It turns out that getting up early can have some surprising benefits.
Though it goes counter to the preferred doctrine, I tend to thrive on less than eight hours of sleep. I’ve been a night owl most of my existence, and usually only get five to six hours of shuteye. But I’ve never really worried about it, because being productive in the morning has never been an issue, whether I’m doing chores around the home or getting in to the office early to get ahead.
But there’s one thing I’ve never been able to master because of this type of schedule: morning runs.
Any time I vowed to wake up, get a run in, telling myself I’d feel great the rest of the day, I would either turn off the alarm, or I’d groggily stumble out of bed and run the equivalent of “junk miles” during a crappy outing.
But lately, both work and my personal life have been conspiring against me, to make my typical routines crumble. I’m currently training for a marathon, and while I would normally schedule several days a week for lunch runs—a perk that comes with the job here at Runner’s World—my afternoons have been tied up with other tasks.
Sure, I could have tried running at night, but that is sacred late-night TV time—a guy needs to relax. No, if I wanted to get in my training, morning workouts were the only real option.
So I committed to trying to master the morning run for 15 days. The goal was to have all easy-day runs completed well before 8 a.m. (when I start work) and my weekend long runs to start no later than 7 a.m.
I was able to wake up every day from mid April until the end of the month, but the process wasn’t always easy. Along the way I learned what works for me, what doesn’t, and some little tricks that could be helpful for all runners.
That Little Problem of Waking Up
Unlike the “Upside Down” from Stranger Things, early mornings are not some unknown world that I have never experienced before. I’ve always done my weekend long runs early-ish, and during the past few marathon training cycles, the only time I could regularly plan my speedwork was on Thursday mornings starting at 6 a.m.
I’ve been doing these 6 a.m. workouts on a local college track for most of the year in either blustery, frigid cold, or snowy conditions. It’s the type of weather where it feels difficult to really open up for a true hard workout. Oh, and the field lights were never on. But it was somehow lovely, and gratifying to finish these hard runs in the dark, in absolute solitude, as undergrads in nearby dorms remained asleep.
So “Thursday morning speed workouts” and “Saturday morning long runs?” No problem. But that’s because I spent time developing that habit. I feared that getting up Monday morning to do 7 km knowing I had to do the same thing every other day that week would be more problematic.
To make this experiment work, I decided to mimic my Thursday morning routine for weekday runs, which meant setting my iPhone alarm clock to 5:01 a.m. (that minute makes a difference, mentally, so I don’t feel like I’m getting up quite as early) , with a backup alarm at 5:30 a.m. And I began my two week journey on a Thursday morning, hoping that my already-regular habit would carry me through the difficult adjustment. I started with a classic workout of 6 x 800 repeats (also known as Yasso 800s). It went swimmingly. It was a fantastic start.
What wasn’t so fantastic was the next morning. I didn’t do any prep the night before for a morning run, I mentally ignored the alarms, and I ended up waking in a panic and I throwing on some clothes for a 7 a.m. run. I spent a terrible 5.5 miles slogging through, and worrying about the day ahead.
So the mission became clear: each night before going to bed, I would plan out my run and route, put out workout clothes, and prep my lunch—and the coffeemaker if I wanted some for after the run. That way I wouldn’t need to make any of these decisions from the depths of a morning fog. Oh, and I needed to find a better way to make the alarm actually jolt me awake.
The last part was the trickiest. The only way I could mentally get past hitting the snooze button was by keeping a hand on my phone when I woke up. If I jumped into an app—my email, calendar, bank account, or morning newsletters—the stimulation and blue light was just enough to jumpstart my mind/body connection, and for me to swing my legs out of bed.
Off I went.