Back in the summer before my last year of university, I managed 6 weeks of waking up at 5:30 in the morning to go for a run before getting ready and heading off to my cubicle at my co-op job. It felt amazing. It felt like I could do anything in those wee moments of the morning. My favourite moments were the ones spent sweating on my back porch stretching the run out of my hips, thighs, and calves, listening to the backyard of my student house come alive. (See above, 22 year old me, all sweaty and gross just after a run.)
I learned a lesson in those six weeks that has been following me around and taunting me ever since: I am fully capable of waking up early and getting in a workout before work. I am fully capable of doing this consistently. I enjoy it more than I enjoy my bed. It’s not that hard.
This is a lesson I’ve been ignoring for four years. Or, to be more precise, I acknowledge this lesson at 10:30 at night as I get ready for bed and set my alarm for 6:00 the next morning. I start ignoring it at 6:00, when that alarm goes off and Mocha snuggles in beside me even further. This past Wednesday though, I listened to that alarm, struggled out of bed, struggled into my running clothes and sneakers, struggled out the door. The heat and humidity meant there was no more kidding myself that I could run when I got home from work. If I wanted to move, I had to do it in those early hours before the sun returned to scorching.
Friday, today, is Day 3. It’s becoming easier, my body naturally pushing back the moment I crawl out of the covers and swing my legs to the floor. 6:08. 6:06. 6:00, the moment my phone starts to scream angry music at me. In honour of my third day of success, I have some tips for people like me, people who set their alarm for early, but are best friends with Snooze #5.
One: Remind yourself how much you regret it when you don’t listen to your alarm.
This is how I managed to get out of bed on Wednesday morning. As I left the house the previous day, I fully acknowledged my disappointment in myself. I was leaving the house on time, but, had I gotten up early, I could have done so much more with the morning minutes. Showering, eating, throwing on some clothes and make-up – these were not accomplishments. The next day, the reminder of this disappointment pushed me from my bed and out the door.
Two: Don’t give yourself a choice.
Every time my alarm goes off at 6 am, I have a choice. I don’t have to be out the door until shortly after 7:30 to get to work on time, so I could quite safely sleep until 6:45 and still get my shower, breakfast, and a little time to apply a flick of mascara. I don’t have a choice, however, about that 6:45 alarm. If I elevate my morning run to the level of getting dressed, something that is absolutely required before I step out the door, suddenly the matter of choice about the snooze option on my alarm is gone. Don’t give yourself a choice about getting up and you will get up.
Three: Plan for it.
Maybe this one should be moved up in this list. If I don’t go to bed by 10:30 at night, getting out of bed at 6 am is a lot harder than it has to be. Going to bed early is not a problem for me – I’m a sleepaholic. But, I still need to be consciously aware of my decision to wake up early so my 10:30 bedtime doesn’t suddenly become 11 because I wanted to load the dishwasher before bed. And run one last load of laundry. And finish the last three chapters of my book. It’s surprising how easily 10:30 becomes 11:30, even for someone who loves sleep.
Four: Go easy on your performance.
I don’t run as well in the morning as I tend to run in the evening. I feel sluggish for the first mile and a half until I am really and truly warmed up. Neither my legs nor my lungs seem to enjoy being pulled from the relaxation of sleep to the insistence of movement. My warm-up takes longer, finding my stride is more difficult, increasing my pace feels impossible. I try not to let these things matter. The important thing is that I’m running.
Five: Set a goal.
This is a good idea for any kind of exercise, obviously, but here, I’m talking specifically about a goal for getting up in the morning. Back in university, my goal was 6 weeks of early mornings. I met that goal. Of course, once I met the goal, I re-introduced myself to my snooze button, but I had already learned the lesson I needed to learn in that time. (I also went back to classes, and had a far more fluid schedule. Get up at 5:30 when I don’t have to be on campus until 11? I don’t think so!) Having the goal allowed me to experience my own capabilities and assess whether or not I wanted to keep going, with full awareness of myself. Set yourself an achievable goal – maybe even only one week! – and assess at the end of that time frame whether early morning exercise is actually something you want to do and enjoy. If it isn’t, turn off your 6:00 alarm.
Six: Don’t be too hard on yourself.
This is a lesson I have to learn over and over again about so many things, but it is probably one of the most important things when it comes to health and exercise. Say, you follow all my suggestions and multiple suggestions from more knowledgeable people too, and you’re still incapable of getting up early to go for a run, even though you want to be able to so badly. Give yourself a break. I fully believe in the morning person-night person dichotomy. I know that some have natural sleep cycles that insist they should be horizontal at 6 am. I see them on the subway, clutching their fifth cup of coffee or fast asleep even if they’re standing. If you hate morning exercise, or find yourself consistently unable to extract yourself from your blankets, there’s a chance that it’s just not for you.
And that is perfectly ok.