I Run the Night

In most neighborhoods, when you leave for work in the morning, you will see them by the dozens. women and men running or walking through the locals paths or streets, huffing and puffing, bundled to the necks in cold weather gear, getting that morning run in to start their day.

You will not see me though.

Despite the fact that I have to be at work by 7, so that would meaning running at 4:30-5, because a run for me takes longer than a normal human being, running, or any workout for that matter, in the morning has never been my “thing”. I don’t like getting up and exercising right away. I am too crickety for that right now. This is odd because I spent ten years in the military where morning workouts were the norm. What is boot camp without the reveille call at 5:00 AM to go out to the grinder for a quick 2 mile run followed by endless push-ups and sit-ups and marching drills? The difference was I HAD to do it then. There was no choice in the matter. I don’t have to do it now.

I have been thinking about this recently, after it was brought up by my co-host on the Back of Pack Endurance podcast. He had noticed that I do all of my running and workouts at night after work. We will be discussing this further on the show of course, but I wanted to get some of my thoughts down on “paper”.

I have always felt better at night. My body seems more attuned to moving and performing after it has had a few hours to warm up. I am not sure if this is just a me thing or if it is something that can be shown scientifically. At least I didn’t know until I started doing some research into it to see if there was anything concrete to show if there was anything to the feeling.

There was indeed a study conducted in Texas and report in the Journal of Sports Medicine that took 20 healthy young men and put them through a battery of VO2 testing.  The aim was to investigate the effect of time of day on 4 variables that are related to sport performance. They were asked to perform exhaustive severe-intensity cycle ergometer tests at 278 ± 35 Watts in the morning (between 0630 h and 0930 h) and in the evening (between 1700 h and 2000 h). Performance in the evening was associated with a 4% higher maximal oxygen uptake and a 7% higher anaerobic capacity. In addition, oxygen uptake was faster in the evening, resulting in slower utilization of the anaerobic reserves. It concluded that modest morning–evening differences in maximal oxygen uptake, anaerobic capacity, and oxygen uptake kinetics conflate to produce a markedly longer performance in the evening than in the morning. Time of day must be considered for exercise testing and perhaps for exercise training (edited from the paper abstract).

So, I thought, maybe there is more to this than just the “feeling” I have at night? My current coach is on me recently to forego “metrics” and pay more attention to how I feel during training. The consensus is that I let the numbers on my watch dictate how I feel instead of letting my own brain tell me how I feel. I agree with this premise to a point. It is obviously important to a person training to be in tuned to their body so that we can react accordingly, but where I stray is that I like to have … validation. I don’t let the numbers dictate, unlike what many think I do. I use the numbers to validate what I feel at that moment. I am not staring at my Garmin every step of a run. In fact, I rarely look at it. When I do look it is normally because I feel like I am pushing too hard and I will see what my pace is, or my heart rate.

I also think evening work vs. morning work is one of those “old thinking” issues that some refuse to let go of. You know what I mean right? When I was playing football in the late 70’s we were made to take salt pills after every practice and were not allowed water during the entire 2 hour practice. That stayed in my head for a long time, and is still there to some degree, which is why I have to set my watch (See? The watch again!) to beep every ten minutes to let me know to drink. If I didn’t have that reminder I’d never drink. We were also taught “No Pain No Gain” as a mantra, which is still used in boxes and gyms everywhere and something most intelligent athletes know to be totally untrue and dangerous. Many coaches, including my beloved Team in Training coaches, still plan pasta “carb loading” dinners the night before events (which have been shown to not only not work but can actually hinder performance) and advise ice baths after running (see this article HERE for reasons why this does not work). But you know why these issues are still clung to? Because, taking the ice bath for an example, even the people reporting on them contradict themselves. Go to Triathlon.com right now and read the article I linked, then do a search for Ice Baths inside that magazine. You will find articles saying that they are good just a year ago. This is what leads to the inevitable “article wars” on boards and social media site. I cite a source saying one thing, then someone cites a source saying the opposite, then another cites a source saying both of us are wrong. Cue the inevitable name calling and the fight is on.

The point is this. I have arthritis, and to be blunt, I am in my 50’s and my body can only take so much. Getting up at 5 AM for an 8 mile run is not working for me. It doesn’t fit my schedule nor my inner rhythms. By the time I get through the day I am warmed up and loose, and although mentally tired, a run or swim or bike does wonders for me. Another article I read on training yesterday gave 10 reason why training in the morning is best, 5 of which go against what the study I mentioned states, but the one that stood out to me was #8, that is “clears the mind”. Aren’t most minds clearest in the morning? It would seem that if clearing the mind and de-stressing was the main reason, it would be best to do that at night when your mind is clogged with a days worth of mess. Right?

And I know some reading this have families, especially young children, so it just makes sense to train in the morning and I totally get that. Of all the reasons to train in the morning that makes the most sense to me. Mom’s and Dad’s getting up at 5 and running a quick 3 miles before the craziness of getting kids up and ready for school. More power to you. I no longer have that issue (hell, I am lucky to see my son out of bed before 3 PM). I just don’t get the insistence of training groups, not just TNT but most social groups, to schedule runs at the break of dawn. Why can’t the ride start at 9 instead of 6? The reasoning given where I am the most often is the heat, especially during the summer, is easier to handle. But I prefer training in the heat. Maybe that’s just because I am a native Floridian and used to it after 51 years? Who knows?

So, as with most things, it really comes down to what works for you, both physically and mentally. All the science in the world telling you that training at night is better than in the morning won’t matter if you feel better in the morning, so that the net net.

Just don’t tell me Ice Baths work and Sugar is required.

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