Let's get one thing straight: I am not a morning person. Just because I get up in the morning to work out doesn't mean I enjoy setting my alarm to go off before the sun is even up. I mean, the sun isn't up, so why should I be? But after years of struggling with the snooze button (and missing many, many runs), I figured out how to make it a more enjoyable experience...and one I could I actually stick to.
First, let's rewind a bit. What motivated me to try to become a morning person in the first place? A recent survey from Under Armour and MapMyFitness revealed that even though many people like the idea of a morning run, realistically you're probably choosing to lace-up in the afternoon or evening. And I had become a pretty strong advocate for the mental benefits of a nighttime run after a busy day of work (sometimes you just need to sweat that stress out). But then I got engaged, and let me tell you when you're planning a wedding on top of a full-time job, keeping up with your workouts, and trying to have some semblance of a social life, there isn't much wiggle room in your schedule. Since I often had to meet with wedding vendors, arrange seating charts and go over finances with my soon-to-be hubby at night, that only left the morning free—if I got my butt out of bed, that is.
So I made the commitment to become someone who works out in the morning—gasp!—because I wanted to look great on my wedding day and feel confident in my dress. I also read that morning runners scored a handful of extra health benefits compared to nighttime runners, like better sleep and succumbing to fewer food cravings. Heck, if I was going to put in the effort to get some miles under my belt, I wanted to get the most out of it! Once I found my motivation, that made it easier to get into the habit. A study in the European Journal of Social Psychology said it takes a person at least 66 days to form a habit and stick to it, so starting this experiment six months from my wedding day gave me plenty of time to figure out what worked best for me.
Next, instead of just jumping into morning runs, I started going to classes because when you don't have any runner friends who live close enough to pound the pavement with you at 6 a.m., your chances of snoozing are quite high (trust me on this). I needed something to keep me accountable, so I joined ClassPass, a global fitness service that allows you to take a variety of classes from participating studios in your area. But here's how I knew it would work: If I skip a class, I get charged $20. If I cancel less than 12 hours before that class is supposed to start (so, the night before when I'm thinking about how early I have to set that alarm), I'll lose $15. Money is a powerful motivator—especially when I'm at risk of losing it. Knowing that I could either sweat it out or lose cash made getting out of bed a little easier.
Turns out that Jessica Underhill, a running coach and owner of Race Pace Wellness who just so happens to hate early morning runs too, thinks that was a smart strategy. "It's all about being held accountable," says Underhill. "Whether it's meeting someone else to workout with or the loss of money due to a no-show or late cancellation, an external motivator is a great way to help keep you on track with your fitness goals." (Underhill knows a thing or two about being a better, faster, stronger runner. She even helped develop the 30-Day Run Into SHAPE challenge.)
Then it was time to make sure that it was easy for me to actually get out the door because I'm not one of those people who wakes up in the morning and can instantly put together coherent thoughts. My husband, who's able to happily get himself dressed in a full suit and tie while I struggle to figure out how to put my spandex on straight, knows he's lucky to get more than a mumbled grunt out of me. After talking to Stephanie Howe, professional long-distance runner and CLIF Bar athlete, I realized that means I'm a "hatcher," or someone who slowly comes alive in the morning. She's a hatcher, too, and so she suggested that I prep everything I could possibly need the night before. That way I wouldn't have to make any decisions, and I could just shuffle along while my mind and body shifted out of sleep mode.
Things on my prep list: Pack my work clothes for the next day, load the Keurig so I only have to push a button in the a.m., set out my pre-workout fuel (I'm lovin' up on Clif's Organic Energy Food pouches lately) and lay out my workout clothes the night before...and make sure they're cute. Yes, that second part really matters. "It helps to have something that you're excited to wear when it's that early, even if it's small, like a sports bra you love or socks that are insanely comfortable," Howe says.
After about a month of regularly attending classes four days a week—and going on a long run on Saturdays—I started incorporating morning runs. I set my alarm at the same time as I would for a class because Underhill says that if I allowed myself to sleep in more than 30 minutes than what I was used to, it would mess with my sleep cycle. For that month, it meant I had enough time to squeeze in about three miles before I'd have to shower and leave for work. I found myself wanting to go further, so I asked Underhill for advice. "For one week, go to bed and wake up 15 minutes earlier than you normally do, and run for however long you can in that time frame," she said. "Repeat this pattern for a total of four weeks, so that by the fourth week you are actually getting to bed an hour earlier than you were previously." And you know what? It worked.
By the end of three months, I was a morning runner. And now, six months after my wedding, I'm still stickin' to it, running three days a week and going to two morning classes. It isn't always easy, but I find on days when I don't, my body feels slightly out of whack. When I do, I have more energy throughout the day, I'm productive at work, and I get to relax when I come home. Consider me converted.