When Shape headquarters moved to midtown Manhattan last year, I was thrilled. The move effectively cut my commute in half, which meant that I could finally try something I'd been curious about for years—run commuting. Door to door, the new offices were just shy of three miles away from my apartment, a little shorter than my everyday, run-of-the-mill run. By running to the office, or home from work, I figured I'd be killing two birds with one stone. I'd get my run in, and I'd avoid at least one trip on the packed, sometimes smelly subway at rush hour. (Asking for a friend: Is Your Long Commute Causing You to Gain Weight?)
The Shape offices don't have a shower, so I decided to only run home from work at first. But even then, I ran (no pun intended) into a few roadblocks. The most pressing: What would I do with my stuff? I could stash my work clothes at work and bring them home a day I decided not to run, but I didn't want to leave my wallet at my desk. My SpiBelt could handle my phone, a key, and a few cards, but that was about it. What about my glasses? What if I needed to bring some files home from the office?
I decided I needed a backpack. Since I wasn't sure I would ultimately like run-commuting, I decided to use a generic cloth backpack (basically this) I had lying around already, rather than investing in running backpack right off the bat. I tied the cloth strap adjusters around my waist to keep the bouncing to a minimum. Perhaps not the most elegant-looking solution, but it was a good enough start. (Try this Functional Running Gear for the Track and Beyond.)
After a few weeks of running home, I was loving my new commute. Yes, I periodically wound up lugging home bags overflowing with a week's worth of work clothes, but the positives outweighed that negative. Covering the route on foot didn't take me so much longer than the subway ride, and by the time I got home, I was done with my workout. Plus, running in a backpack made me feel like a badass. (More on that later.)
The only real problem: I prefer working out in the morning. I missed the early-a.m. endorphin rush, and I often made plans in the evenings, which was messing with my running schedule. (I was also testing my friends' patience by showing up to our get-togethers sweaty, red-faced, and lugging a damp backpack. Oops.)
With that in mind, I decided I was ready to try running to work. And for me, that's when things got real. After all, if I forgot something for my run commute home, it wasn't the end of the world. Only brought one sock to work? We probably had a pair hanging around the office somewhere. (A perk of working at Shape.) Left my glasses at the office? I could wear my spare pair around the house until work the next morning. The morning run commute was much less forgiving. If I forgot to pack shoes or underwear, I was going to have a really uncomfortable day. (Prefer cycling? Peek at 7 Stylish Pieces for Bike Commuters.)
The other big wrench in my plan was what I mentioned earlier—the lack of showers in the Shape offices. The idea of sitting in my own sweat all day, even if I changed clothes, seemed unhygienic. Plus, my hair isn't the type to rebound well after a sweat session, so I was committing to an updo (or one of these 7 Fun Hairstyles for the Gym and Beyond) on run commute days.
(Before you ask: Yes, I often do get up extra early to run and shower at home, then get ready for work as usual. But on days I have an early-morning event or just want to sleep in a little and still get my a.m. workout in, I love having the option of run commuting.)
But I was determined! And as anyone who's volunteered at a marathon can tell you, a determined runner can make miracles happen. So I committed to my commute, and found ways to make it work. These are the biggest lessons I learned along the way.
On my best days, I forget I'm even wearing a backpack. On my worst, I feel every miserable ounce. I quickly learned that in order to lighten the load I carried, planning ahead was essential—especially in the mornings, when I had to carry lunch and snacks in addition to my usual gear. Now I spend a few minutes on Sunday looking at my week's schedule and figuring out when I'll run to work, when I'll run home, and when I can bring work and workout clothes to and from the office so I don't have to carry them on my back every time. I also make sure to have an extra winter jacket or two stashed at my desk. My running jacket doesn't cut it (unless I'm, um, running) and a winter jacket doesn't fit into my bag.
Accept the Shower Thing
Have I mentioned that my office doesn't have a shower? On days I run to work, I don't shower until I get home. I know. I feel gross typing it. And let's be real: I'm not some dainty sweater. I sweat. And I don't stop for a while! This was a huge problem. (Asking for a Friend: Are Post-Workout Showers Really Necessary?)
What saved me were cleansing clothes and the fact that we have a private bathroom on our floor. Once I arrive at the office, I lock myself in the bathroom, strip down to my socks (TMI?), take a little sink-bath, then wipe myself down with witch hazel cleansing wipes. (I use these.) I wash my face, swipe on deodorant, then moisturize. At this point, I've stopped sweating and feel fresh enough to do my makeup and put on my work clothes. It's not ideal, and there are days I break out the witch hazel wipes again at lunch. But for the most part, it works well for me. I've also asked my coworkers, and they swear I don't smell. (If my sweat did smell, it'd probably be for one of these nine reasons—according to science.)
As for my hair, I have one word: Invisibobble. This hair tie is magic. It holds my ponytail secure while I run, but somehow doesn't leave a dent, so I can actually wear my hair down even on days I run commute. Miracle.
Keep Essentials at Work
I was never someone who kept a ton of personal items at work until I started run commuting. But I quickly got sick of carrying random makeup back and forth. Now I have more personal care products at work than I do at home. My essentials are: the aforementioned wipes, deodorant, a face wash, a facial moisturizer, a tinted moisturizer, benzoyl peroxide body cream (not showering right after my run makes me prone to breakouts), brow gel, a brush, and a dry shampoo or texturizing spray. No need for blush or highlighter, thanks to the post-run glow. (Psst... Check out the 18 Life-Saving Items Trainers Keep In Their Gym Bags.)
Give Yourself Lots of Extra Time
On days I run-commute, I plan to get in at least 30 minutes early if not earlier. It takes me that long to dry off and change into my work clothes, and I prefer to arrive when the office is empty to hide my shame about the sitting-in-my-own-sweat thing.
Run commuting makes me feel hardcore! When I pass other runners, something about the backpack makes me feel badass, like maybe they're catching me in the middle of a 50-miler and my backpack is full of fuel. (I've since upgraded to this backpack. It still isn't a running backpack and it's on the small side, but it works for me.) When I pass people in their suits on the way to work, I feel like a sweaty rebel. They're probably thinking, Get off the sidewalk, you nut! But I choose to believe they think I'm super cool, because that's how I feel.