Ask most runners when they prefer to train, and they’ll tell you first thing in the morning. But we didn’t all start that way! Getting into the habit takes time and consistent effort.
Besides getting your run done early in the day, running in the morning has other benefits, like improved mood and increased energy.
Here are some tips and tricks we’ve used for years to help us get up early and get out on the road.
Why Is It Difficult to Run in the Morning?
It’s human nature to want to stay cuddled in bed when it’s cold out, but it can be tough to get out of bed and run even in summer.
There are physiological reasons behind that, so don’t think it’s just laziness!
Your Body’s Natural Circadian Rhythm
Your body is a work of art, and built into it is a natural clock called your circadian rhythm. Here’s how it can affect waking up early.
Sleepiness and Grogginess
You still have heightened levels of certain hormones in the early morning hours. In particular, melatonin, which promotes that feeling of sleepiness. As you can imagine, this makes it harder for you to get up. You feel like you still have some sleep to catch up on.
When you feel sleepy and want to settle back into the comfort of your bed, it’s much harder to push through and get up. This can negatively affect your motivation, which might make for an unpleasant run early in the morning.
Your circadian rhythm also affects your body temperature. It naturally lowers as you dip into sleep, rising gradually until you wake up. When you wake up early, your body temperature is slightly lower than normal.
This could make you less inclined to get out of a warm bed, especially in cold weather. It also makes you feel sluggish and unprepared for physical activity. It takes some time for your body to warm up to its normal temperature.
Cortisol, more commonly known as the stress hormone, reduces during the night as you sleep. But in the morning, it spikes up to help raise you from your sleepy state and get you going.
This does have a downside, though, because elevated levels of stress hormones can make you feel groggy and uninspired. Not the best way to start a morning run!
Your body’s metabolic activities and processes are aligned with your circadian rhythm. If you begin getting up earlier than usual, it could take some time for your body to adjust its processes accordingly.
That means for the first few weeks of running in the morning, you may struggle through your runs as your body has to adapt. If you can push through, you should find that at some point, it kicks into a rhythm that feels much better.
Tight Muscles and Stiffness
A lack of movement for hours and a lower body temperature can leave your muscles feeling stiff and tight when you get up in the morning. Even if you stretch before your run, you may experience discomfort or a reduced range of motion.
This makes it hard to get going comfortably in the morning. If you don’t warm-up effectively, it can also make you a little more susceptible to injury.
While your body may resist getting up early to run, your mind may be doing the same! If you aren’t a morning person, you might struggle more to get in a good mood in the morning, making it tougher to get on the road.
You’re Not as Hydrated
Your body dehydrates during the night as you sweat, your food is digested, and other processes happen in the body. It may be harder to get up and go because your body is dehydrated.
So when you wake up, the first thing you should do is rehydrate. Coffee isn’t as hydrating as you think, even though it’s mostly water. Drink a glass or two of water first thing when you wake up and this could help you feel more energized.
Time Constraints and Schedule Conflicts
If you need to be at work by 8 and it’s an hour-long commute, you need to get up pretty early to run, clean up, and leave.
For some people, running in the morning is not feasible because the morning routine is already pushed for time. You’ll miss out on the benefits if it’s just causing you to start your day off more stressed and rushed!
Benefits of Running in the Morning
If you can get it right, running in the morning has many benefits over running at other times of day. Here are a few of them.
Boosts Energy Levels
The rush of endorphins released when you run can be a great way to kickstart your alertness and boost your energy levels for the day.
Physical activity gets the blood flowing and oxygen and nutrients circulate easily, bathing your muscles and organs in everything they need to be strong and healthy.
Improve Mood and Reduces Stress
Those same endorphins can help to improve your morning mood and lower stress levels. This is valuable if you’re going to a high-stress job after your run, as it gives you a chance to set a positive foundation for your day.
Enhances Mental Clarity and Focus
Increased blood flow to the brain, endorphin release, and the mindful aspect of running can help to get the sparks firing in your brain.
Starting your day off this way ensures that your day begins with mental clarity and focus, which sets a good tone for the rest of the day to be productive.
It Can Help You Lose Weight
While you can eat before you run in the morning, running on an empty stomach—running fasted—can help your body to burn fat more effectively.
When your muscles don’t have stored up glycogen—which they won’t as it’s been depleted overnight—the body has no choice but to dip into its own fat stores for energy.
Getting in a good bit of exercise first thing in the morning also helps to boost your metabolism, so you’re likely to burn more calories throughout the day. If weight loss is your goal, morning running could be the better choice.
Improves Sleep Quality
Exposure to early-morning natural light can help regulate your natural sleep-wake cycle to cater to your new habit. This means that while it’ll become easier for you to wake up in the morning, it’ll also become easier for you to fall asleep and stay asleep at night.
Tips to Help You Start Your Morning With a Successful Run
Looking for ways to make running in the morning easier? Here are our top tips to help you run in the morning without struggling.
Preparation is half the battle won! A bit of work the day/evening before your run can make your morning routine go much more smoothly.
Plan Your Route and Distance
Don’t just step out there without any sort of plan. Know what route you’ll take and how far you plan on running. That way, there’s no need to really think about anything in the morning—you can just put your gear on and go.
Lay Out Your Running Gear the Night Before
Speaking of gear, laying it all out ready to put on in the morning can streamline your morning. If you still have to search the wardrobe and pull out clothing, you’re just wasting time in the morning.
Lay out everything from your shoes to your underwear, socks, shorts/tights, shirt, and hat. Fill up your water bottles or hydration packs and take some gels if you are going for a long run.
This way, when you wake up, you can fumble around and get dressed half-asleep if needed, but you won’t be wasting time and energy!
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
This should be an every-night ambition, but it really makes a big difference to your run. If you have a bad night’s rest, you’ll feel unnaturally groggy in the morning and it may not ease up with a run. But get a good rest, and you’ll find it a little easier to get going.
You may need to optimize your sleeping environment. Find the temperature that’s comfortable for you. Make sure there’s no unnecessary noise or light coming into the room that could disrupt your sleep.
2. Wake-Up Strategies
Waking up is the hardest part! Here are some tried-and-true wake-up tips to help you break out of the morning brain fog.
Set a Consistent Wake-Up Time
If you set a consistent wake-up time, you’re training your body to wake itself up at that hour. It takes time, but you can work on this. Make an effort to get up at the same time every day, even on weekends even if you get to bed late one night.
It’s also a good idea to try and maintain a consistent bedtime. That way, you’ll get roughly the same amount of sleep every night.
Place the Alarm Clock Across the Room
This one is old-school, but it works! If you place your alarm clock or smartphone within arm’s reach, you’re likely to tap or swipe your alarm on snooze and keep sleeping.
But if your alarm is out of reach, you actually have to get up to switch it off… And once you’re up, your body and brain are already more awake.
Try a Gentle Wake-up Routine
Try to wake yourself up gently. Roll out of bed, do some stretching or light yoga to get blood flowing, drink water to rehydrate yourself after sleep, and spend a few moments considering your run.
Expose Yourself to Natural Light
Exposing yourself to some natural morning light immediately when you wake up is an excellent idea. This light helps regulate your body’s circadian rhythm, sending gentle but effective signals to your brain telling it that it’s time to wake up.
Gradually Adjust Your Sleep Schedule
If you’re not used to being up early, don’t try to wake up 4 hours earlier than before suddenly. Rather, take it slow. If you’ve been going to bed at midnight every night and waking at 8 am, go to sleep at 11:45 pm the first night and aim to wake at 7:45 am.
The next night, go to sleep at 11:30 pm and set your alarm for 7:30 am. And so on, until you’re waking up at your desired time. This helps your body—and mind—adjust to the change more easily.
3. Fueling Your Body for the Run
Fueling is important. While you can run on an empty stomach, it’s not advised unless you know your body is okay with it.
Have a Light, Easily Digestible Pre-Run Snack
A good mix of protein and carbs will help to build up some glycogen in the muscles before you run. Try to eat an hour before your run, but if you can’t, 20 to 30 minutes will have to do. Don’t run out the door immediately after eating.
Hydrate Before Your Run
It’s a good idea to pre-hydrate, especially if you’re only going on a short run. This way, your body will start in the best condition, and then you just need to maintain hydration.
4. Mental Preparation
You need to prepare yourself mentally too. This could be even more important than physically because your brain can work against you if you let it.
Set a Goal for the Run
Having a goal gives you something to focus on other than how much you miss your bed! It doesn’t have to be big. It can be a distance goal, a time goal, a calorie goal, or a step goal. What matters is that you have something to work towards. You could even run to work and multitask your run!
Incorporate Mindfulness Techniques During Your Run
Mindfulness is an amazing tool and running is the perfect time to use it. Focus your attention on your breathing, your muscles, how your body feels.
Consider how the muscles feel on each step. Fee the air drawn in through your nose and blown out through your lips. It’s all about being present in the reality of the moment.
5. Warm Up and Stretch
Don’t forget your warm-up! Get those muscles and tendons warm and supple by stimulating blood flow. You can take a short walk, do some dynamic movements, or run drills before your actual run.
6. Start Small and Gradually Increase Your Distance
Don’t be overly ambitious if you’re new to running in the morning. Start small and increase gradually, whether you’re running for time or distance.
Overdoing it or progressing too fast can lead to injury. Try to increase time or distance by 5 to 10 percent every week.
7. Find a Running Buddy
Running with someone can be valuable. Now you’re not just accountable to yourself—you have someone else you can’t let down. This is a highly effective way to stay motivated, and it can also make early mornings more fun.
8. Adjust to Running in the Morning
Stay consistent and your body will adjust. Give it at least a few weeks, if not months. Put proper effort into it. Your body should begin to enjoy morning runs!
9. Reward Yourself
Set yourself rewards for reaching certain milestones, like a particular or time… Or only snoozing the alarm twice before getting up! Make sure they’re healthy rewards. You might want to buy yourself some running gear you’ve been eyeing.
Early mornings can be quite dark, and there are not usually many people around. Be extra careful and ensure you’re running in well-lit, open streets and not some back streets. Bring a headlamp or running light.
It’s a good idea to take something like an emergency panic button or pepper spray along with you, just in case. Rather have it and never use it than not have it and need it!