To be a D.C. commuter is to routinely sit on a delayed train or in a car stuck in traffic and stare wistfully out the window, thinking . . . I could probably get there faster on foot.
Then, there are the rare people who take that observation to its logical conclusion: Why not just get there on foot?
Kimberly Wattrick is one of those people.
Last month, on a Sunday night at the start of Metro’s two-week track reconstruction project on the Orange, Blue, and Silver lines, Wattrick glumly considered the options for getting from her Capitol Hill home to her Dupont Circle office the next morning. She needed to be in and ready to work by 8:30 a.m. sharp. With single-tracking, bus shuttles and unpredictable transfers, she’d need to budget nearly an hour-and-a-half to make a 3.5-mile commute on Metro. The ratio between commuting time and the modest distance, to her, felt absurd.
And then, Wattrick had an idea.
“I was like, ‘Why don’t I just run to work?’ ” she said. “I’d heard of people run-commuting. I’d never done it before. But I thought, I’ll give it a try and see how it goes.”
She packed a small hiking backpack with the bare essentials for work — swapping out the water bladder for a dress and flats — and she embarked on her inaugural trip.
“I’m a pretty fast runner,” said Wattrick, 37, who works in corporate finance for an international education company, and owns a running apparel store on Capitol Hill. “I had no problem beating Metro.”
Thirty-five minutes, door to door, including time stopped at traffic lights. She didn’t just beat the time it would have taken her to navigate Metro’s single-tracking disruptions. It was slightly faster than her normal commute in the best of circumstances.
And just like that, Wattrick became a run-commuter.
As public transit woes and increasing traffic congestion force people to consider increasingly unconventional commuting modes — dockless bike-share! electric scooters! — some are trying a more straightforward alternative: commuting on foot. And not a leisurely walk to work, but a hardcore run-commute over sizable distances.
“It’s really not that difficult. You just have to think ahead,” said Courtney Dredden Carter, director of diversity and inclusion at a large D.C. law firm. She run-commutes to work several times a month. “It saves me time. I get my run in, and I also arrive at my office without having to deal with the bus. It’s a twofer.”
The logistics can be a little complicated. Carter either packs a bag with her work clothes, or she brings several work outfits in advance that she stows at her desk in anticipation of future runs.
But the run commute comes with significant advantages. It saves time. It’s a reliable pre-work endorphin rush. And it’s a built-in solution to the problem of commuting in humid D.C. summer weather.
“If you run before work, and then shower, and then commute to work, and you’re just getting sweaty again,” Carter said. Better to just shower upon arrival.
And, as for the awkwardness that can arise from walking into a fancy office building in workout clothes while others stream in their corporate workwear, Carter has a solution for that, too.
“I kind of don’t care,” she said. “It doesn’t really faze me.”
Of course, the idea of running to work isn’t new. Long-distance running was go-to express transportation long before it was a form of recreation. Some of the world’s most accomplished distance runners cultivated their talents while running incredible distances to school and back. And the Road Runners Club of America’s “National Run to Work Day” has been celebrated, in one form or another, for decades.
But the idea is picking up speed. According to a recent report by the fitness-oriented tech company Strava on the annual exercise habits of its users, the number of commuting trips via running increased by 51 percent, with the number of people reporting that they commute by running at least occasionally up 43 percent. The average run-commute trip, according to Strava, is 4.5 miles.
And then there are those who are . . . decidedly un-average.
Jeffrey Redfern, 35, is a lawyer who run-commutes from his home in D.C. to his office in Ballston — a trip that is 8.3 miles, each way.
That’s like running a half- marathon and a 5K (and then some!) in a single day . . . and then running that distance five days per week, year-round.
“It’s a little longer than I’d like,” Redfern said, chuckling. But it beats spending two hours every day sitting on Metro, he said.
Redfern, unsurprisingly, is a competitive marathon runner, often logging 80 or 90 miles per week in the lead-up to a big race.
But his run-commuting habit was borne by a more mundane need: He and his wife moved to a new home in Washington’s 16th Street Heights neighborhood two year ago, and he needed to figure out a new route to get to work. There was no Metro station near his house. He tried the bus for a couple weeks, but it was slow. At the time, he didn’t have a car.
So he started running. It takes him about 50 minutes to get to work. (Yes, he’s fast.) The commute saves him time that he’d otherwise need to spend in the early mornings, getting in his training runs. Along the way, he listens to audiobooks, or podcasts, or recordings of Supreme Court oral arguments.
“It’s sort of just being efficient,” Redfern said.
And the joys of avoiding Metro, he said, are an extra perk.
“It’s easier to justify to my wife, because we’re saving money on Metro fares or on gas and parking passes,” Redfern said, though she still thinks he’s “totally nuts.”
By now, Redfern has the logistics down pat. He keeps dress shoes and blazers at his office, along with toiletries for his office’s locker room shower. He’s given up on trying to carry his laptop to and from work — which, it turns out, helps him resist the temptation to try to bring work home with him. Instead, he runs with a small pack — crammed with that day’s slacks, a dress shirt, and in the summer, a second set of running clothes for the trip home. In the winter, he doesn’t sweat as much, so he can get away with wearing the same running clothes home.
The system works seamlessly. Usually.
“We did have a period last December when the locker room was being renovated. And as soon as it was announced, everyone was popping their head into my office like, ‘Jeff, what are you gonna do?’” Redfern said.
But Redfern had a solution for that, too: shower wipes.