Faking It: The Guide to Morning Running for Non-Early Birds

Sleeping Tiger
Do I LOOK like a morning person? img via flickr

I am sooo not a morning person. I know some people say that and still manage to be somewhat tolerable in the wee hours, but I assure you, I really mean it. During my teen years I referred to anything before noon as “the butt crack of dawn,” I’ve been known to growl at people before a certain time of day and the short time that my husband and I shared a car was notable in that we managed to remain married after those morning commutes.

That said, I have transformed into a morning runner in the past two years for a number of reasons, all having to do with my daily non-running schedule. I know that some of you share my dilemma – after all, according to one study, only 22% of Americans said they were “at their personal best” between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m, so I’m here to impart my wisdom on making morning runs work to my fellow non-early birds.

Morning Run Pile
Set your running stuff out the night before! It’ll do wonders to help you fight that urge to get back in bed.

Prep before you head to bed. In order to maximize shut-eye (and to not wake my sleeping husband in the morning) I make sure I’m ready to go the night before my run. Who wants to be hunting for something in the laundry room when your eyes are barely open? If you wear a GPS watch be sure that it’s charged before you hit the hay; same thing goes for music players if you run with tunes. As far as clothes go, I make sure to check the weather forecast and lay out a couple of options if there’s a chance of rain or cool temps.  For my longer mid-week runs I put my pre-run breakfast of a Honey Stinger Waffle in my prep pile. If I’m taking my dog with me I’ll even put her collar and leash by the back door. No stone left unturned, people!

alarm clock, bought from IKEA
Alarm set and ready to go! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Know your alarm clock style. What noises do you like to hear when you’re waking up? Soothing sounds? Loud noises? “Call Me Maybe?” I have personally had the most success with noises that jolt me out of bed. (Just normal alarm sounds; I haven’t yet had to resort to the Sonic Boom, an alarm clock that shakes your mattress!) You should also know what works for you in terms of alarm clock placement and snooze button action. Even though I use my cell phone as my alarm, I have a rule, derived from trial and error, that nothing can be blocking my line of vision for the clock on the dresser.

The buddy system is your friend. Seriously. Turning off the alarm will be a lot less tempting if you know you have a running buddy or two counting on you to show up. In my case my dog puts in at least a few miles with me on most days, and she knows our morning routine a little too well, so over-sleeping is not an option for me! (Though occasionally she’ll let me slide.) If a morning running buddy simply doesn’t fit into your life, consider finding an accountability partner – a runner friend who you check in with about that day’s workout. My BRF and I haven’t been able to fit in many runs lately, but we text or chat most mornings with the basics of our runs.

Whitecliffs, Canterbury, New Zealand
Can’t get to sleep? Here, count these. img via Wikipedia

Go. To. Sleep.  I know… it seems like it should be common sense, right? For some people, including myself, it can be hard to wind down and actually go to bed. It’s not that I’m not tired, it’s just that I have so much I want to do! While the amount of sleep your body needs varies from person to person, most adults need about 7-9 hours per night. And according to endurance sports coach Sage Rountree, you should add a minute of sleep to your daily routine for every mile you’re running that week.

So, just get to sleep! If you are like me and are go-go-go, you might need to set a hard bedtime. (And maybe an alarm that reminds you it’s about that time. I may be the only person who has an alarm for heading to bed!) If you have difficulty getting to sleep, check out Ginger’s post on sleep schedulesfor some ideas that may help.

And of course, Salty friend Predawn Runner has about a million posts on the subject of running before the sun!

What tips do you have for making morning runs routine?

Southern transplant who loves 90s boy bands, outdoor adventures and college basketball, although not necessarily in that order. Recovering running perfectionist.

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  1. Well, I saw this topic and new I had to mosey on over – thanks for mentioning me! This is all great advice, the idea of having everything ready the night before is huge. I’ve also heard good advice on keeping the alarm out of reach to force you to get out of bed, and if you have a sleeping partner who enjoys their sleep, you’ll want to get that alarm turned off ASAP (though my wife has actually come to appreciate the fact that the first alarm of the morning means she can go back to sleep – she was annoyed when I had to take a few days off lately and the 5:15 alarm was for “her” to get up!).
    I think it helps to have a good warm-up routine too, as I mention in the post I highlight below – one that you can get through quickly but that lets your body know it’s time to go to work.

    1. Thanks for sharing that post! I love the tip about visualizing your rewards. I bailed about a month ago and was stuck with a hot, hot afternoon run. Definitely something I remind myself of on those days when I want to stay in bed!

  2. Ok morning experts. I am going to rattle off my excuses and I’d love for you to give me something to combat them!

    – I am so slow in the mornings. I can’t stomach the idea of sucking through a tempo first thing in the morning!

    – No street lights here and I need to be home by 6:00 so that’s pretty much 100% in the dark. With coyotes!

    – If I can run during sane hours of the day I can find company.

    – The pooping thing.

    Ok. So those are my excuses. How do I combat them? Well, and the fact that I’m pregnant now and actually HAVE to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night. This is for the winter and spring for me 🙂 I LOVE the satisfaction of walking up from my basement before the kids and sun are up with a tm run done or coming back in with my sweaty headlamp, but these excuses make it difficult to bite the bullet and get it done!

    1. I’ve found that I seriously run 30-60 seconds/mile slower in the morning if it’s dark out. And it’s not because I feel like I can’t run faster – I feel like I’m running faster, but it doesn’t translate. Something about being alone in the dark makes 10:00 pace feel like 8:30. Does that happen to anyone else?

      I had been running at 5:20 am this summer, but now that the sun doesn’t come up until 6:30 it’s not working out so well. Aside from the slowness, I feel limited to my neighborhood that has streetlights. But it’s hard to get in more than 3 miles without repeating. And a couple of days of the same exact route makes me a little crazy.

      So I’m interested in hearing responses to those issues, too.

      Otherwise, the prep is a big part of making morning running go smoother. The second part would be going to bed on time, and I’m going to have to check out the links on that!

      1. YES! I am a slug running before 7:00 a.m. It usually takes me about 2 miles to warm-up and feel more normal, but that first super early mile is insanely slow for me too. Greg’s warm-up tips might help us. When I was getting back in shape after having my second I did my easy runs right out of bed on my tm and I’d run up and down the basement stairs a couple of times to try to perk up. Still slow, but a little better 🙂

        1. To your questions Salty:
          Slow in the mornings – yes, my tempo / interval work goes a hair better if done later – but the difference doesn’t seem so big anymore. Maybe the warm-up helps, maybe I’m used to it. And frankly, even the physiological gains from a tempo/interval run are more about the effort than about the pace, so nominally it doesn’t matter. Though I’ll admit it can be mentally challenging to know that you’re going a hair slower than you could. However, when you succeed, when I cap off a 7 mile tempo with a 5:47 mile like I did a few weeks ago, it provides even more of a boost for the day.

          Streetlights – two words – head lamp. OK maybe that’s one word. Not sure. I was up too early today.

          Company – OK, I’ll grant you that, though I know semi-predawn runners who do run with friends very frequently.

          BMs – never been a problem for me (OK, maybe one time I had to stop in Chagrin Falls last year) – maybe I just got attuned to doing this, maybe it’s because I don’t eat breakfast or drink coffee before going out. Not sure, so I don’t have stellar advice.

          1. I don’t know if there’s any physiological basis for this, but I used to always hate morning runs because I felt so much more sluggish, too… and then once I switched to running in the morning (almost) full-time that gradually went away and afternoon runs actually because a little tougher for me! So maybe it’s just what you’re acclimated to?

            And I do know what you mean about the morning poop problem, but like Greg I don’t drink coffee or eat before morning runs (though I am a serious caffeine addict) and mine are always short enough (<7 miles) that it doesn't matter.

          2. Thanks guys! I imagine it’s a matter of adjustment. I only did straight-out-of bed runs 2 – 3 times per week for a few months so I probably never allowed myself to adjust. My body’s rhythms will be all kinds of messed up after the baby so it will be a great time to get in the early am routine, as long as Junior lets me! Here’s hoping for a good sleeper!

    2. Funny – I am super sluggish if I try to run after work but feel fine in the morning. I can’t get up and just get out to run, however (unless it is a super short run). I need at least 30 minutes to wake up, have my coffee and get my business done (that is the response to your pooping question Salty). 🙂 Just like everything else, your body will acclimate and get used to the routine, although it may take a few weeks to get adjusted. I love running early in the morning. It is cooler out, watching the sun rise while running is always awesome, and you get it done which means making no excuses and feeling upset when you miss you run when later in the day you get swamped with 1 million other things.

      1. Mint, this is a large part of the reason why I run early – it’s so easy to lose track of time and have things pop up in the afternoons! Plus it leaves me free to have more spontaneous plans in the evenings, rather than having to fit in my run.

    3. Whoa, that’s early! Mine are more in the neighborhood of having to be done by 6:45. Definitely recommend the headlamp. I like to wear mine with a hat or visor, just to make it a bit more comfy.

      I do have a few morning running buddies, but those were developed over time, and they mainly live near me… one just up the street! So you may not find morning company right off the bat, but keep your ear to the ground and your eyes open for running neighbors.

  3. I wear the running shorts and socks I will be running in to sleep, and therefore do not need to change, and I have the coffee on a timer. Yes, food and gear is layed out, and if it is a treadmill run, I have the dvr’ed show ready to rock.

    1. I love the running clothes as pajamas idea! And I agree on the tv being ready. I became a Lost junky the winter and spring I ran in the am 🙂

  4. I am not a morning person, but I run in the mornings otherwise I wouldn’t be able to get it in. When I leave it’s dark and when I get back it’s dark. And me moving through the dark Georgia night armed with pepper spray and a reflective vest. without the vest, I feel like a criminal. Something about the vest says “runner”. Even though I don’t run with my cat, he will jump on my tummy if I linger in bed too long.

  5. I ran in the mornings all summer and loved it but as it gets darker in the mornings now, I’m slacking off a little. I loved it in the spring and summer – the air smelt so good. I ran this morning and loved it again – it’s just getting out bed that’s the hard thing!!

    Ref the pooping…I always plan my routes round parks/supermarkets/petrol stations that have loos, so that I can dash in if I need to. And no food/caffeine before a morning run. I’m so glad I’m not the only one.

  6. I’m usually a morning runner. Yes. You have to set out your gear and get your sleep. I also love Greg’s recommendation to not check social media except weather. No status updates. No politics or that one great catch.

    Re: poop. Most people will adjust to a schedule and sometimes I find that I have to be flexible.

  7. I just remembered something else I’ve started trying lately – “loosening up” before going to bed. Often I use foam rolling and active isolated stretching, but sometimes it’s just a quick myrtl or other mobility routine. I do think this makes a difference in helping me get moving in the morning. Just another example of something you can get done the night before, though a less obvious one.