This is a common question for runners, new and old. Is there an optimal time to go for a run? If there is, how much of a difference does it really make?
If you are one of those who painstakingly get up and out of bed at the crack of dawn to get your run in before the sun has even had a chance to rise, you are probably thinking that you can get it done first thing in the morning so you don’t have to worry about life getting in the way of your running. Or maybe you’re the type that can’t fathom the idea of waking up to a screaming alarm, suiting up, and hitting the pavement at the crack of dawn…ahem…me. Either way, is one better than the other?
The true answer is…drum roll….whenever you feel the most alert and whenever you are most likely going to actually do it! As I mentioned before, life has a way of getting in the way of things, so whichever time of day is your running time, make sure that your body is ready for the action. Here are some tips for running in the morning, midday, or evening.
Morning: If you had a small dinner, skipped dinner, had sugary dessert, or had fast-digesting carbohydrates with dinner, your energy storage will be low. Your body temperature and heart rate are also at the lowest point. This combination makes it tough to get up and out. There’s hope though! Try sticking to vegetables (think broccoli) and legumes at dinner, which are slower digesting carbohydrates. Make sure you don’t fall asleep to the TV, to playing on your phone, or reading on your Kindle. These actually stimulate your brain activity making it harder to get to sleep. You can set out your running clothes for the morning next to your bed so you don’t have to search around in the early morning hours. It might not be a bad idea to have your alarm clock placed across the room, forcing you to get up. I usually have a lamp on my nightstand that I’ll turn on. Light to the eyes tells your body to stop producing melatonin (sleep hormone) and will help you wake up.
Midday: Your melatonin levels are low at this time of day, which means you are more alert. Sometimes that midday break to run is a better decision than staying at the office. Plus, it can help ease that 2:00pm-3:00pm crash that seems to creep in. Try eating part of your lunch an hour before you plan your run, then you can have the other half post run to refuel. It’s also a great idea to schedule your run as you would any other work obligation. It’s important to schedule time for yourself, and you’re more likely to stick to it if you have it scheduled in.
Evening: You finished your workday. It’s been a rough, long day, and all you want to do is sit on the couch for a minute, or join a friend for Happy Hour. We’ve all been there. Your blood sugar levels are low, as is your dopamine (feel good hormone) making it tough to feel up for a run. Your best bet is to bring your clothes with you and change at the office. Don’t go home, go straight to your running route, or if the area is safe, run a route from work and then drive home. The run will wake up your nervous system and make you more alert. Make sure that you grab a quick and small snack before you head out.
Whatever time you decide to fit your run in, an accountability partner is always a good and safe idea. Find a friend that has a similar goal or running regime and set up running appointments. Not only will it help you to stick to your goals because you don’t want to disappoint them, but it will also keep you safe on those early morning or evening runs with a “buddy system”.