Most people grab their keys, lunch or maybe a travel mug of coffee before dashing off to work each morning. Jeff Metzdorff simply dashes off.
Whenever he can, Metzdorff runs 9 miles to work.
He’s one of the nascent but fervent few who run-commute in the Twin Cities and beyond. No car, transit pass or bicycle necessary — just a well-hewn pair of running shoes and a plan for cleanup upon arrival on the job.
“There’s definitely a growing interest in run commuting, it’s not made up,” says Metzdorff, co-owner of Mill City Running, a shop in northeast Minneapolis. There are no statistics quantifying the number of run-commuters in the Twin Cities, but it appears to be an elite group. The Metropolitan Council estimates that 2.4 percent of regional commutes are done by foot, but that mostly covers people who simply walk to work. A survey by the Atlanta-based website The Run Commuter indicates the vast number of run-commuters from are “college-educated married white males.”
Run-commuting has morphed out of the growing number of people in the Twin Cities who bike to work, given the area’s vaunted network of bicycle highways. Much of the interest in run-commuting stems from the desire to squeeze in a workout during busy days and avoid driving in Twin Cities traffic. Many run-commuters are training for a marathon or Ironman event.
And not all are just dashing to work. The website found respondents who run to the library — and to the pub — as well.
“It’s a great way to decompress before the workday, vs. sitting in a car,” said Greg Haapala, a run-commuter who lives in Uptown and works at Twin Cities in Motion, a St. Paul-based nonprofit that runs the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon.
The availability of lightweight backpacks to carry necessities, as well as more transit options and car-sharing services to help get back home or to work, if needed, has spurred the trend.
And more and more office buildings, particularly those in downtown Minneapolis, are equipped with shower facilities, encouraging runners to hit the streets and head to work.
“Run-commuting is true multi-tasking,” said Doron Clark, of northeast Minneapolis. “I’m spending time getting to work and doing something I love — running. It’s basically a found half-hour to 45 minutes in my day.”
Traffic is a motivation
“Most people think it’s crazy,” said Joshua Woiderski, editor of the The Run Commuter. “They say they could never do it.”
Nationally, anecdotal evidence suggests the run-commuting hot spot is Washington, D.C., Woiderski noted, adding that’s no surprise given the reputation for horrendous traffic in the nation’s capital.
London is probably the world leader in run-commuter circles, given excessive traffic and crowded conditions on the Tube.
“There’s some correlation between the number of run-commuters within a city and horrible traffic,” he said.
Clark knows he’s a curiosity. “Everyone wants to know how I carry things. People say, ‘Do you run in your suit?’ ” (He doesn’t, but it did take him awhile to find suitable running shorts with a tight zipped pocket for the commute.)
And, of course, the inevitable question surfaces: What do you do if you forget your underwear? (No one interviewed had encountered that touchy situation.)
Woiderski, a paralegal in the Atlanta U.S. attorney’s office, said his worst blunder occurred when he forgot running socks — which prompted him to roll down his black dress socks for the run home.
“It worked fine, it wasn’t my preferred method,” he said.
Strategy, showers are key
Run-commuters must plan carefully.
Many store a cache of clothing and toiletries at work, and showers are a necessity for most.
Kevin Lewis, executive officer of the Minneapolis Building Owners and Managers Association, said some downtown office buildings are adding fitness centers and showers, or on-site health clubs with the same amenities.
This usually occurs when a new building is erected, or an existing one is renovated, he said.
The addition of shower facilities is largely done to satisfy bicycle commuters, he said. For example, when Target Corp. opened a recreation center called Target Plaza Common on Nicollet Mall two years ago, bike storage and showers figured prominently into the equation.
When Greg Silverman interviewed for his job at the University of Minnesota’s medical school, one of the first questions he asked med school officials was whether the office had showers.
“They were a little curious, but then I explained the reason I asked,” he said.
The software developer run-commutes from his home in St. Louis Park to the East Bank — his wife, Jenzi, runs with him part way, and so did his Australian Cattle Dog, Polly, until arthritis slowed the dog a year ago.
For some, showers aren’t in the mix.
Woiderski says he stores baby wipes at his desk and cleans up in the workplace restroom. If none are available, they likely won’t run from home to work.
“People don’t want to deal with that, so they run home instead,” he said.
Several of the run-commuters interviewed use a hybrid system — mixing running, biking, public transit and car-sharing services, such as Car2Go, to get to and from work.
“I get my best ideas when I run to work,” Silverman said. “It’s one of the best nonstatic forms of meditation out there.”