Logistics and Gear

I am barely two weeks into this experiment, but I think I have a decent grip on what it takes to make it work. If someone is interested in getting started, here is a checklist of sorts.

1. If you are not lucky enough to have a locker room and showers at your place of employment, there are a couple of decent options. The first option is to join a gym that is within walking distance to work. If you live in a bigger city, there are probably dozens to choose from. Keep in mind that most people assume it takes longer than it really does to walk a given distance. For example, I used to transfer to the subway to get to work, but one day I decided to walk instead. I was surprised to learn it only takes twenty minutes, and it is one of the best routes across center city. If I take the subway it only saves ten minutes. There is even an underground alternative for 2/3 of the route. If you do not have a locker room or a nearby gym, I have read about people just wiping themselves down with wet-naps before changing in a restroom. This is obviously not as good as taking a shower and having a locker room to change in, but it will work.

2. Get used to wearing the same clothes a little more often at work. I guess one could pack a new set of work clothes every day, but I feel like this would be a hassle and an unnecessary amount of weight to carry. Instead, I keep a pair of jeans and a few shorts in my locker, and then carry a fresh set of socks and underwear each day.

3. Buy a good running-specific backpack. I have the Nike Chayenne Vapor and love it. It is incredibly light and carries quite a bit. I have actually started using it even when I’m not running. It has a lot of smart features, like a handy cell phone case on the shoulder strap, moisture seal zippers, a stowable rain cover, and way to separate wet clothes from dry stuff. Here’s a link to a store with the best price I have seen:

I will add more when and if I discover other helpful ideas or tips.


Day 5 – Camden again

After work today I decided to run to the 16th and Locust station (just over one mile) and then run all the way home from Camden City Hall. Like most experience in life, the second trip through Camden felt different than the first. The first thing I realized is that the sketchy section is only about one mile in length. Granted, plenty can happen in a mile, but when I ran this route the first time it seemed like a longer stretch. I have noticed this kind of thing before — an unfamiliar walk always seems longer, and the back of an out-and-back run always seems shorter.

In the heart of the main drag, a guy with a fishing pole turned to me as I ran by and with a friendly demeanor said, “You better pick it up. You have five more miles to go!” I replied, “You’re right. I have about exactly five miles to go.” As I continued up the sidewalk I realized what a dumb response this was, as I am pretty sure he was referring to the fact that I must be from “the other side of the tracks.” It is also quite funny to note that this was only my second time running this route, and it is the second time someone has told me to pick up the pace! On Monday it was an elderly woman who was also being friendly.

I am still not sure about the route. On one hand, there is a big part of me that defiantly wants to assert that I can travel anywhere I choose, especially if I am on foot. Another part of me knows there is something good about crossing boundaries and breaking down barriers. And then the self-preservation part of me wonders if any of that is worth the risk. A story in the Inquirer a few years ago about a guy riding his bicycle through a neighborhood in West Philly is stuck in my mind. The guy was chased down and fatally beaten by a group of people. That kind of random violence is relatively common these days. And then it pisses me off that I might abandon the plan because of my fear.

On a different note, I have started to meet a different group of people at work — the people who exercise before beginning the work day and then use the locker room. A fellow faculty member, Ted, rides his bike about 15 miles to work three days a week, and a Math teacher named Eric works out in the gym. It would be cool to find some other people who might want to run the same route now and then.

Days 2 and 3

It’s been a long time since I have done serious road mileage, so I decided to start out by only running to work three days a week, gradually increasing the distances.  On day two, I did the same morning route from 16th and Locust (3.5 miles), on the way home I ran from work to downtown Camden, where I took the train from City Hall back to Westmont.  The Ben Franklin Bridge was a longer hill than I remembered!  It isn’t a hard hill, but it is long and a little monotonous, being such a steady grade from the entrance to the mid point.  But any discomfort on the bridge is easily overshadowed by the beautiful view and being so high.  There is also an interesting comraderie on the span — it’s not as if its rare to pass someone.  In fact, there are a surprising number of people who travel by foot and bike across the bridge, but it is still few enough people that a cordial glance seems to include an acknowledgement that we are privy to one of the city’s best secrets.  Even the bicycle cop nods hello in a way that cops on the streets never bother.  

On that day 2 bridge run I was struck by how different it felt to be running home.  I then realized that I have never actually run home before.  I mean, of course I have done out-and-back runs from my front door, but there is something profoundly different about running for exercise, and running for transportation.  The next big realization was how quickly I fell into a comfortable, moderate pace that had nothing to do with gauging time or effort.  It is almost as if, when the purpose is transportation, the body responds to the brain’s instructions to move forward in a different way.  Obviously, in truth, the brain is simply giving different instructions, but it felt, up there on the bridge, that I was not really making the subtle decisions regarding how hard to run.  The goal and purpose were simple — get to the train station.  

Day 3 was Monday, and I was feeling pumped about this experiment.  I had talked to Maggie about the prospect of running through Camden the night before, and we agreed there was a real danger, but that it wasn’t necessarily something to avoid.  As the oft-reigning murder capital of the country, it is not a place to take lightly, but the route is straight along Haddon Avenue, a main drag of sorts, with only a couple of short sections without houses, businesses or hospital buildings.  It is also, for all intents and purposes, the only route if I want to do the entire trip from home to work.  The only alternatives would require snaking through neighborhoods which I think would be a way to beg for being harassed, if not simply caught in the cross fire of drug/gang violence.  

The route along Haddon Ave was not as desolate as I remembered it from the last time I rode my bike home from work.  Also, I think I felt more visible, or conspicuous on my bike.  I also knew from putting in many miles while training for iron-distance triathlon that a lot of people just get irritated by the site of cyclists and sometimes like to fuck with people on bikes.  On foot, I felt more vulnerable, but more any more unsafe, and maybe a bit more secure.  Don’t get me wrong, running alone through a city like Camden is sketchy, and during the entire stretch from Cooper Hospital to the Ferry Avenue train station I continually surveyed the scene and scoped businesses that looked like good havens if I needed to dodge a bad scene, but ultimately I felt more confident that it will be okay to make this run again by the time I reached the station.  There were a fair number of people out on the street, but for the most part people didn’t seem to pay me much attention at all.  My guess is there is enough commerce on the street and a variety of oddness that a skinny white guy running down the sidewalk is not much of a show.  I did feel tense when I saw a group of five teenagers on my path, as the recent stories of random violence in Philly at the hands of teens has definitely weighed on me.  

On a totally different note, the same section I just mentioned is a steady uphill climb, almost a duplicate of the bridge!  I haven’t sketched the route on Map My Run, but I’m guessing the entire route, at least from the base of the bridge, might be a slow climb.  

Tomorrow is day 4, and I am thinking about doing the reverse of Monday’s run home in the morning — take the train to Ferry Ave, and run through Camden and over the bridge.  Then, on the way home, maybe the same route for a total of about 11 miles.  

Day 1, The Run to Work Experiment

Somehow I got it into my head recently to start running to (and from) work.  I guess I would have assumed that people do this on a regular basis throughout the world, but I really did think of it more or less on my own, during my own walks to work through center city, and partly inspired by reading Born To Run on the train. However, yesterday, as the urge grew so strong I knew I was actually going to do it, and as a result began researching running backpacks online, I discovered that commuting to work via running is possibly a movement.

So I want to be crystal clear from the outset, more for myself than anyone who might read this, that I am not doing this to join a movement. I am not exactly sure why I am doing it, but its not to identify myself with a group. If anything, it might be the polar opposite.

I am guessing this blog might be about trying to resolve this newly formed desire.

I have been fascinated by ultra-distance running for several years. I dabbled in running marathons, fisnished an iron-distance tri, and after a while felt kind of burned out on road running and retured to my running roots — the track. I have spent the last two years focused soley on the 400 meters and sprinting, which has been amazing, but a few months ago I began to feel a revived fascination with distance bubble back up to the surface. I decided at the end of this year’s outdoor track season to try moving up to the 800 meters, and still plan to do so, but I am also now running cross country (just like I did as a sprinter in high school) and the road miles feel great.

At the same time, I just keep trying to figure out how to make my commute more tolerable. I tried cycling when I first moved to the suburbs and began taking the train into town. That was one of the more stress-inducing activities I have ever tried, with people constantly yelling at me for following the rules of the road, or sneering at me for taking up space on the train. I ended up walking from the train instead of cycling or taking the subway when I discovered that it was only a 20-minute walk. But believe it or not, sometimes walking through center city is almost as stressful at cycling — people in cars can just be nasty, and too many people do not understand crosswalks and pedestrian right of way.

So, here I am, with a new idea on how to make the commute more enjoyable, and maybe even beneficial. Lately I have had more trouble getting my workouts in, mainly due to our toddler being joined by a newborn. Procreation can throw a major monkey wrench into one’s schedule. However, my commute by train and walking takes an hour one-way. The diatnce is just over 8 miles. I am a slow distance runner, so at this point it would take longer, but I am betting that over time I could coever the distance in the same time. Sixteen miles round trip. That’s eighty miles per week. I have never come close to that kind of mileage, and it excites me to imagine it. The only caveat to this is that the route will take me straight through Camden. Enough said. I am really unsure about running though Camden with a pack on my back every day, but then again, maybe that is just the paranoia that results from the lack of the actual experience. I remember riding my bike through Camden, and that didn’t feel safe, but I will have to try it on foot.

The plan is to ease into this. Today I took the train the 16th and Locust, then ran west to the Schyulkill Banks Trail, then north to Spring Garden Street and back east to work. Just over 3 miles. The direct route from the train station to work is just over a mile, which is a little pointless, so I added the arc out to the river. Part of my thinking is that if I travel for the same amount of time running in place of walking (and eventually riding the train) then I am not sacrificing any additional time to do this.

And there lies a big piece of my intrigue — running to and from work is brilliant, since we already have to make the commute. I already spend two hours each day traveling to and from work, and I currently log about forty minutes of brisk-pace walking in the process. Instead, maybe I can run the full distance and in the same amount of time log that eighty miles per week.

The next part of the plan is to do all this running in a way that feels as normal as walking. I am running slowly, thinking about efficiency first and foremost, and working to enjoy the activity in the same way I enjoy walking. If I try to take on too much too soon, I will kill the joy. So next week it will be two days, doing the three-mile arc route. The next week I will add a day, and maybe get off the train sooner and add some distance. Even if I never run the entire eight mile route from home, there are several options I can choose, including getting off the train at the foot of the Ben Franklin Bridge in Camden.

The more humorous part of all this is trying to figure out the logistics. I bought the bag yesterday afternoon, and now I have to coordinate what I store in my locker at work and what I wear during the day. Part of me just wants to work in my running clothes, but I think that would draw too much attention to myself.

Time to change and head home.