Running to work

Last autumn, I went to a running shop and picked up a backpack for an ultra marathon that was coming up. You need one on longer runs to carry water, food and emergency stuff that you’ll hopefully never need, and while a proper running backpack might seem like an unnecessary expense when you have a perfectly good backpack sitting in your room, it’s a totally worthwhile purchase. A regular backpack will bounce around as you run, which gets pretty annoying over six hours of running, while a running backpack fits perfectly — kind of like having a monkey hugging your back.

And then I thought, seeing as I’m forking out for this ridiculous backpack, maybe I could become one of those people that runs to work. You know the type: painfully sporty, super sleek, darting in and out of commuters on their walk to work, with all their work stuff on their back. I’d just started a job at a great agency in a fancy office — featuring swish coffee machine operated by an iPad, and, more importantly, nice showers — so running in and getting changed at work wasn’t an issue. The matter was settled.

At first it was annoying. I don’t really feel like running 4.5 miles straight after waking up, especially now the weather’s turned frosty. My route takes me from Green Lanes, across Finsbury Park, up Highbury Fields, straight through Islington and Angel, and in to Farringdon. Parts of it are pleasant enough (the parks) but jostling with the commuters next to Highbury & Islington tube station and down Upper Street feels like running an assault course — like everyone’s plotting to take me down. I mostly stick to the edge of the pavement, darting through pedestrians and trying not to barge into one of the many people whose eyes are glued to their phones as they meander to work. Occasionally, I join the cyclists in their lane when the pavement gets too congested.

But something about all the dodging and diving, twisting and turning, is exhilarating in a way that going for a pleasant park run isn’t. I love the feeling of flying past all the morning amblers, passing cyclists as they attempt to speed away from traffic lights, only to be blocked by a bus. I race everyone: lorries, cars, cyclists, other runners, my music. They might not realise it but we are racing. And it makes me run that much harder.

My perfectionist mind loves the efficiency of running to and from work. With a cluster of marathons coming up this year, and the goal of getting my marathon time under 3:15, I’ve got to rack up a lot of miles. Now that I have a full-time job, getting out for a run before or after work is difficult; there’s never enough time, and it’s dark and cold. But either way, I have to get to work. Running only takes five minutes more than cycling or public transport, and if I run to and from work, that’s my training done for the day. I would have lost that time anyway, so it’s a win-win situation.

I never thought I’d be a runner. I never thought I’d run 10k. I never thought I’d run a half marathon. I never thought I’d run a full marathon. And I definitely never thought I’d be one of those sporty types running to work with their fancy running backpack. But this isn’t about me. It’s about all of us. Maybe you don’t think you can run to work, or that cycling to work is dangerous, or that an Insanity class is too hard for you. Five years ago, I could barely run for ten minutes. Now, I run nine miles most days just as a form of commuting. You can do it and it will get easier.