Published: 28 March 2021. Written by: Tom Wheatley
Want to smash an early morning run but need a nudge? Fitness writer, personal trainer and seasoned runner Tom Wheatley has taken part in races around the world. Here, he looks at the science of morning running and why getting up at the crack of dawn to take your training to the next level is achievable.
As we finally start to see the end to sub-zero temperatures and dangerous icy paths, the end of winter also marks the start of longer days. For runners, that means more daylight hours to tick off your training miles before the day has even started.
But, before you set your alarm and carefully lay your running kit out next to the bed, it’s worth getting to grips with some of the science behind making the best of your morning sessions. After all, if you’re going to force yourself to get up early, you need to make the best of it.
1. Make a routine (and stick to it)
Successful training is about building consistency, whether that’s sticking to a diet or starting a new type of exercise. The same goes for getting up for your morning runs and fighting off the inevitable urge to turn off the alarm clock and pull the duvet back over your head.
Vitality Clinician Jamie Monk explains: ‘Once you have created a routine and this feels more like a habit, the psychological perception of the task ahead is also reduced, meaning that you are much more likely to perform it consistently.’
Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all rule to building successful habits, and the time it takes for an activity to become normalised as part of an individual’s life can vary.
A study carried out in 2009 found that the amount of time it takes for these habits to form can vary between 18-224 days, with the median timeframe sitting at 66 days. Although this may sound like a long time, once you’ve built this habit it’s an investment that means sticking to a morning 10k becomes as simple as brushing your teeth. Almost.
2. Get an early night
Although it’s by far the easiest preparation you can do for a morning run – considering it consists of doing nothing – it’s surprising how many of us struggle to get our sleeping habits right.
The effect of sleep on our lives has repercussions across every aspect of our activities. Don’t get enough sleep and it can mean you struggle to stick to a diet, make it difficult to concentrate and increase your risk of injury.
According to this study, published by the British Medical Journal, there’s a clear correlation between the quality of sleep and physical activity levels, with those people receiving a good night’s sleep having significantly more energy to perform an exercise.
‘Unless you are sleeping for at least seven hours a night,’ says Jamie, ‘the chances are it will have a far bigger effect on your training than the time of day you exercise.’
3. Fuel correctly for your goals
It may seem obvious that in order to make the best of your morning run you need to have the required energy to do it well. But there’s conflicting information when it comes to training first thing in the morning, including the benefits of fasted training on exercise.
The amount of fuel you need for your morning run will largely depend on factors such as your weight, the level of effort you plan to put in and your training goals. Fasted training may be beneficial if your focus is specifically to lose weight, but if your aim is to improve performance, you need to make sure you’re properly fuelled.
As this study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine explains, fasting before a run can have a significant negative effect on endurance running performance.
4. Make sure you do a warm-up
Yes, we know, you’ve heard it a thousand times. But, trust us, if there’s ever a time to get your warm-up game on point, it’s before your morning runs. Not only will it help you perform better, but it will also limit the risk of problems further down the line.
‘When your muscles have been in a static position for a prolonged period, they become cold and stiff,’ says Jamie. ‘Therefore, whether you’ve been asleep for eight hours, or sitting at a desk for nine, a warm-up is vital for maximising your performance and reducing your risk of injury.’
As well as research that shows improvements in athletic performance when incorporating a warm-up into a training plan, a study published by Sports Medicine found that performing an effective warm-up before physical exercise has a positive outcome on deterring injuries. Just make sure that you do it 15 minutes prior to running for optimum benefits.
5. Drag a running pal out with you
Although running solo comes with its own range of benefits, getting yourself a buddy can add a number of plus points to your training. However, not all running buddies are created equal, and just having another person with you as you tick off your morning miles isn’t going to guarantee progress.
According to a study published in the Journal of Social Sciences, people tend to gravitate towards the behaviour of those around them. So, look for a running partner who pushes you to try harder, whether that’s motivating you to get up early for every session or making you put the effort in to push harder every time things start feeling tough.
6. Track your progress
According to Jamie, ‘tracking your performance with technology is a great way to assess your progress and keep a log of your training.’ Don’t forget, Vitality members can make some great savings on trackers, too.
The benefits of using fitness tracking devices will vary depending on the user and their specific goals, with developing technology from brands such as Garmin, Polar and Apple allowing for detailed analysis of highly specific performance factors.
As a study from Cardiff Metropolitan University highlights, tracking can help athletes to improve running performance, track global training loads and provide real-time feedback on running speed and run cadence.
7. Build your playlist
Listening to music when you’re out on a run is largely down to preference, but the science behind listening to your favourite albums when out for a run makes for some compelling training advantages.
As explained in a study carried out by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, listening to music during a training session can not only improve performance but can help in accelerating recovery during a run.
However, you should always make sure that if you are going to listen to music when running, that you do it away from busy traffic, or use a pair of bone-conduction headphones to allow you to hear the sound around you.
Read more on how to prepare for a run here.
As a Vitality member, you could get up to 40% off on a range of Polar fitness trackers. Available with eligible health insurance, life insurance and investments plans. Postage and packing applies. Log in to Member Zone for the details.