I recall a particular Friday afternoon a few years ago – I was working in downtown Toronto for the week and left my hotel at four in the afternoon to drive back to London. I left the hotel parking lot only to sit in another parking lot – the Lakeshore – for over 2-hours! For those of you from large metropolitan areas, I’m sure you can empathize with the frustration I was experiencing as pedestrians were walking past me as I inched along in my car. When I used to work in Toronto my post-work runs would almost exclusively start from downtown, take me west along the Lakeshore bike path, then when I reached my predetermined half-way point I would turn around and retrace my steps back to my home base. At the time it typically took me about 30mins to reach the Boulevard Club on a general aerobic run. That dreaded Friday afternoon, I recall it took me an hour and a half by car! What a waste – it took me three times as long to get to a certain landmark by car as it did by foot.
As runners, we understand that sitting in traffic is such a non-value-added use of our time. We’re burning gas when we could be burning calories, and deferring many other important priorities that need to get done during the day. This article discusses ideas to consider so that you can pass your sedentary coworkers during the commute to and from work – while they’re in their car and you are on foot!
When my wife Maura and I first moved to Halifax from Ontario, we initially stayed at her parents’ house in the suburbs so we didn’t have to endure the headache of trying to find a new home while living three provinces away. We had both accepted jobs in downtown Halifax, and a selling feature of my employer was that they had a shower at their office. I recall the first two mornings of carpooling with Maura to our new jobs and it taking upwards of 45 minutes to drive 8kms! It just seemed ridiculous that I could run to work faster than I could drive to work. So the third morning I decided to get creative. I packed my work clothes, shower supplies, and food in the car (we share one automobile) and Maura headed downtown on wheels while I took the “heel-toe express”. It was a beautiful, crisp morning in May as the sun was coming up and I was running along knowing that I would have my recovery jog in the bank and didn’t have to set my alarm ridiculously early to do so. 40mins later I arrived at Maura’s work, took the car keys from the receptionist, drove the three minutes to my employer, showered and got cleaned up at work, and was in my office ready for an exciting day of accounting by 9 a.m. The five minute investment the night before to get everything organized for my morning commute saved me 45-minutes of sitting in traffic the next morning.
As Maura was starting her physiotherapy practice from scratch at the time, she would often be done seeing patients by the early afternoon. On days where I was doing doubles or a medium-long run in the p.m., Maura would walk to my office to get the car, and I had my running gear waiting so that when 5 o’clock struck in a few hours, I would change into my shorts and t-shirt and make the commute home using legs and lungs. It was pretty satisfying coming up to a busy intersection and passing a long line of cars that would have to wait through at least three green lights to make it through.
Within about six weeks Maura and I had bought our first home together. It is a chip away from the Halifax Commons, a green space in the middle of the city that’s about a 20-minute walk to Maura’s clinic. My work was still about 2-miles from home, and the morning drive wasn’t bad at all, but for whatever reason it would still take longer than it should to drive home at 5 o’clock. Fortunately Maura could easily walk to and from work without being concerned about traffic, and I got in the routine of packing my gear each day and doing my runs from the office during the peak traffic hour, so that when my run was finished my drive home was only 7 minutes instead of upwards of 20.
The narrative above highlights a common strategy used by many runners that I know – they get their runs in while the majority of the working population is sitting in traffic. Time-saving tactics include:
• Driving to work early in the morning before traffic gets heavy, doing their workout at a gym close to their office, showering up and being ready to work at the start of business. For those who are fortunate to have a suitable running route and shower facilities close to their office, this makes driving to work early to run outside another option.
• Packing your running gear so that when 5 o’clock hits, you head out the door for a run from the office, so that once you get in your car to drive home, traffic has died down and you’re not wasting time sitting in traffic.
• Multi-sport athletes that I know will bike to work at a leisurely pace so as to not get too sweaty, run on their lunch, and then do their bike workout as their commute home.
• Rami Bardeesy, one of Canada’s top masters marathoners, runs to and from work each day wearing a special back-pack tailored for runners who want to carry a few important things but not have a standard school back-pack bouncing around. His work is across the road from a grocery store, so there are plenty of healthy and cheap options for his lunch.
A few months later I switched jobs and my new office is in an industrial park about 9kms from where we live. (As part of my due diligence procedures I ensured they had a shower!) A perk of living in the central part of the city is that when I drive to work I am going against the grain, and traffic is backed up coming into the city but I can make my way to work in an average time of 14 minutes with a standard deviation of about 2 minutes. This is a short enough commute that there is no significant time savings to leaving for work at 7 a.m. versus 8 a.m. At the end of the workday, however, from 4:45 to about 5:45 the traffic can be quite slow heading home, adding an additional 20+ minutes of sitting in the car. This is enough to annoy me, so on certain days where I predict that leaving at the generally accepted punching out time of 4:30 may not be feasible, I’ll pack my running gear and take an extended lunch, then tack on the missed work time to the end of the day so that I can zip home once rush hour has passed.
Maura and I are fortunate that we can usually get by just fine with one car, as she walks to work. On certain days where she requires the car for an appointment or other commitment, this presents an added logistical challenge. For me to run to and from work on the same day requires a lot of extra planning; I have to have my work clothes, food, and shower supplies waiting for me at the office, which means I have to pack double the day before, or make a special trip into work on the weekend if I’ll be running to and from work on a Monday. We’ll do this from time to time, but I almost inevitably forget a key piece of work attire. There’ve been days where I’ve been missing my belt or have had to go sockless. You can brush that off once in a while, but make a habit, and your coworkers will start to wonder. I try to make a mental checklist of everything I need, starting from the feet up. It helps, but certainly isn’t fool proof. I also keep a set of toiletries such as soap, shampoo, razor and shaving cream, deodorant, etc. in my desk drawer so that I don’t have to regularly pack everything and run the risk of forgetting an important hygiene product.
I would be remiss to not mention the corollary benefits of avoiding rush-hour traffic; namely the cost-savings of fuel, as well as the environmental impact idling in one spot can have.
To wrap-up, if you find yourself bemoaning the fact that you are consistently sitting in traffic when you could be putting that time to better use, I hope you find some of the suggestions in this article a feasible way for you to give rush hour traffic the one-fingered salute.
Suggested Reading: Avoid Generic Training Plans
About the Author: Greg Wieczorek is a Chartered Accountant and 2:26 marathoner residing in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He has coached his wife Maura from a 4:17 marathon debut to a personal best of 3:05 and helps others maximize their road race potential through his online coaching service Project PB.