Thursday, August 21, 2008


Last week on one of my runs I was followed by Stu Woo, a reporter from the Wall Street Journal (the second of two times he joined me). Here is the video...

This is the piece he wrote (all copyrights owned by WSJ):

Going the Distance to 'Save Gas' Extreme Runners Commute by Sneaker,
Pushed by Pump Prices -- and a Bit of Fanaticism

*Daly City, Calif.*

Alan Geraldi must leave his suburban San Francisco home by 6 a.m. if he
wants to get to work by 10 a.m. His office is only 23 miles away, but his
commute is by foot.

The 44-year-old attorney, who races in 100-mile "ultra-marathons," says
soaring gasoline prices prompted him to take up these twice-a-week runs
earlier this year. A favorite stretch takes him across an overpass spanning
an often congested freeway. On a recent commute, he points to a sea of

"See, it's already getting backed up," Mr. Geraldi says between short
breaths. "I like that."

As gasoline hovers around $4 a gallon, Americans have resorted to all sorts
of cheaper ways to get to work, including riding scooters, bicycles and even
skateboards. But a die-hard band of ultra-runners are embarking on what may
be the most strenuous commute of all. Besides saving money, they get to
squeeze in more training for races that often far exceed the standard
marathon of about 26.2 miles.

Indeed, some suspect the ultras are exploiting high energy prices as just
another excuse to fuel their running addiction.

"They've used the oil or gasoline situation to say, 'OK, let me see if I can
do this,'" says Joel Kirsch, a sports psychologist in Mill Valley, Calif. "I
think that's the prodding, and it's who they are in their makeup that they
push themselves."

Mike O'Melia of Huntsville, Ala., admits he runs about 15 miles to work
twice a week to add to his training regimen. The 47-year-old engineer for a
weapons contractor believes his runs are actually costing him more than a
commute by car, "because of the water and because you eat like a horse."

Even when it saves money, running to work has its disadvantages. Stung by
high gasoline prices, Jason Barringer of Atlanta early this year replaced
his weekend training runs in the nearby mountains with a 16-mile round-trip
commute about once a week. The Georgia Tech research scientist says he now
has to brave rough neighborhoods and the occasional snapping dog. "I carry a
collapsible baton with me, and all you have to do is take a swing at them
and they'll stop," says Mr. Barringer, 39.

Personal hygiene can suffer. While Mr. Geraldi and some of the other
ultra-runners have showers at the office, 26-year-old Jen Barker, who
recruits people to run in charity fund-raisers, doesn't. So Ms. Barker takes
a shower before embarking on her 10-mile jog to nearby Jackson, Miss.,
leaving conditioner in her hair to keep it smelling fresh, more or less.
Then, after running 90 minutes in temperatures that often exceed 90 degrees,
she cleans up in the office bathroom with antibacterial baby wipes.

"I once had the ones that smell like a baby, and a co-worker said, 'Why does
it smell like a baby's diaper has been changed in the office?'" Ms. Barker
says. She has since switched to an unscented wipe and is convinced she has
mastered the art of showerless hygiene. "If I didn't tell my co-workers that
I ran that day, I don't think they would know," she says.

The ultra-commutes usually begin early. At 6 a.m. in Daly City, Mr. Geraldi
emerges from his house wearing a white do-rag, gray T-shirt, shorts and a
runner's belt loaded with a water bottle, carbohydrate gel packs and his
driver's license and BlackBerry. He stretches briefly in the cool fog before
heading down El Camino Real at a steady clip of six miles an hour, passing
fast-food chains, car dealerships and cemeteries.

Nearly an hour into the run, he makes his first pit stop, at a service
station selling gasoline for about $4.30 a gallon, where he asks the cashier
for the bathroom key. "It's the extra cup of coffee I had this morning," he

Just after 7 a.m., the sky is brightening and sweat has formed a dark V
below Mr. Geraldi's neck. He takes a left turn to get off El Camino. If he
kept going down the street, he could run just 17 miles to his office, but he
takes a scenic detour along San Francisco Bay that gets him an extra six
miles of training.

As he passes a Union 76 selling a gallon of regular gasoline for $4.55, he
calculates that he saves about $18 a week by running to work and usually
car-pooling home, instead of driving his black BMW X5 daily. "It's money
that I can put into a race-entry fee," he says.

As Mr. Geraldi runs along the Bay trail, he is briefly trailed by Henk de
Koning, a business visitor from the Netherlands out on a 45-minute jog. When
Mr. de Koning finds out how far Mr. Geraldi is running, his eyes widen.
"Wow," he says thoughtfully. Turning around after 15 minutes, Mr. de Koning
admits, "I will go back to the hotel and use my polluting car."

Mr. Geraldi makes two more stops, one at a hotel-lobby Starbucks and another
at a public park, both to use the restroom and to check his BlackBerry. His
shirt is drenched by the time he runs past a flock of indifferent Canada
geese by the pond next to his building in Redwood City, where he serves as
general counsel for Panalpina Inc., a freight-forwarding company.

He stretches briefly before heading up to his second-floor office, by
elevator. "You can't take the stairs coming up," Mr. Geraldi says with some


Clara said...

Wow...that's awesome. That's very cool that you can run to work each week.

Be grateful for your nice, runnable paths...and that you're a man, for that matter. I don't think I could go showerless like Jen.

Alan said...

Thanks - I do agree with the need for the shower. I don't think I could do the baby wipe thing.

Vivek Kumar said...

Hey Alan,

This is really inspiring.

Do you have more details of the route you take ?