It’s -3 outside and completely dark. Only the stars are visible and no slivers of daylight can been seen over the horizon. I’m still inside, wrapping up, debating how many layers will keep me warm once I get going. I settle on four layers. But really it’s just procrastination and I’m fairly toasty inside. I grab the door handle and actually have to count to three to will myself outside.
Immediately I get moving but the cold takes my breath away and I’m soon labouring between running hard to keep warm and feeling like my lungs are already bursting.
The sparkle of hard frost on the ground and trees does nothing to compensate for the slamming cold. I realise pretty quickly that I’ve got a minute gap between my gloves and wrist and quickly pull down my sleeves. My old faithful trainers have holes in the toes and this adds unwelcome ventilation.
The path to the station is gloomy and few people are out.
I’m running to catch my train, leaving just enough time to make it a competition with myself. I need to keep pushing hard to make it.
I choose the shortest line, crossing and recrossing the road to save time. I make myself run to ‘my’ sign. Some bit of street furniture which signals I’m close enough, I can stop now.
Once on the train I start shedding layers, usually right down to a vest top, much to alarm of my unsuspecting fellow passengers, who don’t know if I might carry on until I’m totally naked. Dumping my stuff on a seat to claim it, I stretch in the corridor before taking my seat and steaming gently in the warm carriage.
It isn’t ideal really, sitting still for almost two hours before setting off again. Once at Waterloo, I don all my layers again and set out through the city streets. It’s not my favourite thing – I’d much rather be out on the trails, in the woods – anywhere off road. But there are things about city running that are undoubted pleasures. You can people watch, which passes the time, and you spot all sorts of things as you trot by, things you’d miss on a bus, or even a bike. You can carry on taking the shortest route. No red lights can stop you, unless you happen to have to wait for cars, in which case you can claim a few seconds beautiful rest.
And then I arrive at work. If you’re lucky, there’s somewhere to shower at the office. And I cram a whole work outfit into my tiny running backpack. Yes, I’m usually purple and sweating on arrival, but I dive straight into the shower and – having left a duplicate wash kit – am soon at my desk. Usually I’m red-faced and boiling for a good half an hour afterwards. Exercise isn’t the instagram perfection we see every day.
Is it a massive hassle? Not usually. Yes, you have to think about it the night before so you have what you need (I always forget something but you can usually improvise, borrow from colleagues, or just be laughed at all day).
Why bother? Indeed, all that getting cold early and getting sweaty after that, couldn’t you just hit the gym or run at lunchtime? Of course. But running your commute generally beats everyone but the most earnest of bike commuters. You can be off the train and on your way. No waiting for buses, adjusting you saddle or queueing for a Boris Bike. Plus, that’s you done for the day. You’ve ticked your training session off, and can tuck into your energy bar/ porridge/ sticky bun with gusto. You feel better, no commuter stress here. You feel invincible, when you’ve forced yourself out the door into the freezing night and you’re the healthier for it.
There are some downsides of course. I get lost now and then (more now than then, if I’m honest) which makes me late/ a laughing stock. If you prefer trail running you might find it hard on the knees.
But I can’t really think of many other reasons why you wouldn’t want to both exercise and get from A to B, and that’s ticking two things off for the day before you’ve even got to your desk.