But here’s the deal: Once you get used to it, you will enjoy your early morning workouts and feel like a superhero for getting your run in before your friends and colleagues have even hit the snooze button. That’s because running first thing in the morning not only gets your mind and body prepared for the day ahead, it also reduces the chance you’ll skip out on a run later in the day because life, work, tiredness or social obligations got in the way. Plus, you’ll get to see gorgeous sunrises and listen to the birds waking up.
Here’s how you can change your body clock to take advantage of the road at sunrise and get addicted to morning runs:
- Start slow: If your normal waking time is 7 a.m. on weekdays, don’t immediately start setting your alarm for 5 a.m., five days a week. Instead, focus on one day a week you want to run before work, and make it a short run the first few times so you’re not getting up more than 30-45 minutes earlier than usual.
- Set everything out the night before: Have everything ready to go before you go to bed, including laying out your running outfit and work clothes, packing your lunch and whatever else you need to get out the door as quickly and efficiently as possible.
- Turn off the snooze option: If you use a smartphone as an alarm, set the buzzer with a message that reminds you why you want to get out of bed (or just a simple “WAKE UP ALREADY!!!” will do) and turn off the snooze option. You can also place your phone (or whatever alarm you use) across the room so you have to get out of bed to turn off the buzzing. Once you’re up, might as well stay up and get a workout in, right?
- Get as much sleep as you can, but don’t stress about it at first: Don’t expect to be getting your normal 7-8 hours of sleep when you first start doing your one morning workout a week. Overtime, though, your body should adjust to going to bed and waking up slightly earlier, especially if you add additional morning runs to your schedule.
- Figure out a meal plan: This varies significantly from runner to runner – some can and like to go out on an empty stomach, others need at least some toast, a bagel or banana before hitting the road. Consider splitting up your breakfast by having some light toast and a banana before the run and eggs, cereal or whatever your normal morning meal is after. Experiment and figure out what works for you.
- Find a buddy: You’re less likely to skip out if you have a friend counting on you, so try to buddy up. As a bonus, you’ll get some always-beneficial friendtime in before you go to work.
- Figure out a shower plan: Do you just need a short shower after a run without getting your hair wet, or do you need a full shampooing plus blow-drying? Decide what works for you and how much extra time that will take so you can plan ahead.
- Build up: After several weeks of one morning run, start building up – add another morning run or even a cycle, pilates or yoga class on other days before work. Before you know it, you’ll be doing 3 or more early morning exercise sessions a week.
- Sleep in on the weekends, but not too much: Most studies say getting up and going to bed at the same time every day is best for you body, but let’s be honest: that’s not going to happen — ever. Still, you don’t want to be waking up at 5:30 or 6 for your morning workouts during the week and sleeping in until 10 a.m. on the weekends – that’ll likely just make it impossible to fall asleep early enough before your morning runs to get enough Zzzzzs.
- Be flexible: Sometimes, a morning run is just not going to work. Once you’re at a place where morning workouts are a routine, don’t worry about skipping one here or there, especially if you’re sick, stressed and overworked. An extra hour in bed can do wonders in those cases and you’ll be back to hitting the road at sunrise in no time.
- Consider the weather: Early morning runs in the summer let you beat the heat of the day, but in the winter you may run into issues – namely subzero temperatures, snow and ice. Depending on where you live, you may need to re-evaluate if an early morning run works in winter or at the very least consider the treadmill as an alternative.
- Safety matters: Another thing about winter – the sun takes forever to rise, and running in the dark isn’t always the safest thing to do. Know your trails and area, and never run alone in the dark on a trail you’ve never been on, or even a known trail you’ve never run on before sunrise. Take a buddy with you the first few times you run in the dark on trails in your neighborhood and evaluate how you would feel if your friend wasn’t there. When I regularly see other runners and cyclists and am close to a main road, I feel the trail is safe to run on alone in the dark, but that might not work for everyone. Even if you feel it’s safe, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take extra precautions such as running with a headlamp, reflectors and ID bracelet and leaving your earbuds at home so you’re aware of your surroundings.
- Remind yourself it’s good practice for race day: While there are plenty of evening races, especially in the summer, most starting times are early. For the bigger half marathons and marathons, the usual start time tends to be around 7 or 7:30 a.m., occasionally even earlier. Even shorter distances – 5Ks and 10Ks – typically start around 8, sometimes as late as 9. Plus, you have to allow extra time for logistics of getting there, bag check, porta potty, bib pickup and getting into your corral, meaning a 7 a.m. race start equates to a 5 a.m. or earlier wake-up call. Getting used to early morning workouts in your training is the perfect way to not be tired and rattled come race day when you need to set the alarm for what feels like zero dark thirty.
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