I’m starting to dislike my run commuting habit. I loved it at first. The ideal form of multi-tasking in my view – allowing me to get some physical exercise, whilst getting to and from work, avoiding overly busy rush hour trains and getting my heart rate up higher than I do on my bike. It seemed like a win win. With a young family, where every minute counts, the idea that I no longer had to spend an ‘extra’ hour running each day and could turn it into my commute instead was one I couldn’t resist. I might also be able to give my mum a call whilst running too – something I couldn’t really get away with on the bike and which was impossible on the underground – all because, of course, I didn’t have time otherwise.
The issue I have with the run commute is its purpose. The reason I started running wasn’t simply to get from A to B. The run commute has turned my running into a chore – something that I have to do to get to a certain location for a certain time. It takes out the flexibility on route planning – I pretty much run the same route every time, because again, with every minute meticulously planned the run is also planned to get me there at the right time and a kilometre too far won’t do. It takes the flexibility out of pacing. I usually have to run at a preset pace to get to work/nursery/home* (*delete as appropriate) on time. No slowing down if I’m feeling a bit run down or tired. Speeding up is generally ok, but often less appealing when weighed down with a backpack. There’s no choice of time to leave. I’m out the door at the planned minute to make it on time. And the overly timetabled nature of the run commute means it’s often near impossible to find someone else to run with. You’re running on your own. There’s no meandering, just running for the sake of it – on a mission.
The run commute can take multi-tasking to its limit. It’s saved me time, but has it also started to take the pleasure out of running? What has happened to those runs to go and explore a new route or test out my pace and see how I’m feeling? What has happened to delaying going out till a bit later because I don’t feel like it right now? What has happened to running with others? I started running because I enjoyed it. I enjoyed exploring new places, enjoyed just putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes running faster, but usually with others to spur me on. Now I religiously run the same old route every week on my own.
It strikes me that this is relevant even to non-runners. London has some of the highest levels of walking of any city and cycling levels are on the increase, but how much of that is just for its own sake? Most of the walking and cycling we see in London is again, people on a mission to get to/from work, on the same old route, hardly even looking up as they head from their house to the office. They’re not moving because they particularly want to, they’re moving because they have to.
This all gets me down a bit. As an advocate for an active society I want people to enjoy physical activity for its own sake and I don’t want our only form of activity to be just getting from A to B because we have to. I want people to enjoy running, walking and cycling, to find pleasure in meandering around and exploring new routes, and to make it an important part of their lives, not something that stops once they get a new job or new routine. Children know that meandering is good. Trying to get a child to walk from A to B without stopping to look at something or pick up something is near impossible. It is inherent within us to explore our environments. Yet, we’re doing it less and less and we’re encouraging our children to do it less and less. Our busy lives mean we are always intent on getting from A to B without looking at the in-betweeen.
So, I’m not ditching the run commute completely, because I do quite like a bit of multi-tasking and the reality is I’m time poor right now. But I am going to be doing a bit more meandering too to ensure that when I stop commuting, I’ll still be running.