There’s a reason so many people love running early in the morning. It has major benefits. Not only do you begin your day more relaxed and refreshed (as well as happier), but you’ve already started things off with an accomplishment. Taking time to work out first also gives you room for contemplation, to think and make plans, instead of immediately jumping into things. The extra preparation can make you much more effective at accomplishing goals.
Still, changing a major routine, such as how you start your mornings, isn’t easy. No matter how motivated you may be the night before, it can be all too tempting to hit the snooze button when the moment of truth arrives.
But if you think you’re ready to become a morning person, and take advantage of the benefits of a predawn run, here are three basic tips for how to get started, as well as five suggestions from the pros, who’ve beaten back their own natural inclinations to sleep in, on how to start doing it:
Get enough sleep.
You know that alarm is going off early, so make sure to get to bed 7-8 hours prior to the time you need to wake up. You will almost definitely be groggy so allow a few extra minutes to become fully conscious.
Prepare your clothes ahead of time.
Check the weather the night before (and the temperature at the time you will be running), then set out your clothes and equipment so you can easily find everything and put it on. You don’t want to be fumbling around in the dark looking for a pair of compression socks. Not sure of the best outfit given the temperature? The Runner’s World What to Wear tool can help you select something that won’t be too cold or too hot.
Your muscles are more likely to be stiff, since you haven’t been moving around, so to reduce the chance of an injury, make sure to start with a dynamic warmup—here are 5 exercises to do before your run.
FROM THE PROS
Find a friend, and be gentle with yourself.
Finding a partner to run with will give you someone to be accountable to, and make it much harder to blow off the run. It’s also important to remember that this is a process, and you can’t be expected to do it perfectly from the get-go. But even if you have a setback or two, keep at it. “Once you get into a rhythm it becomes natural and actually jump starts your day,” says Sheri Piers, top American finisher at the 2012 Boston Marathon, and mother of two. When Piers was training for the Olympic Trials on top of taking care of her kids, it meant waking up at 4 AM six days a week, sometimes on as little as four hours of sleep to meet with her running partner.
“You need to let your body adjust to getting up. But, once you do, you will never go back,” she says.
Take it slow.
“I didn’t decide one day that tomorrow would be the day I wake at 4:30 every morning,” says Kim Nadeau, first American woman at the 2016 USATF Mountain Running Championships, and mother of two. After having her second child, Nadeau realized that getting up early to run was her only option.
“It started by looking at what I did in the morning before my kids got up,” she says. “I realized it was my most productive time of the day. I had often baked muffins and made homemade granola before they came downstairs, still wiping the sleep from their eyes.”
So Nadeau took that energy, and started training from 5 to 7 AM each morning. She also invested in an incline treadmill to train for her mountain runs, so she wouldn’t “waste time” driving to a trail.
“Our homemade muffins now come out of the freezer instead of fresh from the oven,” she says. “But the reward has been huge. My kids forgive me.” Yours will, too.
Embrace the movement.
“The first few steps or blocks will be tough in the morning. They always are,” says Dr. Jordan Metzl, creator of the Iron Strength workout and author of Running Strong. “But once you start moving, you’ll notice that it gets easier and easier the more you go.”
With a practice of more than 20,000 patients, Metzl’s days are jam-packed, so early morning runs are a must—especially given his rigorous training regimen: He’s completed 12 Ironman races and has more than 32 marathon finishes under his belt. Still, Metzl knows how hard it can be to get motivated. Sometimes you have to just do it, and remember that the motivation will come later. “Once you’re 20 minutes into your run you’ll be glad you made it out the door,” he says.
“If I know I have to get up early, the worst part is getting changed in the cold air when you are warm and cozy in your bed, especially in the winter,” says Tina Muir, a member of the Saucony Hurricanes Elite Team, and a half-marathoner with a PR of 1:13. “If I go to bed in my sports bra and shorts, all I need to do is throw on the outer layers and head out the door. At least that takes away some of the inconvenience.”
Muir also leaves her alarm on the other side of the room with a motivational note like “Are you going to make yourself proud today?” to help push herself out the door.
Make peace with the pain.
“I view waking up early like ripping off a Band-Aid,” says Michele Gonzalez, a running coach, writer, ultrarunner, and full-time working mother of two. “It’s gonna hurt for a bit.”
Still, her advice is relatively simple. “You just have to set the alarm early and start doing it,” she says. “After a few days, you’ll be tired earlier at night and will start going to bed earlier. Which makes the early alarm feel a bit more manageable.”
After being a stay at home mom, Gonzalez, a West Point graduate and former army captain, and Iraq war veteran, returned to work in Manhattan, which is a long daily commute from her home on Staten Island. Since she wants to spend as much quality time as she can with her boys after work, she gets up nearly every morning at 4 AM to do her runs.