After years of training for long distances, I have become savvy to the ways of the pre-dawn runner. While mornings have always been my favorite time of day, getting up at 4:30 a.m. isn’t necessarily in my wheelhouse. Being a mom of two young kids requires me to maximize my hours of daylight, and has me fantasizing of super powers that enable survival on only three hours of sleep a night. So, until a magical fairy godmother grants my wish, here are a few key tips I rely on for getting in the miles before the sun comes up.
Be prepared, both mentally and physically. Your chances of success will be substantially improved if you’ve decided 24 hours in advance what time you’ll be setting your alarm for. If there is only one thing you do before an early morning run, it should be to get your head in the game. Laying in bed while going over the day’s itinerary to see where I might fit my run in just so I can turn off the alarm and go back to bed, is something I do more than I’d like to admit. I usually go to bed when my kids fall asleep so I’m well-rested when the alarm goes off, and the stars are still out.
Do yourself a favor and prep your gear, fill your hydration pack, and stash your fuel the night before – it’ll make it that much easier to drag your feet out of bed knowing you’ll have a little more time to drink your coffee, instead of bagging the whole run because you haven’t done anything at all.
Know where you’re going. In the early morning hours, the world appears to be sleeping while your lone headlamp bobs in the darkness. Make sure to bring a cell phone, and run a route you’re familiar with. Roads tend to be easier to navigate in the dark, but nighttime trail running might be necessary training depending on your race. If you find someone willing to meet you at 5 a.m. for a run, by all means, take them up on it. It’s much easier to get out the door when you’ve got someone waiting for you.
Give yourself a break. There will be bad nights of sleep and parties that last until 12 a.m. Life happens. But once your body gets used to the early wake-ups, it will get easier. And eventually those freakish alarms become habit. Whether you dread running in the heat of the day, or there is no other time slot for a run in your schedule, your body will begin to adjust. Running before the chaos that begins at sunrise can be the most peaceful time of the day, and craving quiet time isn’t unheard of. Especially for a parent. So while those first few runs might be tough, know that it will get easier.
Before having kids, I forced myself out of bed to conquer my mileage before mid-day temps toppled 90 degrees. Now, life demands that I run early so I can get three hours of running in and still devote the majority of the weekend to my family. It’s that fine balance that creeps up on my internal clock just before my alarm goes off at 5 a.m., and reminds me that I’ve got lots to do today so I’d better get out and run.