Running to work can seem like a daunting goal. Particularly for the new runner, the idea of running before the workday has even begun, or running home after a long slog at the office, can be extremely off-putting. But as my article on the benefits of running to work discusses, run commuting can also be an incredibly rewarding and healthy lifestyle choice.
I’ll assume you know the benefits – a wide range of perks from improvements in health and fitness through to huge savings – and I’ll assume you want to get started. After all, almost anybody can run to work if they want to! So, let’s get to the question in hand. How do I start run commuting?
Think About the Distance Involved
It sounds obvious, but step one in running to work is being sure you can make it all the way. To begin with, this doesn’t mean being able to run all the way in one go – far from it – but there are a few things to take into account.
- How far is your workplace from your home? As a first step, use a tool like GMap Pedometer to find out how far you’d be running if you took your usual route. Or, if it’s easier, take an “as the crow flies” estimate to get a rough idea of the distances involved.
- Are there pavements, footpaths or tracks on your route? Some people who regularly drive to work might take routes that have no sidewalk, or cross busy junctions. Is there a safe way to run that route? If not, find an alternative route to run that will get you to work in one piece – without dodging traffic or running down blind alleys!
- If you had a bad day, would you be able to walk the majority of the distance if you needed to do so? If you’re 5km or less from work, this shouldn’t be a problem – at worst you have to leave home a little earlier. But if you’re travelling a greater distance, you need to consider how you’ll cover the miles if you’re tired or unable to run any further. Those with a much longer commute might even want to consider taking a bus or driving part way to work, then running from there!
- Running to work is fine. But how will you get home? To begin with, you’re unlikely to want to run to and from work on the same day. Doubling up is a great move later down the line when you’re fitter, but initially you should take it easy and run at most every day or two. This means you’ll need to find an alternative way to or from work. A neat way to do this is to alternate methods of transport – leaving your car at the office overnight while you run home, then running back to work in the morning, for example. Of course, if you use public transport at the moment, this shouldn’t be a problem for you.
Once you’ve figured out how far it is to get to work, a safe route to take, your backup plan in case of fatigue, and a way home after you’ve run to work, you’re good to go. The swotting up is done: now for the physical stuff.
Give Yourself a Physical
Most of us are not habitual runners, nor trained athletes, nor – if we’re honest – are we in the best shape of our lives. And so for most of us, simply hitting the street and running to work isn’t as simple as it sounds. First, let’s take stock of our physical condition.
If you’re following along, by this point you should know how far it is to run to your place of work. Ask yourself three simple questions:
- Is your place or work 5km or less from your home?
- Could you comfortably walk 5km if you needed to?
- Could you jog for 60 seconds non-stop?
If the answer to these questions is yes, then in my opinion you’re already good to go. You can skip to the next section if you’re feeling brave. If not, then you might have a little training to do before you get started.
If fitness was the problem – you’d worry about walking 5km or jogging for 60 seconds non-stop – then worry no more: there’s a famous running program called Couch-to-5k which is practically built for you. Take a while to follow this plan, then revisit your goal of run commuting when the answers to questions 2 and 3 are “yes”. Trust me – it’s a great plan, and will be well worth the effort.
If the problem was distance, you have two options. The first option, and easiest if you’re impatient to get started, is to find a way to reduce the running distance to something more manageable. This might be achievable by driving or taking public transport part way through the journey, as suggested above. The second option, the tougher choice, is to train yourself after work (or before) until you can comfortably run half the distance or all but 3km of the distance (whichever is longer). To be honest, unless you’re already comfortably running 3-5km, I favour the first option.
In any case, sooner or later I hope that everybody who ever reads this will be able to answer “yes” to all three questions or else work around the situation as per the above. Once you’ve done so, you’re ready to move on to the next stage.
Grab Your Bags, We’re Getting Out of Here!
The last stage of preparation is to figure out how to decouple the sweaty act of running from your workday responsibilities. This comes in three categories: clothing, hygiene, and equipment.
First, let’s talk clothing. Your employer might have a dress code or uniform, and if that’s the case then you’ll need to be sure that you can either bring your clothes with you each time you run – i.e. on your back! – or else find some way to leave them safely at work in advance. For offices with a smart dress code, this can often mean bringing in a few days worth of clothes to the office on Monday in preparation for the rest of the week. You can rotate this out at the end of the week, and leave yourself free to run unburdened mid-week.
What about hygiene? Well, most employers will have a bathroom where you could wash, and some even offer shower facilities. As with clothing above, bring in the necessary bits and bobs in advance and make sure you can find a way to stay fresh – even if that means a quick soapy flannel down in the bathrooms after you arrive.
Finally, you might have equipment that you regularly take to and from work – a laptop, perhaps, or some other paraphernalia. In this case, ask yourself whether you really need to take it all home, whether you can get spare kit (one to leave at home, and one to keep at work) or whether you need to take the load on your back.
You’re Ready to Run To Work. Just Do It!
With all of that preparation behind you, you’re ready to begin run commuting. You know your route, you’ve planned a way to change and wash, perhaps you’ve even got your kit and clothing to work in advance. Now you just have to run. But… how?
In many ways, this is the easiest bit. For those of your who answered “yes” to my three questions earlier on, it’s easy. Just strap on some running shoes, pick a t-shirt, and put on some shorts. Throw anything else you need and haven’t already taken to work into a backpack. Then, a reasonable time before you need to be at work, step outside and you’ll be on your way.
You might want to stretch a little, but don’t worry too much about what you do. Just get yourself walking briskly towards work, and carry on until you break a sweat or begin to heat up. When you’re ready, maybe 5 minutes in, begin to jog at a leisurely pace. Keep it up for as long as you can: maybe for 60 seconds, maybe for 5 minutes – it all depends on you. When you need a break, walk for a bit. Keep yourself moving. Recover a little, then jog again. Rinse, repeat, and soon you’ll find yourself at work.
This might seem a little like throwing yourself in at the deep end, and in a way it’s true. You can’t give up and pat yourself on the back for a jolly good effort after 5 minutes – you have to get to work, even if it means walking all the way. And with that motivation, why not run as much as you can? The important thing is that you’ll get to work sweaty, tired, and flushed – but you’ll have run to work, and in doing so you will have taken your first steps into the world of run commuting!
No matter how much you walked, you still ran to work. You’re now officially a run commuter – congratulations!
Run commuting is for life, not just for one well-planned trip. You’ve done it once, and you’ll do it again. Maybe first you’ll only try it once per week, or twice. Keep at it, gradually running more and walking less, until you can run the entire distance in one go. And on that wonderful day, you’ll know you’ve achieved something awesome.
From there, the world is your oyster! You might find yourself running more often each week, running twice a day on occasion, using your run commuting as a base for race training, picking longer routes to get more miles under your belt; the possibilities are endless. You just need to take the first steps.
Comments, questions, or in need of advice? Please add a comment below!