How to (Finally) Become a Morning Runner

Molly Hurford
by Molly Hurford
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How to (Finally) Become a Morning Runner

Morning runs might sound magical in theory — that solo, meditative time before dawn, being able to watch (and Instagram) the sunrise knowing you worked out before most people have had their first sip of coffee, checking off your workout before heading into the office. But the reality is waking up can be hard. A buzzing alarm in the morning darkness is never a welcome sound. If you’ve tried to get up, hit snooze, tried again and still can’t make yourself get up early to get in those miles, here are a few things early-morning workout pros do that will help get you into the habit:


Know what it is that makes you want to run early. Maybe it’s that you’re craving some ‘me time’ and want to feel less hectic heading into your day. Maybe if you don’t work out in the morning, you never will. Maybe you have a family at home and 5 a.m. is the only solo time you can carve out. Whatever the reason, know why you’re committed to doing it — otherwise you’re bound to hit snooze when the alarm sounds.


Rather than diving right in with an hour-long run if you’ve never, ever been a morning person, set up a plan for a gradual growth to success. Maybe for the first week, you don’t actually exercise early in the morning, you just get up earlier and read the newspaper and have coffee — whatever is actually fun for you. Then, the next week, perhaps you get out of bed and do a series of gentle yoga stretches. Then, the next week, it’s a more intensive yoga or core routine. After that, add an outdoor element by going for a short walk. Increase distance and/or pace slowly, week after week, until you’re suddenly out running at 6:30 a.m. It might take a few months, but the slower buildup will lead to a more long-term lifestyle change.


Enlist a crew of like-minded runners to join you. That’s what Cait Foisy did when she realized she needed to have a goal to work toward, and runners to help pace her. She found several fellow moms willing to meet in the wee hours before husbands and kids were awake. Some runs even started at 4 a.m. to account for 6 a.m. workdays and wake-ups, but the crew runs regularly, and almost all of them have hit a personal best in a race within the last year.


Part of the reason that early rising crew worked so well is because all of them have little choice in the matter: The morning miles are the only time they have to run that won’t impact time with work, partners and kids. Even if you’re going home to your cat or a good book and a cup of tea, try to frame running in the morning as a non-negotiable. You’re more likely to get it done if you think there isn’t another time to do it, versus the still-in-bed rationalization of “I’ll run this evening.” Even if it seems counterintuitive to your running progress, consider banning runs after 9 a.m. for a few weeks to see how stir-crazy you go if you can’t rack up the miles. You’ll start waking up!


A study looked at motivation in the morning and found working out is easier to make stick if it’s perceived as a fun, positive thing to do, instead of a total drag. Shift your mood by setting your alarm clock to pep you up, rather than stress you out. A grumpy foghorn alarm will spring you out of bed, but not happily. While you’re starting to build the habit, start with a fun cue, like a favorite pump-up jam as your alarm instead.


Remember that old nugget of wisdom people would tell you when it came to getting up in time for school or to stop being late to work? The same goes for a workout — have your running gear laid out, shoes unlaced and ready to slide on, coffee maker prepped, snack at the ready, so when the alarm goes off, it’s ridiculously easy to get out the door. Nothing ruins momentum faster than not having everything you need at your fingertips.



2003 study conducted by the University of Georgia showed that not only can coffee give you that up-and-at-‘em caffeine buzz in the morning, but it can also help you feel less pain in your muscles while you exercise. The decrease in pain can be up to 50%, according to the study. (For runners with sensitive stomachs, plan a route that has a restroom stop early in the run if you do a shot of espresso before lacing up.)


While you can get by with a handheld flashlight or some reflective straps, this can be a fun opportunity to add a few pieces to your closet. If you’re running while it’s still dark out, here’s your chance to justify some new gear, like a headlamp and reflective leggings. For some people, making the purchase helps give you the push to get out the door or risk feeling guilty about having a bunch of ready-for-running-in-the-dark gear taking up space in your closet.


Sure, running early can kind of suck. It’s dark, possibly cold, definitely hard to get moving at first … But lean into the toughness and revel in the fact that you’re the one getting in a workout before most of the world even gets out of bed. As Foisy points out, there’s nothing better than hitting your activity goal and step count for the day before the clock strikes 7.

About the Author

Molly Hurford
Molly Hurford

Molly is an outdoor adventurer and professional nomad obsessed with all things running, nutrition, cycling and movement-related. When not outside, she’s writing about being outside, travel and athletic style on, or she’s interviewing world-class athletes and scientists for The Consummate Athlete Podcast. You can follow her adventures on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat at @mollyjhurford.


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