For some runners, early morning runs are actually pleasurable.
Frankly though, most of us would rather spend the time in bed.
In general, we encourage you to run when you can. It’s always best to build up a habit that’s sustainable, so it becomes a lifestyle rather than a phase.
That being said, early morning runs have too many advantages to ignore.
Benefits of Running Early in the Morning
- You get your workout done at the start of the day, which normally leaves you more relaxed and balanced for the rest of the day.
- When you’re in training mode (whether for a half, full marathon, or ultra), mornings are often the best time to get your training runs in.
- If you leave a training run for later in the day, it becomes easier to skip it – you get tired, your work-day over-runs, or something else crucial comes up.
- Since running has proven to raise your mood and often reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety, early morning runs can set the tone for a more positive, happy day.
In fact, after surveying Marathon Handbook’s community of runners, I found that runners who did their training in the morning were 37% more likely to stick to their training plan!
Related: When Is The Best Time To Run?
So, it should be easy . . . everyone should just do their training runs in the morning!
The problem is: a little thing called motivation.
Who wants to drag themselves out of bed at 05:30 am to go running?
Many people set their alarms with the intention of getting in an early morning run, but then find a way to dodge it.
With that in mind, I’ve put together this ultimate guide to winning at early morning runs.
HINT: It’s all in the preparation.
Here are the systems you should have in place to guarantee you don’t skip that next early morning run, in 10 handy steps.
10 Bulletproof Steps to Consistent Early Morning Runs
1. Plan The Details of Your Run
The secret to being a successful early morning runner is to have everything pre-planned and ready to go.
The first step is to know the details of your run – how far, how fast, and where you’re going.
Why is this so important?
When you wake up to an alarm, it’s all too tempting to hit ‘snooze’ – rationalizing that you didn’t really need to run 6 miles. You tell yourself you can spend an extra 20 minutes in bed. And just run 3 miles.
But when your brain actually pictures the activity, it is more likely to follow through with action.
The US National Library of Medicine published an article outlining a study they performed on tennis players. The players did 20 serves without imagery exercises, and then serves with imagery exercises. The ones who served with imagery exercises performed better than the ones without.
Blankert and Hamstra (the authors of the article) claim, “Imagery is a mental performance improvement technique that involves ‘programming’ body and mind with the purpose of responding optimally in a performance situation.”
In short, when you imagine an exercise, you create an internal cognitive recognition in your brain that represents the ‘actual’ action. Imagery visualization is one of the most popular psychological techniques for athletes, business owners, and career climbers.
Here are more tips for visualizing your early morning run success:
- Know where you’re going to run, and any pace requirements.
- Picture how you want to feel after you run (e.g. energized, proud of yourself, strong, excited for the day, etc.).
- Plan a safe, well-lit route pre-established means you can run in comfort.
- Map out all your training runs with a training plan to keep the planning simple.
All of this means you’ve visualized the run. It’s clear in your head.
No doubts, nothing to think about. When you wake up, you just get out the door and execute the plan.
2. Lay Out All Your Gear The Night Before
Early morning run success means that you remove as many barriers as possible from your morning routine.
The number one thing to prepare is all your running gear.
This means you should lay out:
- Your running shoes
- Smartphone (and headphones, if you need them)
- Running vest, if required
- Nutrition / snacks
- House keys
You should be able to roll out of bed, into your gear, and out the door…unless you need coffee first.
3. Set One Alarm
Many people set two different alarms – one 10-20 minutes after the other, in case they sleep through the first alarm.
Trust your alarm – you’re not going to sleep through it.
Setting two alarms gives you an “out” – you’ll wake up with the first alarm, but rationalize that you can snooze until the 2nd alarm.
Just set one alarm – and allow yourself a 10-15 minute buffer between waking up and getting out the door.
4. Keep Your Smartphone on the Other Side of the Room
Nowadays, we all use our smartphones as our alarm clocks.
But from the moment you wake up and cancel your alarm, you find yourself still in bed – holding the world’s best procrastination device.
Next thing you know, you’ve spent 10 minutes checking social media and emails, and you’re quickly eating into that running time.
Avoid this completely by putting your smartphone on the other side of the room.
This means that in order to turn off your alarm, you need to get out of bed. And once you’re out of bed, you might as well start getting ready.
5. Prep Your Fuel the Night Before
If you’re going for a run of 45-60 minutes (or longer), your performance will improve if you take some pre-run fuel.
Likewise, if you’re going for longer than an hour, you’ll want to take some gels or snacks with you to keep yourself going.
You should have all this prepared the night before.
Since it’s early morning and you’re going running immediately, you want something light and easy to digest.
I tend to make a small smoothie the night before an early morning run, and throw a couple of gels into my running vest if I’m running for anything more than an hour.
Some runners simply grab a banana and some coffee, others can stomach something heavier. In the end, it boils down to what gives you the results you’re looking for.
6. Go to Bed Earlier
Preparing right is just one part of the equation. The second part is lifestyle fixes – you can’t get into an early morning run routine without a few changes.
Here are the key ones you want to get right for your early morning runs:
- If you want to get up earlier, you have to go to bed earlier!
- If you don’t change your sleeping habits, then waking up early simply isn’t sustainable.
- Try to carve out at solid 8 hour window for sleep each night, and stay consistent.
7. Stick To A Routine
Your sleeping hours need to be consistent for success. A typical night-owl can’t suddenly go to bed at 9pm one night, and expect to wake up at 5am feeling fresh and ready to go.
Habits take time to stick, and your body will gradually adapt to any shifts.
So make your new sleep habit consistent – it’s a lifestyle change, not a one-off event.
- Related: 7 Habits of Highly Effective Runners
8. Have a Wind-down Period
What’s a wind-down period?
It’s those final couple of hours of the day before bed – and you wind down by gradually preparing yourself for sleep.
- Less smartphone time
- No more chores or tasks
- Finish all your work for the day
- No late snacking
- Spend time with family and friends
- Read and prepare to fall asleep gradually
- Don’t scroll social media right before sleep
A wind-down period is something that deepens the longer you do it.
Your body begins to recognize the cues you send it, and it’ll automatically prepare itself for a good night’s sleep.
Start to be more conscious of how you spend those last couple of hours in the evening, and you’ll see the results in your quality of sleep!
9. Stick To a Routine
A routine is simply a system – something you follow every day. The more you systematize your daily routine, the easier it becomes over time.
Hate waking up at 6 am? Set yourself a challenge of doing it for 10 days in a row.
If you form a good routine, by the end of the 10 days you’ll find it much easier to bounce out of bed at 6 am.
You’ve formed a habit.
And now you’ve built that momentum, it’s so much easier to keep it going.
10. Limit Coffee and Alcohol Intake
Coffee is a stimulant – it makes you more alert and energetic.
Too much coffee, especially late in the day, will hinder your ability to fall asleep easily. I find it’s best to limit coffee intake to pre-lunch hours in order to avoid it impacting my sleep.
Alcohol, on the other hand, is a depressant – it makes you sleepy and less alert. In general, it’s a bit harder to get out of bed the next day after drinking – even after just one or two drinks.
So in order to maximize your chances of bouncing out of bed and going for a run, go easy on the booze and coffee!