For Josh Woiderski, it started as an experiment.

After his car was totaled in a wreck a few years ago, the longtime running enthusiast thought he’d forego buying a replacement by trying something new. He decided to run to work.

It not only saved him money, but it kept him out of traffic in Atlanta, Georgia, home to some of the worst traffic in the United States. It boosted his training efforts. And it unexpectedly contributed to a global surge of interest in run commuting.

Now untold numbers of people are running to work and back, some every day, others just part of the time. Most are in big cities. London has emerged as the estimated leader, and other spots have popped up across the U.S. and in Canada, the Netherlands, Spain, Brazil and Australia, among others. The idea has gained traction in the press, as well, cited for its health benefits as well as sustainability and urban-life innovation.

“I love running and I hate driving,” says Woiderski, a 39-year-old father of three who runs to his job as a paralegal five miles each way. “Run commuting allows you to get in a run while you’re going to work, instead of exercising in addition to commuting to work.”

Woiderski started a blog, The Run Commuter. It quickly took off, with sister sites popping up including Running to Work, Running to Work (Spain), and Run Commuter (Netherlands).

Josh Woiderski, a 39-year-old father of three, runs 5 miles each way to his paralegal job in Atlanta.

Personal Stories and Grassroots Growth

Julien Delange was not a runner growing up in France. But, three years ago, when he moved to Pittsburgh to be a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, he found himself driving six miles to work, then running at a nearby park, then showering at the office. It occurred to him to cut out that middle step, and now he runs the daily 12-mile round trip.

“I didn’t have to fight the traffic, I didn’t have to wake up early, and I save on gas and parking,” Delange says.

Others in his running club have been inspired to try run commuting – or at least to ride a bike or take public transit sometimes. Delange will participate in his first 100-mile marathon this month.

Julien Delange's 12-mile daily run commute in Pittsburgh has helped in shed more than 100 pounds.

London emerges as a leader

“There’s a lot happening in London – it may be the hot spot,” says Simon Cook, who completed his master’s thesis on run commuting and is now working on his PhD in human geography, which focuses on the relationship between people and places, regarding issues like transportation.

Cathy Tyrell-Knights, a Coca-Cola employee in London, runs four miles to work some days.

He admits most people see the idea as “a bit bizarre.” But when told of the possibility, they can see it as more attractive than a crowded Tube. As run commuting continues to catch on as a “deeply meaningful experience,” he looks forward to examining it as a potential transportation alternative.

“In the Western world, where it’s really growing, it’s more a sport and health practice than transport,” Cook says.

The practice has the most followers in big cities with bad traffic and enough large workplaces to offer showers and lockers. “The workplace is becoming such a key part of this,” which is especially noteworthy given run commuting’s grassroots.

On the first Thursday of each month, supporters promote #run2workday and are lobbying for more favourable tax breaks for run commuters. Cook himself is an avid runner, but has no need to include it in his commute: He works at home.

Cathy Tyrell-Knights is a Coca-Cola IT manager in London. She became a part-time run commuter earlier this year, running the 4 miles to work some days and cycling or taking public transportation back home.

“I know a few people within the office that run, and a number that also cycle,” she says. “London is very pedestrian-friendly, so it supports the ability to run commute. There are wide walkways and, while there is a lot of people in the city, it is easy to take a few back roads to get to the office.

Showers and other practical concerns

What about hygiene? Dressing appropriately? Carrying things to and from the office?

Tyrell-Knights enjoys showers and lockers at the Coca-Cola office. So does Dino Bozzone, a Coca-Cola brand manager in Sydney, Australia.

Kate Livett of Sydney, Australia, runs to work four days a week.

“Our company is very supporting and encouraging of an active lifestyle,” he says. “Running really helps me keep a balanced lifestyle. We all work so hard and often it’s hard to find time in the day to get any exercise in. The days I run, it’s pretty clear I show up in a better mood, more energetic. It really helps give me a kick start to the day.”

To address these common questions and provide baseline guidance, Woiderski collaborated with Silvia Stuchi Cruz of the Corridaamiga (“running friends”) Network in Brazil. They produced Running as a Mode of Transportation: General Guidelines, in English and Portuguese and made it available online.

“Through the Corridaamiga initiative, we wish more people would try other transportation alternatives, to see for themselves that it is possible to change their lives,” the guideline reads. “Since we started the network, we have had 80 volunteer runners (run commuters) spread in 15 different Brazilian cities, and around 85 people that requested Corridaamiga to help in their first routes, by designing the best commute and sharing instructions and information about how to run in the streets.”

Not all workplaces have showers, of course. Woiderski has used the “no shower” method of taking a shower at home before leaving in the morning, cooling down in front of a fan in your office after you arrive, using baby wipes to clean your head and body, dressing, and then washing your face and head in the bathroom. It’s a common approach for run commuting enthusiasts, who share their experiences, tips and photos on Twitter with the #runcommute hashtag.

A Bit of Local Flavor

Kate Livett, also of Sydney, recently heard about run commuting and decided to give it a try. She’s given up the stress of traffic for running through a national park of native forest with mini-waterfalls, unspoiled coastline and, yes, kangaroos.

“When I’m run commuting, I’m actually excited to go to work,” she says. “Now I get cranky if I don’t get to run commute because I slept in.”

Run Commuter Survey Stats

The Run Commuter took a survey recently and received 145 responses from 22 counties. Among the highlights:

  • The average run commute is 3 to 7 miles.
  • Most run commuters keep hygiene items and extra work clothes at the office.
  • More than two-thirds have showers at work, but the same percentage says they’d do it anyway.
  • When not running, the preferred mode of transporation is bicycle at 55%.

Run Commuting in the Press