run commuting to work changed my philosophy of urban transportation. It increased the volume of my training. I may even say that it made better and more focused at work.
But it doesn’t come from alone. Don’t neglect the impact of the material. And find the conditions that work for you using trial and error (yes, you may forget to pack extra socks one day or the other).
All the tips above need to be adapted for your work and your environment (commuting twice or once a day, shower availability, capacity of leaving things at the office, …). But, believe me, it is worth the effort!