Undoubtedly, one of the most magical and rewarding activities is an early run in the morning. Most runners will agree that running isn’t always something done for enjoyment. In fact, during the week when things are busy, it can often feel like a chore. This is when waking up early and getting your exercise in before work can be incredibly rewarding, both physically and mentally.
Below you’ll find a cut-throat strategy for finally becoming that morning runner you’ve always wanted to be!
Step 1: Find your Motivation
Of course, there are many reasons people choose to run. Some use the time to meditate and enjoy some time alone. Others run competitively to test their limits, or even to lose a few pounds. Whatever the case may be, the most important step to becoming a morning runner, is to understand why you are doing it. Something has to be driving you out of bed every morning. Despite all the little mind tricks to make waking up a little easier - without motivation you’ll likely wake up two weeks in thinking “What’s the point? I’ll rather catch a few extra z’s”.
If you’re lacking a little inspiration, here are some of the top reasons why people choose to run:
1. Running is good for your health.
Studies show that running can improve cardiovascular health by raising good cholesterol levels. Runner’s World quoted a study showing how exercise can make people live longer, “Smokers added 4.1 years to their lives; nonsmokers gained 3 years. Even if you’re still smoking, you’ll get 2.6 more years. Cancer survivors extended their lives by 5.3 years. Those with heart disease gained 4.3 years.”
2. Running can help you lose weight.
Did you know that 72kg person will burn about 606 calories per hour at a pace of 8km/hour? A 90kg person will burn 755 calories in that hour. Depending on various factors, including age, gender, weight and speed- you can burn a large amount of calories when running - making it an incredibly effective weight-management tool.
3. Running can be a stress reliever.
Many people run as a way to escape the demands of our modern lifestyles. And since stress can largely impact mood and sleep cycles, it may be a great way to release built up tension by releasing excess energy and hormones. Additionally, running can also help relieve tension headaches.
4. Running can improve your mental well-being.
Did you know that running for 30 minutes is enough to lift the mood of someone suffering from depression? Test it, and you’ll find that after only a few minutes of running, your brain starts to secrete those happy hormones that can naturally improve your mood.
5. Running is a way to test your limits.
Most often, this is for those individuals who feel a satisfying sense of achievement by reaching a goal they set for themselves. For example, signing up to run your first marathon - or even an Ironman. Setting a clear goal (like running a race), is incredibly effective for keeping you accountable because there is a specific due date for your progress.
6. Running can improve energy levels.
A run first thing in the morning can do wonders for your energy levels by improving circulation in the body. Next time you feel sluggish with tons of things on your to-do list - hit the pavement and chances are you’ll be 100% more productive. Did you know that 30 minutes of running in the week for three weeks improves sleep quality, mood and concentration - according to a 2012 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
7. Running can improve your self esteem.
Quite a few of the factors listed above contribute to improved self-esteem. If your goal is to lose weight, you’ll likely feel instantly better just by knowing that you’re working towards a goal. By setting and achieving goals you will give yourself a sense of empowerment that will make you feel good about yourself.
8. Running can be a way to meet new people.
Many people start running to join running clubs and broaden their social circles. This can be especially rewarding if you struggle to meet people with similar active interests as you. Running with other people will also hold you accountable to reaching your fitness goals.
Step 2: Improve your evening routine
Essentially, the idea is to make waking up the following morning as easy as possible by improving your bedtime routine. You want to feel rested with absolutely ZERO excuses to hit the snooze button on your alarm.
1. Hide the electronics.
Waking up early is hard, and you’ll make it even harder if you’re overly tired in the morning. This is why it is essential to be well rested with quality sleep. Electronics such as cellphones, televisions, computers and iPads all release blue light that can have a negative effect on your sleep.
You see, our bodies work on a clock set by the amount of light and dark our bodies are exposed to. This controls our sleeping and feeding patterns, as well as hormone production, cell regeneration and brain activity. Ideally, your body will release sleep hormones such as Melatonin when it gets dark, which will drop your body temperature to prepare for sleep. However, if we expose our bodies to artificial light too late in the day, our body’s natural rhythms become confused. According to a study published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, exposure to light during the evening suppresses melatonin by 85 percent.
2. Lay out your running gear
By getting everything ready for your run the night before, it’ll be easy for you to get dressed the next morning without scrambling around for your gear. This can be a useful trick when a matter of minutes make a huge difference to your day.
For example, if you’re a busy parent that needs to feed the kids and get them ready for school every morning, you’ll easily find an excuse not to run if you are always wasting valuable time trying to find a missing shoe.
To avoid this problem, make sure you lay everything out the night before - ready for you to grab and head out the door in a matter of seconds. An additional tip, would be to also check the weather the night before so that you make sure you’ve got the right gear laid out come rain or shine.
3. Wind down earlier
If you want to make getting up early a habit, make sure you get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night before a run. Once you get your morning routine going, with regular morning runs - you’ll notice that you feel tired earlier in the evenings. Don’t fight it! You’re body is telling you it needs rest for an early rise the next day, so allow yourself to sleep a little earlier than you’re used to.
You’ll also want to get dinner on the table a little earlier too. Food tells the body it’s time for action. Ideally, you’ll want to match your intake of food to your activity phase in order to keep your body clock aligned, says Kristin Eckel-Mahan, Ph.D. Therefore, eating a little earlier will help your body wind down and prepare for rest in the evenings - making you feel more energetic in the mornings.
Becoming an early bird is less about forcing your body awake, and more about listening to your body’s cues; knowing when it is time to rest.
Step 3: Improve your morning routine
Now that you’ve put everything in place to wake up energised, you need to make sure that every early morning is a pleasant experience. You need to focus on two things: making it easy to physically get out of bed, and making it easier to want to get up in the future.
1. Sleep with open curtains
This will make waking up much easier by tuning in to your body’s natural way of regulating sleep patterns - with natural light. This point will probably only be of use in the summer, when the sun rises much earlier. However, in the winter months you may also look at purchasing specialised alarm clocks that simulate natural light.
2. Never hit snooze
We all know how it goes, you plan to wake up at 4am - then hit snooze for the next two hours. The problem is that by hitting snooze on your alarm you’re putting your body in a state of limbo - not quite awake, but not asleep either. You may think you’re getting more rest, but in fact you’ll probably feel more fatigued throughout the day.
Although an uncomfortable way to wake up, try putting your alarm away from your bed - so that you actually have to get up to turn it off. This will easily eliminate any risk of hitting the snooze button ten times every morning and missing an invigorating run. To make waking up a little less abrupt, try adding a favourite track as your alarm - and changing it regularly so to keep things fresh.
3. Fuel Up
Every person is different. Many feel sick if they eat early in the morning, so rather stick to a routine your body can handle. Whether that is a cup of coffee, a glass of fruit juice, an energy bar, or a full-on meal - have something that can fuel your body through an early run.
According to a 2003 study conducted by the University of Georgia, caffeine can help decrease muscle pain up to 50% when you exercise.
Stephanie Howe Violett, a champion ultrarunner who holds a Ph.D. in nutrition, says the ideal meal has carbs to replenish fuel, protein to build muscle, fat to help absorption, plus a little flavour.
Pre-run inspo: low-gi toast with avocado, egg and a sprinkle of fresh herbs; or plain yogurt with granola, banana and nut butter.
4. Warm Up
This is absolutely essential. Triathlete coach, Michael Olzinski, says just a five minute warmup can break the little fascial connections that get made overnight.
Essentially, warm-ups will help prepare the body for exercise by increasing circulation, body temperature and heart rate. Stretching on the other hand, warms up the muscles to prepare them for movements they will be required to carry out when running. By completing a proper warm up before your morning run, you will adequately loosen joints and increase blood flow to your muscles and prevent injuries.
Coach David Roche says, “Warming up is good for all running, but especially morning running. Even if you have to cut minutes off your run, it’s worth it to have a routine that doesn’t leave you super stale when you start. You reduce injury risk, and psychologically, you finish and you’re like, ‘I’m ready to run’. It’s almost a Pavlovian response.”
5. Craft the perfect playlist
There’s nothing like a good beat to get you motivated, chomping at the bit to head out the door for a pre-sunrise run.
According to the University of New Hampshire, “Music can distract people from the pain and fatigue they are experiencing when they workout, all while boosting a person’s mood, increasing endurance, reducing perceived effort, and promoting metabolic efficiency. Music encourages people to keep exercising and acts as a distraction, despite any exhaustion they are feeling. This is due to the music competing with the brain for attention of these thoughts.”
Studies show that the most important factors connecting music to physical performance, is the tempo of the music, and the way it makes you feel. This makes sense why some people can experience a performance boost from certain tunes, while other people don’t.
Step 4: Make the habit stick
1. Reward yourself
In order to keep the habit alive, you need to make waking up early a positive experience. An easy way to do this is by giving yourself a small reward after each run so that your brain makes a positive association with the activity.
For example, reward yourself with a satisfying breakfast, or even some quiet time to read peacefully. When exposed to rewarding stimulus, the brain responds by increasing the release of dopamine - a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in reward-motivated behaviour. Since dopamine is often linked to addictive behaviour, it may be a good strategy to let early mornings stick.
2. Keep at it for at least 3 weeks
You know what they say, it takes at least 21 days to form a new habit.
This statement might not be 100% factual - but the idea is not to give up too quickly. If you find it incredibly difficult to wake up early, just give it time. Your body needs time to adapt to a change in lifestyle.
Interestingly enough, the above saying originated in the 1950s when Dr. Maxwell Maltz performed operations and noticed it took patients about 21 days to get used to a new face or amputated leg. He noticed it also took himself 21 days to form a new habit and wrote, “These, and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.”
3. Remind yourself of the physical and mental benefits
Reminding yourself why you are waking up early every morning to go running is the cornerstone of making it a habit. You may have the motivation in the first two weeks - but if you don’t keep reminding yourself of the physical or mental benefits, you’ll find it harder to keep running consistently.
If you’re wanting to lose weight, stick a photo of yourself on the refrigerator so that you have to look at it every day. Visualising an end goal may also be beneficial - so think about sticking a photo of what you hope to look like right next to the “before” photo.
Changing your morning routine is no laughing matter. As motivated as you might be the night before, it’s always tempting to hit the snooze button on your alarm come 5am.
The key to making the habit stick is to aim for consistency by making the experience easy, enjoyable - and continuously visualising the rewards. Not only will you start the day feeling relaxed and energised, you’ll start the day with a feeling of accomplishment.