Trying (and Failing) to Become a Morning Runner
Every few months, I try it.
I set my alarm for super-early-o’clock. I lay out my running clothes right near the bed. I think about how awesome it will feel to have my workout done before my kids even roll out of bed for school – no trying to squeeze it in after work, between practices and homework and cooking dinner.
I go to bed with every intention of doing my run early the next morning.
And then, the next morning, I hit snooze a couple times on my alarm. I feel my husband stirring beside me, so I know I better not snooze again. I reset the alarm for my normal time, and I go blissfully back to sleep.
But when I wake up again an hour later, I’m racked with disappointment. I’ve failed in my quest to become a morning runner—yet again.
Because believe it or not, I’ve been doing this same thing off and on for 12 years, ever since I had my first kid and realized time was a precious commodity.
Why become a morning runner? I read an article seemingly every month about the many benefits. There are so many reasons to do it, both practical and scientific.
You finish early. When you do your runs first thing in the morning, there’s nothing that gets in your way. You don’t risk your run being KO’d by a sick child, a deadline at work, or an unexpected emergency, as happens so often when you run at the end of the day.
You get a great start to the day. There’s no denying the joy of those morning endorphins. They can help you through a long meeting or a stressful work day.
You free up time later in the day. It’s a lot less stressful to know your run is done, especially when you’re piling up miles training for a race, than to worry all day about when to squeeze it in.
You rev up your metabolism. According to studies, fasting before a short morning run can burn more calories.
You sleep better. Studies have also shown that exercising in the morning can improve your sleeping patterns over the long term.
So yes, by all the evidence, you should be aiming to become a morning runner and instantly improve your life. You will be better-rested, less stressed and less guilty about rewarding yourself with a giant breakfast. (Wait, is that just me?)
But even with all that motivation on the table, I can’t seem to do it.
Yet I keep flirting with morning running despite my previous failures. For three months last year, I thought I’d even figured out the way to do it.
We got some new neighbors, and the wife is a runner. She and I run similar paces, and both of us were between training cycles. We just wanted to log consistent miles. Since our schedules didn’t match up in the evening—thank you, baseball-and-field-hockey-playing-kids—we decided to give morning runs a try.
At first, it worked well. I found I would haul myself out of bed, even at an unsavory hour, because I knew she was waiting for me. I didn’t want to let her down. Three times a week, we’d meet at the corner and dash off on a three-mile jaunt.
And our runs were fun. We got to know each other, and we patted ourselves on the backs at the bus stop 45 minutes later, proud of our morning effort and lingering glow.
Alas, those morning runs didn’t last too long. It got cold outside, but our beds stayed warm. Soon one or the other of us was texting an excuse the night before — “Sick kid, can’t make it” or “I’m too tired.”
Eventually, when three runs a week had turned into one, if we were lucky, we decided to can the morning runs till summer.
Yet now, as summer approaches, I wonder if that will be necessary.
Sometimes, in life and in running, we pursue an idea because we think it sounds good, not because it’s the best fit for us.
I have always loved the concept of being a morning runner, for the reasons outlined above and also because of the discipline it suggests. But the truth is, I’m not a morning person. Never have been.
I have a hard time tearing myself out of bed under the most ideal of conditions, even when I’ve gotten eight hours of sleep and it’s a weekend when I have something I’m really looking forward to on the schedule, like one of my kids’ baseball games.
So why, I have to ask, am I trying to make myself into something I’m not?
Sometimes running is about meeting challenges. But sometimes it’s about realizing that the challenge isn’t that important.
There’s no one judging me if I don’t have the motivation to do a morning run except myself. It doesn’t make me less of a runner to go at night (or at mid-day, my preferred running time — you don’t hear many people describe themselves as a “mid-day person,” but that’s really when I hit my physical and mental stride).
Setting goals is an important part of running. But it’s also important to set the right ones.
When you show yourself over and over again that you can’t do something, it’s kind of stupid to keep pursuing that goal when the goal itself is arbitrary.
I have achieved other running goals in this 12-year period of trying to become a morning runner. I’ve lowered my PR in the half marathon, 10K and 5K. I’ve strengthened my core and consistently done hill, tempo and speed days.
I’m proud of all those things, and they’re really what defines me as a runner – not what time I get out the door.
So the next time I see one of those articles about how you can be a better runner by running in the morning, I’ll probably just skip it.
Because sometimes you have to let go of a goal that’s not going to happen — and realize it’s OK to do that.