It’s rare but sometimes I just don’t want to do it, I’m not in the mood to just pop up and go. The truth is, it is normal to not want it every day; I just want to stay in my pjs. I’m not in the mood to get sweaty and breathless. But I have to; I promised last night I’d do it this morning. Faking illness, whether it is a headache, a cold or stomach issues is one quick way to get out of doing the deed. There is no getting away from it now, but I’ll try. I can’t use the “headache” excuse again. My first excuse of “having no time” is shot down – apparently there’s no rush. Next I claim I’m too tired and feeling a bit sluggish, but apparently I snored happily all night! But it’s too cold and I’m just not moving, and anyway the noise will wake the children and the neighbours. And Finally I get spiteful – “you said no yesterday and now I’m saying no today” But I know I just have to start, take the first step and visualise how I’ll feel after, it will be worth it and I will enjoy it once I get going. So just shut up and do it – go for a run!
The Sunday session is the only early morning run I do. But it’s the longest. From the minute I wake I think of excuses and reasons not to go. Just stay in bed and do it later. Roll over, the bed is cosy, its warm and I’ve found the perfect spot. I prefer training in the late morning or early afternoon, and even late evening feels nicer than the early morning. Like many other runners I always feel miserable getting up at a ridiculous hour for a run. But surely this is just a psychological battle, I’m just lazy. However according to a significant body of science my apathy may be due to a perfectly natural phenomenon – circadian rhythm. Often referred to as the “body clock”, the circadian rhythm causes small fluctuations in bodily functions on a 24-hour basis. Virtually every bodily function shows daily rhythmicity that is affected by environmental cues, like sunlight and temperature.
The important aspect, from a running viewpoint, is that many body functions are at their worst in the early morning. Body temperature is low, causing muscles to feel stiff and lung function is poor meaning early morning performances can often rate poorly when compared to running later in the day (Chtourou & Souissi, 2012). Exercising in the early hours can make injury more likely, and even worse, research suggests that this is the most common time of day for adverse cardiovascular heart attacks and strokes (Scheer & Shea, 2014). So it has been known for some time that most physical activities including running are best performed in the afternoon or evening — between 4 and 7pm. This is when body temperature peaks; the muscles are at their most supple. The hormones (testosterone and cortisol) are ideally balanced, and running at speeds that feel tough in the early morning feels much easier (Reilly et al., 2007). Recently this has been further bolstered by research which found that lung function improves greatly in the afternoon and evening (Rhee & Kim, 2015) . This is the reason everything just feels easier and more comfortable, the miles go by that much quicker. This is definitely the time of day to run a personal best.
But unfortunately life doesn’t always allow for leisurely late morning, afternoon or evening outings. I just have to get out and get it done before work and family commitments kick in. However, just because it’s hard, and the first 2 or 3 miles feel awful, doesn’t mean it is of no benefit. This struggle builds mental toughness. At a primal level it is liberating to get out before the cars, on quiet roads and be alone with your thoughts and fellow runners. And after 2 or 3 miles I’ve forget about the bed. The rest of the day can be faced with a feeling of satisfaction and silent self righteousness. And the good news is that the more early morning runs completed the easier they become(Hill et al., 1989). So whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, your runs are most effective at your habitual workout time. Muscles are undoubtedly stiffer and energy levels are poorer first thing in the morning, but the body can get used to running at this time. Nevertheless if you’re looking for superior energy levels and want to break your personal record for your normal route – do it in the evening. So, after all that, what time will I run tomorrow? Whenever I can find the time to sneak away!
Chtourou H & Souissi N. (2012). The effect of training at a specific time of day: a review. J Strength Cond Res 26, 1984-2005.
Hill DW, Cureton KJ & Collins MA. (1989). Circadian specificity in exercise training. Ergonomics 32, 79-92.
Reilly T, Atkinson G, Edwards B, Waterhouse J, Farrelly K & Fairhurst E. (2007). Diurnal variation in temperature, mental and physical performance, and tasks specifically related to football (soccer). Chronobiol Int 24, 507-519.
Rhee MH & Kim LJ. (2015). The changes of pulmonary function and pulmonary strength according to time of day: a preliminary study. J Phys Ther Sci 27, 19-21.
Scheer FA & Shea SA. (2014). Human circadian system causes a morning peak in prothrombotic plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1) independent of the sleep/wake cycle. Blood 123, 590-593.