One of the top secrets to success is creating positive habits. If you want to get faster, lose weight, or run your first marathon, you have to make running into a consistent habit. Running three, four, or five days a week will give you results, whether the result is a Boston Qualifying time or leading a healthy lifestyle.
However, fitting running into a busy schedule is never a simple task, and that is why many people do not succeed in making running into a successful habit. Running requires at least 30 minutes of your time and often as much as 90 minutes or more on a weekday if you are training for a half or full marathon. After a long day of class or work, it’s easy (and understandable) to just want to collapse on the sofa, have a beer or glass of wine, and relax. Yet these actions will not build the habits that will help you reach your goals. Rather than tell you to get out the door and run after a long day of work, I’m going to share with you what has worked for me for over three years: running first thing in the morning.
For those who don’t run in the early morning hours, being a morning runner sounds exhausting and less than pleasant. You’re getting up early to run for 30-90 minutes before eating breakfast and oftentimes before the sun is up. For those runners (like myself!) who are morning runners, once you begin the habit, you can’t switch back to running later in the day.
Why become a morning runner? The best reason is that running in the morning gets your run done and out of the way for the rest of the day. You don’t have to worry about having the energy for a 7 mile tempo run after work or if what you ate for lunch is going to cause runner’s trots. Running in the early hours of the day gives you a great sense of accomplishment—you ran 3, 5, or 10 miles before most people were even awake! While this is not universally true, many runners also find that early morning workouts give them energy for the rest of the day. For habituated morning runners, running in the morning also provides you with enough endorphins to handle any stresses of the day.
Running in the morning is often safer than running after work, depending on where you live. Even if it’s dark both before and after your work hours, you are likely to encounter less traffic at 5 am than at 6 pm. If you’re a woman who worries about assault, I personally find that there are less creepers out in the morning than evening (but please don’t take my word on that and do what is best for your own safety!).
How do you become a morning runner? It requires discipline, habituation, scheduling, and sometimes self-bribery. Follow these 8 practical yet effective tips for establishing the habit and becoming a morning runner.
8 Tips for Becoming a Morning Runner
1. Take time to prepare your gear the night before.
Charge all your electronics and lay out your clothes the night before. You will get out the door twice as fast in the morning if you’re not fumbling through your drawers for your running clothes (and your spouse will appreciate it as they try to sleep). By charging your electronics the night before, there’s no delay if your GPS watch or phone is low on battery. If you eat or drink anything particular before you run, set that out on the kitchen table so it’s ready for you to take and head out the door!
2. Hydrate well before bed.
Hydration before a run is essential, but you don’t always have time in the mornings to drink a gallon of water—and doing so will leave your stomach feeling sloshy on your run. You want to drink some water before you head out the door, but making sure you’re hydrated when you wake up is the best course of action. Drink a glass of water before bed, and then keep another glass by your bed in case you wake up thirsty throughout the night.
3. Do not give yourself the option to snooze.
Place your alarm clock or phone just out of arm’s reach so that you have to physically get up out of bed when it goes off. This ensures that you can’t keep hitting snooze and fall back asleep. Set extra alarms as well to make sure you hear your alarm and get up – you won’t stay in bed if your phone is buzzing every minute.
4. Warm up with dynamic stretches.
Most likely, you wake feeling less than limber. Rather than heading out the door with tight muscles, spend a few minutes doing dynamic stretches such as leg swings, arm circles, trunk rotations, and butt kicks to wake up your joints and muscles. Your run will feel better and your body will thank you!
5. Make it a habit.
You have probably heard that it takes 21 days to make a habit, and there’s truth to this! Waking up early to run will be difficult at first, but once you form the habit it will be easier. Mark in your running log or on your calendar each day that you run outside. The visual reminder will help you stay consistent and build the habit until it becomes second nature.
6. Have a warm and filling breakfast after the run.
Refueling after a run is essential for recovery and improving in your training. If you’re running in the morning, you may be tempted to skip breakfast to save time, but don’t do it! Instead, have some healthy and quick breakfasts on hand, such as oatmeal, eggs and toast, or fruit and Greek yogurt. Start your coffee maker before you leave so that you can enjoy a nice cup of coffee when you return from your run. A delicious and healthy meal and a cup of coffee are also ways to reward yourself and reinforce the habit of running in the morning.
7. Safety first.
If you’re running early in the morning, make it an emphasis to run safely, especially if it is dark outside. Use Knuckle Lights (read my review of them here) or headlamps to illuminate your path and make yourself visible to cars. Wear reflective gear so drivers can see you and recognize you as a moving person rather than a still object. Run on the sidewalks, trails, or against traffic, or even on the treadmill. Carry mace if it makes you feel more comfortable, and always keep your phone and ID on you in case of emergency. Watch your footing especially; one of the two times I’ve ever fallen while running was during an early morning run and I tripped over a pipe!
8. Go to sleep earlier at night.
It’s important for your overall health and for your running to get enough sleep! It’s also much easier to wake up earlier if you have gotten enough sleep. If you’re going to wake up an extra hour earlier to run, then go to bed an hour earlier. If you have a hard time falling asleep, put away your phone, turn off your Netflix, and get ready for bed—sleep will follow more naturally. You can some non-caffeinated tea, practice some breathing exercises, or read to help you fall asleep. Just like running in the morning, going to bed earlier will feel more natural and become a habit over time.
Becoming a morning runner will be hard at first, so be patient and gracious with yourself. If you hit snooze and skip your running one morning, don’t beat yourself up about it; just try again the next morning. Running in the morning is not for everyone, so if you’re exhausted throughout the day or just can’t wake up early, commit to running after work or over lunch break.
Question of the Day:
What time of day do you run?