How To Become A Morning Exercise Person

Illustration by Jiro Bevis
I’m not a morning person. While I adore cold, crisp dawns where the sun shines so brightly through the window you can hardly see, I adore them with my eyes half-open, in bed, where I belong at 7am. I like lazy mornings, where you snooze until 10am before getting up, making pancakes and watching trash TV until you eventually relocate from your house to the pub.

This artery-clogging combination of idle mornings and long, boozy lunches was what forced me to agree to run a half-marathon in a last-ditch attempt to restore some health and vitality to my wine-weathered body.

Running was something I did in extreme moderation – the occasional 20-metre sprint to catch a bus, or a frantic jog whenever I was late for a meeting. I neither enjoyed nor reaped the rewards of exercise. A long-term thyroid problem made it nigh-on impossible for me to shift weight, meaning I remained static in my size 14 body whether I exercised or not – and that’s not the most enticing incentive to train for a 13.1-mile run.

But with the race marked on the calendar in red biro (alongside a huge sad face) and a fundraising page alight with disbelief, I had no choice but to hit the road. It was January and the weather was practically Baltic. I left the house for work while it was still dark, returned home as the sun set, then headed out to the gym or for a run before collapsing on the sofa at 9pm, just about mustering the strength to make a gigantic bowl of pasta to replenish my dwindling energy levels. It was impractical and exhausting and only made the experience of running, which I already hated with the fire of a thousand suns, even more unenjoyable.

The answer to all my running woes came one morning when I was complaining (by which I mean stealth-boasting about my heroic training regime) to a friend. The sort of friend that actually likes green juices, and glows radiantly on a hangover. The sort of friend that has their shit together.

“Just get up and do it in the morning,” she said, chirpily. “You always feel like shit first thing so you might as well set the alarm an hour earlier and get exercise out the way.”

This was not a suggestion I wanted to entertain but I was zapped of energy and spent the rest of the day at my desk, dreading going for a run when I got home. That evening, circling the same four-mile route I had already done three times that week, I knew that my time had come – I would have to become a morning exercise person.

What came next was a series of mornings where I would set my alarm for 6am, hit snooze until 7am when it was too late to go for a run, then feel like a failure for the rest of the day.

The problem was that I hadn’t changed anything other than my alarm and I hate to break it to you but if you want to become one of those morning exercise people, you’re going to have to change a lot more than the time on your alarm clock.

It might sound obvious but the key to getting up early is getting a good night’s sleep, which isn’t always easy when your iPhone is a constant fixture on your bedside table. It’s habitual to spend sleepless hours scrolling through Instagram, the glow of white fluorescent light on your face, and that’s the first habit you need to break in order to reset your body clock.

"Just get up and do it in the morning," she said, chirpily. "You always feel like shit first thing so you might as well set the alarm earlier and get it out the way."

Lisa-Jane Holmes, a personal trainer at Wildcat Fitness says: “When you first start training in the early morning it can definitely feel challenging, but you'll be surprised how quickly your body adapts to a routine.

“Adjust your bedtime accordingly, so that you can still get between seven and eight hours' sleep where possible, even if you have a 5.30am alarm. Simple things like leaving your phone or alarm clock on the other side of the room so you have to get out of bed to turn them off help, as once you're physically up it seems less tempting to get back into bed to snooze.”

Not only does leaving your alarm on the other side of the room force you out of bed, it also eliminates the use of technology in bed, helping you to get a better night’s sleep. As someone who used to do everything from reading books to scheduling tweets on my phone past 10pm, trust me when I say that a ban on tech in bed (or even the bedroom, if you can) will have you sleeping like a baby. That means no Netflix on your iPad, no quick emails on your laptop, no TV flickering silently as you slumber.

Once you’ve settled into a healthier (and hopefully happier!) bedtime routine, mornings should become a lot easier and this is when you can start to think about getting moving. The rest of the work is all in the prep.

If you’re going running, lay out your workout kit so that you can get up, get dressed and get out. Put your clothes for the day in the bathroom, so you can get back, shower and get ready for work. If you’re going to the gym and heading straight to work afterwards, pack your bag with your clothes for work and a mini washbag. Soon enough, these little rituals will become second nature.

The other thing to consider when you’re working out early is what to eat. It can be challenging to fit breakfast in when you’re getting up at the crack of dawn, and it’s not a one-size-fits-all thing so try out different options and see what works for you. I make a smoothie or overnight oats the night before and pop them in the fridge, ready to grab on my way to the train station when I get back from my run.

I get a slapped wrist from Lisa, though, who says: “I don't recommend working out on an empty stomach, even first thing in the morning. If you can't face eating early, then a breakfast smoothie is a great option. Put as much as you can into your blender the night before (think oats, chia seeds, protein powder) then all you need to do is add your fruit or veg and liquid of choice, whizz it up and you can even drink it en route to the gym.”

Whenever you have breakfast, it’s also a good idea to have your lunch ready to take to work, especially if you’re trying to be healthier. Exercising in the morning does get your metabolism going, so you might find you’re hungrier than usual. Avoid the biscuit tin and reach for your pre-packed snack and you’ll feel like a saint.

Resetting your body clock, changing your nighttime routine, prepping your gymwear, workwear and food for the day can seem like a bit of a faff but I guarantee that, once you start working out in the morning, you’ll never go back.

In October last year, I managed to run 13.1 miles in the Oxford Half Marathon, in a horrifically slow time. I went from a serial snooze-button hitter to a half-marathon finisher and if I can do it, anyone can. Seriously.
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