I’ve yet to meet a person who actually enjoys commuting, especially in a city as congested and crowded as London. So after almost two decades of putting up with it I thought to myself, why not replace it with something equally unenjoyable – but something one day that I might learn to enjoy?
You’ve probably heard of the mythical “runners high”? Many runners will tell you the very best runs are those done for the pure enjoyment of running outside in the open air, being present in the moment and enjoying the beautiful world around us. I get that now. But no-one new into running experiences it - I certainly hadn’t from my previous dabbles into running.
Popular psychology tells us it takes at least 21 days to create a new habit, with a scientific study from UCL suggesting it in fact takes over 2 months. That’s quite an ask, if you don’t really enjoy running. Run commuting turned out first of all to be the perfect way into making running habitual, and then actually enjoyable – something I look forward to doing.
I worked out my route from my office in Soho to my home near Clapham Junction to be around 10km, much of it along the River Thames and through Battersea Park. I’d drunkenly walked home once after my wallet was stolen, which took just over 3 hours. Divide that by a factor of 3 and it worked out more or less the same as my door-to-door commute. Why not give that a try?
One summer’s evening I got changed at work into my running kit, and set off for my first run home. My previous attempts at running had been for 15-20 minutes, so it started off OK – but after half an hour in the sweltering heat, with no water, I’d got to the half way point in Battersea Park and felt like I was going to die. Luckily it was the days before Uber and I was too embarrassed to call for a minicab, so I had no real option but to soldier on.
I can’t say I enjoyed the run, but I did have an immense feeling of satisfaction – from completing something I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do, and my first ever point-to-point run. With every previous run in my life I’d ended up exactly where I’d set off. Instead I ended up at home, at around the usual time, having burnt through around 800 calories. Two birds, one stone and all that.
Not that I looked forward to my second run commute a couple of days later. This time I set off around 20 minutes before the usual time I’d leave to go to work (to give me time to have a shower at the other end), with a small backpack of clothes to change into (leaving bulkier items like shoes and jacket at work to change into later). After about 5 minutes I felt sick and every part of my body was questioning what on earth I was playing at, but I’d mentally committed to the journey so there was no Plan B apart from keeping going!
To this day I still find it physically harder to run into work than run home, even allowing a good hour from getting out of bed until leaving the house for my body to wake up. But however hard it is to start with, there’s no better way to kick start your metabolism; to invigorate yourself physically and mentally for the day ahead. It’s a great way to remove stress, give time for quiet contemplation, or simply to listen to music really loud (without being that idiot on the tube or annoying your next door neighbours).
There was enough reward from day one to encourage me to continue including a run commute to or from work two or three times a week. As well as this carrot there was also the stick – it made me resent my regular commute all the more. Those first couple of months passed by quickly and I found the habit had stuck – I’d “become” a runner, rather than someone who went running now and again!