[It used to be a dream of mine to be able to commute to my job on foot. But for the past 15 years or so, I’ve had jobs that placed me in remote office parks, and I’ve had little flexibility about getting from home to work to school and back home at odd hours. But last week, I spent a few days working in Cambridge, and for the first time in a long while, it was actually plausible to consider running to work. That reminded me that my commuter dream hasn’t completely died.
First published December 12, 2006]
I’ve always been keen on finding a way to use running as a legitimate form of personal transportation, a way of going places when car, bus, and bike were inconvenient or unavailable.
The fascination with running as transportation started early. I grew up far enough away from schools that it was a long walk, but not so far that a bus was required. Already in elementary school I was experimenting with running home, and was surprised and delighted to find that I could make the trip faster on foot. Of course, I was lucky not to be burdened by a 25-lb backpack. In those days, there wasn’t much to take home from school. It was a lighter time in many ways… But I digress.
The other thing about running places that gave me great pleasure was finding shortcuts. I became briefly famous with my classmates by getting off the bus on Lincoln Avenue, waving as the bus drove off, and then racing through several backyards and an alley to emerge at the next bus stop on Dana Avenue, thirty seconds before the bus arrived. I had discovered a lifelong passion for combining a love of running with a love of being different.
The thing was, I never made running a regular means of commuting. Perhaps it was because it took too much planning ahead on a daily basis, or perhaps because doing it every day would have spoiled the fun. For whatever reason, I didn’t end up running to and from school every day like the Kenyans.
The closest I came to regular running to work was when I lived in Newton Corner and worked in Newton Lower falls, a distance of 5.5 miles. We only had one car then, and there was a bus I could take, but it came only once an hour. So I often ran to and from work. I look back at my running log for that year and many days are inscribed simply:
Of course, this would not have been possible if the company hadn’t had a locker room and shower. It did, and I vowed never to work at a building that DIDN’T have some way to clean myself up after a run.
The details of commuting on foot through the next two decades probably wouldn’t be interesting to anyone but me, bet here’s an overview: Worked in East Cambridge for five years (10 miles from home, along the river); worked in Waltham for the next five (4 miles, if I was willing to summit a nasty hill and pick my through the rugged trails of Prospect Park, 5.5 otherwise); Newton for three years (2 miles away — too short!).
Then I started working in Woburn, 17 miles from my home, the longest long-term commute of my life. There was no easy way of getting from home to work to home that didn’t involve a car, but I never gave up the hope of figuring out a way to run part of the way, and use public transportation for the rest. I started by making a vast table of all the possibilities: the commuter trains, the crosstown buses, the parts that I could run or bike, the backup plans in case a connection was missed. I estimated the time for each possibility, and eliminated many that were simply not practical or took too long. I experimented. I found that if I took a bike, I could ride halfway, catch a train (taking my bike on the train), and then reverse the process in the evening but without the bike, running the last 8 miles. This worked great except that the bike ended up at my work, so I couldn’t repeat the process two days in a row. I tried running the 8 miles to the train in the morning, and then taking all public transportation in the evening. That worked OK, but it took too long and I arrived at work too tired to actually be productive.
So the search for the cleverest commute went on. The MBTA added a few trains to the Lowell Line, and suddenly there were new possibilities for me. I experimented with running part of the way home first, and then catching one of these new trains to take me in to Boston.
I’ll tell you one thing: when I was running for a train, I never had any problem with motivation; I never questioned why I was running; I never worried about my competition.
Now and then, it’s a great feeling to be running for the sole purpose of getting home in time for dinner.