They say that the early bird gets the worm and that the world belongs to those who get up early, but truth be told, not everyone is a morning person (thank God!), and it’s even harder when you are trying to wake up a little earlier than usual to go for a run or a workout.
Nonetheless, as I had learned when I became a morning runner, getting up early and logging in a run first thing in the morning is an amazing way to start the day. You will, literally, be starting the day on a high, and not just the awesome “runner’s high”.
Therefore, today, I’m going to share with you a few practical guidelines and tips to help you achieve the same thing. By applying these powerful principles, you won’t only become a morning runner, but you will also have the tools you need to take control over your daily life schedule and build some awesome healthy habits in the process.
My Journey to becoming a morning runner
In my “how to make running a habit post” I talked about some of the reasons I became a morning runner and how running first thing in the morning is one of the best things you can do to achieve consistency with your running routine.
But you should know, it wasn’t always like that. I wasn’t born as a morning person. Truth be told, I have been a late night owl for as long as I can remember. In fact, even the thought of becoming a morning runner sounded like a far-fetched dream in faraway lands.
I was indeed a die-hard evening workout person, going for runs or the gym way after a 9 to 5 job work schedule. My daily routine was like: work, eat, run, chill out, sleep.
Of course, I knew of the benefits of morning exercise and I always wanted to become a morning runner, but I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t know how to do it, and for quite some time I accepted the fact that I’m never going to be a morning person.
But as I got older and started taking on more responsibilities, I started noticing that I’m getting either too tired at the end of the day to go running, or sidetracked by, you know, LIFE.
Therefore, I decided to adjust my routine and change things by giving morning workout a (serious) try, and within less than two months (the months of May and June 2014 to be precise) I was able to turn a corner and had accomplished what seemed to be impossible beforehand.
The Benefits of Morning Runs
Here are some of the benefits of running first thing in the morning:
Boost productivity. You are going to be more productive for the rest of the day since running first thing in the morning can help you feel energized and uplifted for the rest of the day.
As I started becoming a morning runner, I learned that whenever I had my session in the morning, the rest of the day was invigorated, and always felt like I had so much freedom and time during the remainder of the day.
Be more consistent. You are going to achieve better consistency because in the early morning the rest of the world is still asleep so you have no family, work or other obligations to interfere with your workout plan.
Please don’t get me wrong. I know. I know. While the best time to run depends on your own training goals, and personal schedule (we are all different after all), the odds are in favor of morning runs, period. In fact, research shows that those who exercise first thing in the morning tend to stay more consistent over the long haul.
Fully charged will power. Willpower (whatever that means for you) is a finite source of energy. The good news is that proper sleep recharges your will power, making the morning the perfect time to tap into this excellent source of energy.
Therefore, use it up wisely before it’s drained by your other daily commitments. Get up before work and go run and you will never miss it again.
Better for weight loss. I’m not sure about the scientific evidence supporting this theory, and I don’t know if it’s true or just myth, but according to a lot of experts, running before breakfast boost the metabolism for several hours afterward, helping you burn more calories than if you work out later in the evening. This phenomenon is known excess post-exercise oxygen consumption or EPOC.
Less traffic. Depending on where you live, most roads tend to be less congested during the first few hours of the day, so if you love breathing fresh air while steering clear of pollution and cars, running in the morning can come in handy for that.
Race better. If you are not used to running in the morning, your race performance might be significantly hampered. Good news is running in the morning will help be better prepared to race since most races take place in the morning.
Enhance your mood. Running (and other forms of exercise) stimulate the release of endorphins in the brain, which can enhance your mood and help you start your day on a positive note, keeping stress at bay for the remainder of the day.
Mental power. Research shows that running (and exercising in general) drastically increases mental acuity. In fact, this benefit can last up to five to ten hours after the workout.
And running first thing in the morning means that you will get to make the most out of this increase of brainpower during the most productive times of the day—the morning—instead of putting it to no good use while you are chilling out watching TV in the evening or sleeping later at night.
Here are some of the best guidelines that helped me become a morning runner.
1. Get a good night of sleep
Have you ever gone to bed at, say, 2:00 am, woke up at 6.30am, and shouted with enthusiasm “I’m ready to run seven miles today!”
I don’t think so.
That scenario is highly improbable, unless you can stay sane on only four hours of sleep per night.
As a result, It’s vital for both your running and overall health and well-being (sanity included) to get enough sleep during the nighttime. In fact, it’s much easier to wake up earlier after a good quality night of sleep.
Therefore, get at least 8 hours of interrupted sleep during the nighttime. Of course, there is no magic number that works universally for everyone, but 7 to 8 hours is the standard guideline for optimal sleep.
To ensure that you are getting enough quality sleep, do the following:
Make a ritual. Create a nightly sleep ritual that helps to unwind you and get you ready to sleep. For starters, avoid any stimulating activities late at night. Instead, do something relaxing, taking a bath, yoga, meditation, or reading yourself to sleep.
Go to bed early. I’m in bed most nights by 10:30 and this makes heading out of the door for the morning run or gym at 07:00 pm much easier.
Hence, if you want to follow suit, then make sure you are in bed as early as possible. Whatever time you wish to be up and running, count seven to eight hours back and do your best to be in bed and sleeping at that time every night.
Get your significant other on board. If you are single (and live alone) then this is not gonna be an issue, but if you are living with another person, a spouse or a partner, then you need to get them on board as well; otherwise there will be consequences.
Eat light at night. Another thing you can do to ensure a good night of sleep is to avoid heavy and/or late eating in the evening.
So please never go immediately to sleep after dinner. Going to bed right after dinner can slow down the process of digestion, which can make you feel bloated and may hinder the quality of your slumber.
Instead, eat at least two to three hours before going to bed. Avoid bloat-inducing foods, and stimulants like caffeine and heavy drinking (there is plenty of evidence that alcohol hampers good sleep). You can also go for a short walk just after dinner.
2. Dim the Lights before Going to Bed
This is bad news for pre-bedtime social media users and binge-watchers. Recent research revealed that staring at bright screens within a couple of hours before going to bed can interfere with your circadian rhythms, which is our innate biological clock that controls the daily rhythms of the body, determining sleep patterns, and responding primarily to light and darkness in the surrounding environment.
In fact, according to a study published in XXX, people who spend the last few hours before going to bed staring at a backlit screen reported a lot of sleep issues even when they were logging in as much sleep as those who didn’t consume electronic media prior to going to bed.
This has to do with melatonin level, and this is by far, one of the most profound lessons I learned these last years, and maybe one of the biggest challenges facing our generation today.
So why melatonin matters? Well, this is a vital natural hormone made by the body’s pineal gland that signals night and helps regulate sleep and wake cycles, setting the stage for our bodies to drift to sleep.
As a result, in the one to two hours before going to bed, dim your room light and stop checking your Facebook and twitter, turn off the TV, and avoid all forms of texting, creating an environment that lulls you into sleep mode. I usually prefer listening to audio books, lectures, or reading a book (preferably fiction). I’m halfway through A Dance with Dragons (it’s an impressive and lengthy read).
Of course, you can still watch House of Cards Season 4 (Dropping this March, can’t wait), and do your social media browsing ritual, but do it earlier in the evening.
Believe me. This will help you sleep sooooo much better.
Image Credit – Andreas Zieroth via Flickr
3. Get Your Gear Ready
I know it’s hard to get up early, but rifling through the dark half-asleep trying to find your running gear wastes precious time and may make you more likely to skip your workout.
So prepare everything. Recharge your phone, make sure the playlist is downloaded, prepare your water bottle and a pre-run snack, get your clothes and shoes out and lay them on the floor. In other words, have everything set and ready to go. By doing so, you create the environment you need for success.
Furthermore, make sure also to plan your running routine—mainly, how far, how long, and your running route. Use sites like WalkJogRun or MapMyRun to look up and find safe and popular routes for your morning runs.
In addition, if you are planning to run in the predawn or during early winter morning, then make sure to be visible by “dressing like a Christmas tree.” Wear clothing with reflective materials. And be super visible. You can also carry a flashlight or put on headlamp if you are out before dawn.
Bonus tip for the hectic runner: sleep in your running clothes. Of course, that doesn’t include your running shoes. I know this sounds silly but just give it a try and see for yourself.
Image Credit – Ian Livingston via Flickr
4. Wake Your A$$ Up
Waking up and getting your body out of bed is another important piece of the puzzle. In fact, even if you were able to log in 7 or 8 hours of sleep during the nighttime, that will not guarantee that you will be on your feet once the alarm goes off.
Many things are at play here and you need to set your environment right, so when time comes, you will be out of bed and into your run in the shortest time possible.
Here are a few things you can to set up your environment right.
Put the alarm away. Putting your alarm clock across the room can help you resist the snooze button, according to research. In fact, if you can still reach your alarm clock while still in bed, then chances of hitting the snooze button are 98.9887 percent higher.
Therefore, put your phone or alarm clock away from your bed, so when it goes off, you will have to sit up, swing your legs off the bed (or jump out of the bed if you have to), touch the floor with your legs, spread your arms wide, then walk to reach your alarm. By doing this, you will be less likely to give in to temptation and hit the snooze button.
And please don’t go back to bed after you turn it off! If you snooze, you lose.
Set two alarm clocks. I urge you to set at least two obnoxious sounding alarms on your phone, so when the first one goes off you want to get up, and when the second is when you should get up.
Bring in the light. According to science, exposing yourself to natural light can help shift your body clock so you are more alert early in the morning.
Nonetheless, if you are waking before the sun is out or you live in a climate where the sun doesn’t shine as often, then you could always use a wake-up light box, so when your alarm clock goes off, this device will brighten your room and make you more likely to get up and less tempted to hit the snooze
Check this light box on Amazon.
Or just turn on all the lights in the room.
5. Hydrate & Eat Something
After 7 or 8 hours of sleep, chances that you are going to be dehydrated in the morning and you will have to drink some water if you serious about making the most out of your morning run.
The amount of water you will need depends mainly on how far you are planning to run. As a rule of thumb, drink plenty of water as soon as you wake up and during your morning ritual, aiming for at least 6 ounces of water before you head out of the door.
For longer runs—more than an hour—make sure to bring a water bottle with you or plan your running route along convenience stores, water fountains, or stash a bottle of water at a strategic location beforehand
Just don’t use thirst as an indicator. If you are feeling thirsty, then you are already dehydrated.
In addition, I recommend that you eat something before you head out of the door. In fact, a small morning snack will ensure that you have enough energy in the tanks—especially if you are planning to run for more than an hour.
I recommend a banana, dried fruits, an energy bar or hard-boiled egg. Just something light.
6. Buddy Up
If you feeling reluctant about your morning workout, then make sure to schedule your runs with a training buddy. You are, after all, the company you keep. And keeping runners as the company is an excellent decision to make.
Truth be told, the encouragement or admonishment that comes with running with a buddy or a group might be enough to hold you accountable for your action—especially when you’d rather hit the snooze and skip the run. In fact, it’s so much easier to head out of the door in the morning if you know your training buddy will be out there counting on you to show up.
Image Credit – Karol Gawejski via Flickr
Not only this will help you stay consistent and accountable for your actions, but there is also safety if numbers. So if safety is an issue for you, especially if you are planning to run in a not-so-safe area and want extra reassurance, then bring a buddy with you.
Therefore, find a training partner—whether it’s a family member, a friend, or someone from the gym or local club—make the commitment and hold each other accountable for your morning workouts.
7. Be Gradual
As I always say and repeat time and time again whenever I’m talking about building healthy habits or making any kind of lifestyle change, the key and the big secret to success is focusing on incremental changes.
Trying to change everything overnight is the recipe for disaster. So don’t be one of those people who attempt to change everything, only to end up changing nothing in one or two weeks.
I recommend that you adopt the gradual approach.
Here is how. For example, if you are used to going to bed at 01 am, then try turning in 15 to 20 minutes earlier and waking 15 to 20 earlier for the first week. Keep doing this until you your new time goal is reach.
Don’t go for any morning runs in the first few weeks. Instead, try to build the habit of waking up earlier than you are used to, then maybe do a short indoor workout to build the habit of early morning exercise.
You shouldn’t aim to make a drastic change overnight. Remember that building healthy habits requires time patience and a lot trial and error.
8. Be Persistent
The most important thing you need to understand before you finish reading this article and, hopefully, decide to swallow “the morning running pill” is that it takes time to build this habit—especially if you are not a morning person to start with.
As I have already stated, becoming a morning person is no easy task. It requires time, effort and discipline. So waking up earlier than usual and going for a workout will feel extremely difficult at first, but once you turn it into a habit, it will be much easier.
And remember, long and steady wins the race.
Get this: you will not become a morning person overnight. In fact, habits take the time to form, and science suggests that it can take you up to 4 weeks, sometimes even more to develop a new habit.
So give it time.
Most experts suggest that it can take you roughly three weeks to instill a new habit, but I don’t think that’s enough, and I believe you should stick with it for longer, for at least two to three months, for the new habit to become a part and parcel of your daily routine.
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The name of the game here is consistency. Sure, the above guidelines can help a lot, but if you don’t practice them day in and day out, then you are not going to be as nearly as successful as you want to be.
Featured Image Credit – Kazu Ishikawa via Flickr