Doing them on foot is surprisingly satisfying – if you plan accordingly.
Plastic bags are a bad idea. Let me state that right up front. You learn this pretty quickly the first time you try to run home with a plastic bag full of groceries. Unless you’ve bought nothing but marshmallows and fairy floss – and if that’s your whole shopping list, you’ve got bigger problems – your bag’s contents will, sooner or later, work their way through the plastic and onto the ground. Probably in front of a bunch of bystanders who already thought you were weird, mincing down the footpath in your short shorts, cradling a large plastic bag in your arm.
Other than that, running to and from the supermarket can be fun. This is something I’ve learned during the past few months, as I’ve discovered the joys of getting things done on foot. In fact, I’ve come to use short, easy runs around town to accomplish all sorts of tasks.
On one typical outing, I ran to the post office to buy stamps. Then, upon seeing the line was way too long, to a smaller location nearby. Then some distance to a supermarket that I knew sold stamps, upon learning that that location didn’t accept credit cards. (Success!) Then to another store, to shop for cereal bowls. (No luck.) Then to the library to pick up some kid-friendly audiobooks for a road trip. Then, finally, home.
Other times I’ve picked up prescriptions at the pharmacy, bought books, mailed packages, dropped off pants to be mended, checked my PO box, and on and on and on – all while running. The more that you do your errands this way, the more normal it seems, and the more normal it seems, the more you do it. It turns out to be a surprisingly satisfying way to get things done – and it’s changed how I think about running.
As per usual when I discover a new way to do something, I feel as if I’m the first one ever to think of this. I’m not, of course. What was Pheidippides’s legendary run from Marathon to Athens circa 490 BC, after all, but a longer-than-usual errands run?
- Pick up tunic at cleaners
- Brunch with Linda
- Announce Greek victory over Persia
More recently, there was the toilet paper woman. I can’t recall her name–this was several years ago on the Runner’s World forums – but I remember her photo. It showed a smiling young woman, in running gear, standing outside a big-box store. On her back was an enormous bundle of toilet paper. A 24-pack, at least. She had rigged the thing up with duct-tape straps and was carrying it like a backpack for the run home.
At least she’d be prepared if she had to make a pit stop.
Whether it’s buying toilet paper or mailing a package, crossing items off your to-do list feels even more rewarding when you do it during a run. I can’t say why. Maybe from the heightened sense of productivity, a two-birds-one-stone thing? The virtuous feeling you get by leaving the car at home? Probably it’s both of those things. Part of it too, I think, is novelty. We’ve conditioned ourselves to see running as a pastime, a sport, an ‘interest’. Seeing it instead as a mode of transportation – not as a thing to be done but as a way to get things done – shakes everything up.
There are a few unexpected benefits, as well. For one, my errand runs have given me a deeper appreciation of my ‘regular’ runs – i.e., the ones that don’t involve an agenda and a backpack full of groceries and library books. Running without that weight – literal and figurative – makes your regular runs feel newly, well, light.
For another, my weekly mileage has gotten a little boost. Even on rest days, I might run out to the supermarket for a few things. These runs are so short, they hardly seem like runs at all. But the kilometres add up. And I always come home with the same renewed energy that I get from ‘normal’ runs.
Plus, my form has become smoother. Less bouncy. Running with a carton of eggs in your backpack will do that.
I understand that not everyone is in a position to indulge in this sort of thing. I live in a relatively dense and walkable place where even in the outer neighbourhoods, like ours, you’re never very far from a supermarket, a post office, a library, or a pharmacy. In the course of a single 5K run I can hit all of those places and more if need be. If I lived in a rural area, well. . . let’s just say I’ve never been keen to try an ultra.
If your neighbourhood is conducive to running errands and you’re eager to give it a whirl, here are a few tips.
Use a backpack with a comfortable waist belt and, ideally, a way to secure the straps across your chest. The idea is to keep things snug but not tight.
A 2L bottle of milk weighs about two kilograms. Plan accordingly.
If you’re picking up bottles of prescription pills, don’t carry them home in your hands unless you don’t mind sounding like a cocktail shaker.
Let go of any notion that you have to track the mileage. The point isn’t to run a certain distance at a certain pace, but simply to get things done.
Be prepared for funny looks. People aren’t used to seeing someone in spandex tights and a backpack next to them in the frozen foods aisle. (Unless you live in my neighbourhood, in which case the person next to you is likely also wearing tights and a backpack.)
And then, of course, there’s the plastic bag thing. I learned it the hard way during a run that included an unplanned stop for groceries. I didn’t have my backpack that day, so I ran clutching a packed plastic bag up against my chest, like a football. I was a half kilometre from home when two tins of beans finally worked their way through the bottom of the bag, clattering to the street.
I couldn’t stop kicking myself. I knew I should’ve gone with the marshmallows.