Early to Rise, Early to Run

>> Friday, May 7, 2010

I have been struggling with running ever since our long bike ride last weekend. My legs have been tights. The temps have been high. And I've been running with Stephen -- which, even at his "slowest" is a quick clip for me. This morning, I was able to accomplish not one, but TWO goals: Run longer than 6 miles and run in the morning! So, at 6:33AM, I set out to run 7 miles. This post focuses on that second goal, because it's a more long-standing one with me: running in the morning . . .

Keep in mind that this morning's jaunt was the first non-race morning run in months. So, when you read these tips, it's sort of a do as I say, not as I've been doing kind of thing. Several years ago, I would run mornings (that's morning-runner Ashley, below). Loved every minute of it. But as my jobs got tougher (and schedules changed, etc.), I got lazy. I also let go of all the actions I knew would make me successful.

So, I'm writing this post selfishly to remind myself of all the good things I should do (and you should, too!) to ensure awesome morning runs. If you hate heat as much as I do, you'll be thankful when you get out of work (or school) and it's in the high 80s . . . and all you have to do is go home and drink an ice-cold beer.

Get up early. You need to carve out an extra hour or so to start. I'll get into this later, but the whole hour isn't to run. I don't just get out of bed, slap on my shoes, and head out the door. But start by getting up an hour earlier (or so) for at least a week (I recommend two) before you want to try running. That way, you'll feel awake, not like you're desperately trying to get up that early AND run.

Eat something. This also goes for the before you start running in the morning. If you're anything like me, eating in the early AM is difficult. So, practice. If you're going to be successful at running in the AM, you need to consume at least a little something-something. For me, a handful of walnuts or almonds do the trick. You may want to make a slice of wheat toast and slather it with a bit of peanut butter. Maybe half an energy bar (though, be careful with the calorie-loaded and overly-sugary kinds). Energy chunks. Just anything to give yourself a little energy. And don't forget to drink some water, too. A small glass will do -- but if you really think about it, you've not consumed anything in over 7 to 9 hours. You need to replenish your energy stores!

Start small. If you're new to running, you may want to start with walking in the mornings first. Even if you're not new, warming up with half a mile of walking might help you catch your stride. Or maybe a short bike ride around the neighborhood. Starting small also means lowering your distance expectations (after all, no workout is too short or too slow). Don't make your first morning run a 13-miler. I ran 7 this morning, but only because I haven't had a successful run in DAYS. Had I planned more "normally," I would have done 4.

Lose your expectations for speed. Those of you out there with Garmins permanently affixed to your wrists may notice your pace is slower in the AM hours. This is expected and certainly OK. What you see above is -- first, an 8+ mile run I did in the afternoon and then -- second, the 7-miler I ran this morning. Notice the difference in pace. Both runs were of similar planned exertion -- however, I started the morning one off much slower for the first couple miles. You'll notice, though, that I return to my typical pace by the end. You need to give your body time to warm up before you can speed things up. (Notice the gradual increase in pace -- below.)

Better yet, lose ALL expectations (at least to start). If you're having a ton of trouble running in the morning, lose the watch, tunes, and route-mapping. Be a Zen runner, really. Just go for as long and as fast as you can. Listen to the birds. Look at the trees. Enjoy being outdoors (or on a treadmill, I guess -- but I don't particularly enjoy that). Just get yourself moving . . . and in a few days (or weeks, that's OK, too) you should be on your way.

Eat breakfast. When you're done with your run -- refuel. If you didn't leave enough time for yourself, MAKE TIME. You will feel so very hungry for the rest of the day. You won't be providing the proper nutrition your body needs. Basically, you won't be able to sustain a morning running schedule.

Plan ahead. After trying it out for a few days, evaluate your progress. It might be easier if you set out your clothing the night before. Maybe running in the morning means making your lunch the day before, too. Perhaps your getting-ready routine needs to change slightly (I'm relatively low maintenance, but you get the picture). You may also need to go to be earlier. Actually, no -- you WILL need to go to bed earlier. But that's OK because you'll have tons of time in your evenings, now. And you won't be running in the hot, hot heat.

Bottom line: It's hard to break your habits and start new ones, but eventually, you WILL be able to do it. And it will feel glorious.

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