When I first took up running, I did all my running in the evenings. If I got out the door for my Sunday long run before noon, I felt I deserved praise. That is to say; I am no morning person, and my journey to becoming a morning runner was not a smooth one.
Despite the challenges posed by my natural circadian rhythm, I now embrace the morning runner-label. Getting up at around 6 AM, I do most of my runs in the morning, before work. That includes not just easy runs, but workouts and long runs up to 25 kilometres (15 miles) as well.
Transitioning from professional snooze button smacker (it truly is an art form!) to morning runner was not without challenges. But the benefits are many, and thoroughly outweighed the costs. And, if I can do it, so can you.
The Benefits of Becoming a Morning Runner
There is a multitude of benefits to running in the mornings, compared to afternoons and evenings.
A Great Way to Start the Day
You know that feeling of dragging your tired body into the office, only to have to pour all your energy into a futile attempt at picking yourself up? Not because you feel like it, but because you have to socialise with your colleagues. Getting up even earlier to run is a much better way to start the day.
Not convinced? Hear me out! When you wake up and go out and run, you get to wake up on your own, at your own pace. And, if you pick a decent route, you get to do it while breathing in the fresh air. Add enjoying your surroundings during the most scenic part of the day to the list, as well.
All of this, as well as the actual running, combines to give you a head start on the day. There is a scientifical explanation for it, too. Running prompts your body to release endorphins. Endorphins, in turn, reduce your perception of pain and trigger an enjoyable feeling in the body. That should be just what you need to get ready for another day at work.
Less Room for Excuses
Any runner will be familiar with that feeling of a growing list of excuses not to run as the day goes on. When you start your day with a run, you have a blank slate. There are no perfectly valid reasons not to run at sunrise. If you end up skipping that run, not even a severe case of confirmation bias can help you reason your way out of feeling bad.
Plus, as Twitter runner @SimplyLoulou points out, after a morning run, you can legitimately spend the rest of your day doing nothing. You already ran and accomplished something that day.
Quiet and Spacious
Busy roads and trails are enemies of reflection and deep thoughts that often accompany a good run. Mornings are the perfect time for those introspective runs since there is less traffic all around. Nature is waking up, and there is room to contemplate the day ahead. Or perhaps hammer out the details of your training for the coming month.
What’s more, another Twitter runner @ArtworkCreative made the observation that everyone else out early on morning runs will acknowledge you with a smile.
It’s too early for the “discourtesy blinds” that have everyone reverting to type.
Running is harder when it is hot. During the summer months, this point can be of absolute importance, depending on your local climate. Even the most ardent opponents of early morning running can find themselves running before sunrise to avoid the scorching summer heat.
If you have already built the habit of early morning runs, you don’t have to spend your energy on switching up your routine. Instead, you can let your body focus on acclimating. And you can put your mental energy into flawlessly executing that hard workout on the plan.
Prepares You for Race Day
The majority of races, especially marathons, have an early morning start. As with everything else you plan to do on race day, you want to get your body used to it in advance. Running in the early hours is no exception to that.
Our bodies are used to a certain rhythm. Performing to the max of your potential outside of that rhythm adds another challenging aspect that you can easily avoid by preparing ahead. While the rush of race day will help, nothing can fully compensate for competing outside of your peak hours.
Run Commuting is the Ultimate Life Hack
Combining running for fitness with transportation is the smartest move you will ever do to streamline your training. Let’s start with the obvious: You save time. Every minute you spend running instead of in a car is a minute a saved. If you’re a morning showerer like me, morning runs mean you save yourself a shower as well. Not just efficient, but environmentally friendly, too.
I cannot overstate how vital running for transportation has been for my ability to run at my current level. Dedicating afternoons after work to my family is the number one priority for me. Run commuting is what enables me to do that while still training at a decent level. Of course, you could dedicate yourself entirely to running, and use the extra time for supplemental work.
There is also a special kind of satisfaction to be gained from whizzing past people stuck in traffic. And that throwaway remark above regarding the environment? Well, suffice it to say that if you want to pull your weight when it comes to saving the world from the climate crisis, running instead of driving is a useful contribution. According to estimates from the ECF, you can reduce your carbon footprint by more than 400 kilograms (900 lbs) per year if you opt to bike or run 1500 kilometres instead of driving.
Practical Tips for Becoming a Morning Runner
At this point, I’m sure you are itching at the thought of becoming a morning runner. So, let’s get into the specifics on what you can do to establish this healthy and beneficial habit.
Plan and Prepare
The most crucial step towards becoming a morning runner is preparing to run in the morning. Have you ever been shocked out of the sweetest dream by your alarm clock at an unholy early hour, only to think that you are going to get out for a run as soon as possible? Of course not. Nobody has ever thought that.
Because of this, you have to give your natural aversion to running first thing after waking up as little time to manifest as possible. That means that you should get your gear ready the night before. Check the weather reports and make sure that you lay out the appropriate clothes.
You should also plan your actual run before you go to bed. Mapping out the route, and deciding the purpose and intensity of the workout is not something you can expect to have the mental capacity to do in the early. As you get started with morning runs, I would recommend keeping it easy. Getting your body used to morning hour effort takes time, and you should ease into it.
Get Enough Sleep
Even though running in the mornings can be a time-saver, you have to make some adjustments. One requirement for performing well in all walks of life is getting the appropriate amount of rest. If you want to become a morning runner, that means sacrificing the late nights.
Most studies put the minimum recommended hours of sleep per night at seven to eight hours. As an active runner, rest and sleep become paramount to performing well. You should, therefore, aim to get at least the recommended amount of seven to eight hours.
Changing your sleep patterns isn’t done in a day, of course. Much like improving as a runner, it takes time and requires discipline. In my experience, the smoothest way to make this transition is to get up at the same time every morning. Count back from that time to find out when you need to be sleeping. And don’t forget to factor in that falling asleep takes time.
To make the routine a habit, you have to stick to the routine. It’s as simple and challenging as that. Put your runner’s discipline to use, and just do it. After a while, it will become second nature.
Experiment With Pre-Run Fueling
One of the reasons I ended up a morning runner is because I struggle running after a meal. Not just an hour or two after eating, but something I ate for lunch can bother me in the evening. Morning runs before breakfast are the perfect solution to this problem.
Running fasted, however, is not something everyone takes to naturally. I do believe it is a trainable skill, but some people claim that they can’t function before eating. To make your morning runs enjoyable, you need to find out what works for you. A banana or a slice of toast and a cup of coffee does it for some, while others swear by porridge or similar.
Getting this right will take some trial and error, but finding what works for you is essential. And, remember, prepare everything the night before. If you opt for coffee ahead of your run, Twitter runner @GuttendorfC recommends a programmable coffee maker.
Nail Your Post Run Routine
The best part of early morning runs is the rest of the morning after you get in. Twitter runner @AntiquatedRunr phrased it beautifully:
I hate running in the morning, I love having just run in the morning.
Setting aside time to enjoy that feeling of accomplishment after an early run gives you extra motivation to get out. As a run commuter, I use the first fifteen to twenty minutes of my workday to eat breakfast and have my coffee while I tackle my inbox. By doing so, I get to enjoy the post-run endorphins, while setting myself up for a productive day ahead.
Remember that eating is essential to optimise recovery after a run. That is why I would always recommend setting a routine that, at the very least, involves eating a quick snack.
Take Advantage of Your Running Buddies
Another trick to force yourself out of bed when your alarm goes off is to schedule your runs with someone else. In doing so, you are accountable not just to yourself, but another person as well. By knowing that someone is out there waiting for you to join, you significantly raise the bar for hitting that snooze button.
There have been many mornings where sleeping in has been all I’ve wanted to do. That isn’t an option when I know that one of my running buddies is facing the same struggle only to get out there and share a run with me. Plus, running with someone else more often than not makes it that much more enjoyable. Especially if you, like me, are someone who does most of their running alone.
Embrace the Struggle
Becoming a morning runner doesn’t happen overnight. Getting your body and mind adjusted to a new routine takes time and practice. Many runners feel sluggish as they start with morning runs, and as if their bodies are reluctant to work.
Feeling like this is not unusual as you get started with early starts. Contrary to what some people believe, however, it does not condemn you to eternal late night running. As mentioned earlier, I recommend keeping your early morning runs easy in the beginning. It took me a few months of running in the AM before I got comfortable with workouts at that hour.
By following the outlined tips, and recognising and embracing the fact that it will be a struggle at first, you too can become a morning runner. But the rewards are well worth the effort.