Running as a Form of Commuting

I used to run to school every day when I was in high school.

I grew up in a neighborhood called Norwood. Norwood was literally two elevated train tracks over from the school I went to, Horace Mann, which was in Riverdale. Approximately two miles away. My first year at Horace Mann, when I was in seventh grade, I would walk approximately twenty minutes to take the school bus, which would take an additional 15 minutes to drop us off at school. We called that bus “the ghetto bus” because it was subsidized by the school, as only scholarship kids lived on its route.

By the end of seventh grade, I took public transportation most days, because doing so would give me the flexibility to leave my home any time I wished. That, and I wanted to see if it was feasible for me to drop the school bus altogether. Although it was subsidized, the school bus still cost $50/ year, and money was tight in my family. It took approximately 40 minutes to get to/ from school the public transportation route also, depending on when the bus came.

The beginning of eighth grade, I joined the cross country team. We would run various distances during the designated gym period that I eventually realized were shorter than my entire commute to school.

Well then, I didn’t need any sort of outside transportation at all! I shortly found out that I could walk that distance in 40 minutes. Or run it in about 25 minutes, give or take, depending on how much I was carrying in my book bag.

Then my mother negotiated a deal where I was able to purchase an old Schwinn bicycle for $75. I made some modifications like installing a rear rack and replacing the brakes, and achieved a consistent commute time of under 20 minutes. The only real hiccups in the situation were rain and snow. Moisture on the wheel rims made it difficult to brake, so I would run those days instead. After a short while my bicycle got stolen. And I could not afford a new one. So I ran again. I already had shoes, so I had all I needed. Bicycles could get stolen, so even though bicycling was faster, it was too expensive from my perspective. One day I would have the money to afford such luxuries, but not yet.

Throughout all of high school, running was my preferred form of transportation. I bought a bicycle in college that served me well, but running was still my default. I suppose I could have walked, but it was slower. And I did not care one way or the other about being sweaty. Most of my classmates probably thought I was a little odd. There were times that people would ask me why I ran to school when I could just take the bus. I would tell them that the bus was less efficient – you have to get to the bus, and then wait for the bus and I could just run to school in less time – but I recall being embarrassed that I could not easily afford the $50 so I’m sure that was a factor as well. Most of my friends lived in Manhattan, and they would take cabs or trains or buses to get where they were going. But I could not afford to chip in for cabs and you had to pay to take public transportation as a student on nights and weekends, so I would run instead and say it was because I wanted to make weight for wrestling, or that I was trying to get faster, or something else like that. But never, “because I am poor and I cannot afford it.”

My running really went into high gear though, when I was 20 years old and going to massage school. One class our teacher taught us cross-fiber-friction. Basically, you rub a muscle against the bone in a direction perpendicular to the muscle fiber. If you have any knots or scar tissue in your muscle, this form of palpation produces an extreme amount of pain. I found I had a LOT of pain when doing this along the front of my lower leg, specifically on the tibialis anterior. So I kept doing it. My commute at that time (primarily staying at my mother’s place in the Bronx) was a 2.1 mile run to the Fordham Metro North station, then a 50 minute train ride to Stamford, then a 1.6 mile run to massage school. So I had a lot of time on the train to massage those muscles. After an excruciating week of self massage, a pain that I thought was just a normal part of running was gone. Completely. I could run longer and faster than I could run in high school.

I was dating a girl in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey at the time. I tested my newfound invincibility by running to her birthday party. I got lost a few times, so what was supposed to be a 24.9 mile run turned into a 28 mile run, and I had to stop a few times for traffic and to ask for directions, but  I didn’t have a backpack, so it felt easy.

Ever since, running has been a constant friend of mine. I ran to work when I was a consultant to hedge funds — would towel off and change in front of the clients’ office buildings. And I ran to work when I worked for a medical technology in San Francisco — they had a shower at the office. One of the sadder times in my life was a period when I could not run due to plantar fasciitis — basically a bruise on the bottom of my foot. It lasted approximately a year and felt terrible. I started researching surgical options – amputating both feet and replacing them with prosthetic running blades. But then my foot got better.

Now I can afford to ride bicycles. Several, in fact. I keep one in New York, and another one in San Francisco. I generally ride bicycles as my primary form of transportation as bicycles are substantially more efficient  than running now that my time is more valuable than it once was, and I prefer both to public transportation or taking cabs. But occasionally, I still get nostalgic for running. Running reminds me that from a young age, I have been making decisions that are right for me, despite the fact that they were a little unconventional. It takes me back to a time when I could not afford to replace a stolen bicycle, and reminds me how far I’ve come. Sometimes when I have not run for a while, it’s hard for me to make it all the way to my destination and I get tempted to stop and walk a few blocks. Then I remember where I came from, and I make myself run faster for a minute or so until the feeling fades off.

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