A recent article brought back pleasant memories of my daily commute to work: Active travel commuters report high level of enjoyment from their commute compared with car or public transport users. Not only did the active commuters (all walkers and cyclists, by the way) report more enjoyment, they found their commute almost 7 times more enjoyable than those using public transit or driving their cars! Sounds to me like a little daily boost to their sanity!
The article made me reflect fondly on my commuting days. My career has been quite variable starting with commuting, moving to work from home, back to commuting, and now working from home again so I’ve experienced a number of different ‘daily grinds’.
The second time I returned to commuting, I promised myself that I would make better use of the transit time. I had discovered audiobooks by this time so my initial thoughts went to the reading time I was going to have at my disposal as I drove my way to and from work. But at the end of the day I would come home tired from the tedious drive and fighting traffic, and have very little motivation to then fit in a workout. Slowly my mood began to decline as my activity level spiralled downward.
So I began exploring ways of fitting my workout into my commute. I lived 35km from work and with no access to public transportation from home and we get serious winter here (think -30’s). So I wasn’t going to be able to just hop a bus and get off a little early to run or walk to work. And 35km each way was WAY too far to make it on foot or by bike in the winter. I had to get creative to come up with winter and summer solutions.
For winter, I found a ‘park and ride’ that would allow me to hop on a commuter train that would drop me 4.5km from work. My winter routine became drive to the park and ride in the morning, hop on the train then run the 4.2km from the end of the train to my office. The afternoon commute was simply in reverse.
I could now fit in 8km of running into my commute. The travel time ended up being 20 minutes longer but now I was fitting my workout in and driving a shorter, less congested distance in my car.
For summer I took a different approach. On warm mornings, I found I was HOT by the time I ran the 4km to the office so cycling became my activity of choice for the summer months.
Now if you’re like me, traffic and cycling don’t mix. I’m very uncomfortable going through busy intersections on my bike and to be honest, 35km each way made for A LOT of cycling everyday. As a result, I developed a route that would take me to the same commuter train I took in the winter. The train allows bicycles so I rode my bike from home to the train, hopped on the train for the downtown part of the commute and then road my bike along the same 4.2km path I used for my winter running.
This shortened the cycling distance a little, prevented me from having to cycle in downtown traffic and meant I could leave my car at home! I was now able to fit some physical activity into my daily commute.
I know this might not work for all of you but I also know there are others that are conjuring up their own batch of excuses as to why an active commute might no work for them so let me address a few of these right off the top for you.
1) I have to look professional at work. I can’t carry a suit while I run! And I agree that you want to keep the number of things you carry to a minimum. What you can easily carry is a clean shirt and undergarments, especially if you pick a shirt that doesn’t wrinkle easily – leave the 100% cotton button downs at home.I basically moved a good part of my wardrobe to my office – dress pants, jackets, sweaters, shoes – they all got moved in. When I had a cubicle, I picked up a cheap clothing rack that I could hang everything on.
Once in an office, I made very good use of the hooks on the back of my door by adding tiered hangers to allow me to hang multiple items from one hook. I drove to the office with my wardrobe and ‘moved in’. When things needed to be cleaned, I took them to a nearby cleaners or every few weeks I would swap the clothes in the office with clean clothes from home
2) There are no showers where I work. Hey, I didn’t always have access showers either and to be honest when I did, I didn’t use them. I found it took up too much time. Again, we have to be creative here! I would start each day showered and squeaky clean with clean workout clothes on for my bike or run. Once I got to work, I grabbed my cosmetics bag (yep, I kept duplicates of everything at the office) and basically had a sponge bath in the sink of the washroom closest to my desk. I washed my face, and my pits, changed my underwear, and wiped off any grime I might have picked up a long the way. I then applied deodorant and put on my clean clothes for the day. I would then hang up my workout clothes to dry so they would be more comfortable to put on for the commute home.
In my cubicle workout clothes went on one end of my clothes rack. In my office I mounted damage-free adhesive mini hooks to the back of my book shelf that I pulled out from the wall about 6 inches. I was able to hang my clothes there without anyone noticing J. When I left the company, I just peeled off the hook and no one was the wiser.
3) What about my hair and make-up? Make-up is easy. Just keep a duplicate of everything you use at home, at the office. Don’t bother with make-up in the morning. Save that routine for once you arrive that office. For hair you have 2 options and this depends on your hair style and what you’re willing to do for it. I have long hair so my solution was to leave the house with my hair clean and dry. Once I got to work, if my hair was damp, I would stick my head under the hand dryer and then put it up for the day.
If your office doesn’t have a hand dryer, you can keep a hair dryer at work. If your hair style is a little higher maintenance, you might need to stick your head under the tap and start the styling process from there with a hair dryer, flat iron or whatever else you need – again, keep these at work so you’re not carrying them with you.
4) But I still have things to carry. What about my lunch? Yes, you will still have to carry a few things. I found myself a comfortable backpack that I could run with that was just big enough to carry my lunch, a clean shirt, socks, bra and underwear. I would also add in my wallet, sometimes an iPad, my iPhone, car keys and the odd time a refill for something I had run out of at work (e.g. moisturizer, eyeliner etc.).
For those that have to carry a laptop back and forth, this is a little trickier but there are backpacks that will do this but be careful about waterproofing – the rain can come at any time! I’m also a big salad eater and mastered the art of packing my salad upside down – heavy items at the bottom of the container and lettuce on top so that the jostling didn’t pound my lettuce to a mushy mess.
5) But I run errands after work. I need my car. And sometimes I did too. Just because you have a way to make your commute more active, doesn’t mean you have to commute that way every day. You may find that every second day works better for you or that every 2 weeks you’ll drive to work so that you can swap out your wardrobe and run any errands that have accumulated. Just find a schedule that works for you and try to collapse those errands into a single day so that they aren’t interfering all the time.
I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed my commute to work until I missed it for a few weeks due to work travel. It took me a few days of driving to work after I got back to return to my old active commuting routine. The day I did get out for my morning run to work, I couldn’t believe how much better I felt and how much more productive my day was. To this day, I try to do something active in the morning to get me off to a good start!
If you have other suggestions for making any active commute, any easy commute, please leave them in the comments.