Let me start off with this: Getting out of bed for early morning runs is tough.
Thanks, Captain Obvious.
I have not perfected the art of springing out of bed, landing in my running clothing and shoes, and sprinting out the door - all with a smile on my face. The only way I'm getting out of a warm bed in pre-dawn hours to get in my long run is with a plan and hard work, and it's still not easy. The steps I describe below just make things a bit easier and more efficient. Here we go...
1. Have a plan.
Speaking personally, I can't do anything without a plan. Before I go to bed the night before, I need to know exactly what I am going to be doing in the morning. I figure out when I need to be back for the first activities of the day, calculate when I need to leave and then calculate when I need to wake up. Usually, that is 30 minutes before I need to leave. If I wake up without something concrete, I am completely adrift. Before I go to bed the night before, I check the weather forecast, and I make a plan for how long I am going, what route I will take and what I am going to need. I will program the workout into my Forerunner. If I'm taking my iPod, I plan the podcasts or music I am going to listen to and made sure that they are loaded. This may sound like over-thinking, but you want to eliminate, or at least minimize the number of, details that need to be sorted out to the morning.
2. Get everything ready the night before, and I mean everything.
From the forecast (see #1), I select and lay out all of the clothing I think I will need. I make sure that any electronics I need are loaded, charged and ready. I chose what I am going to eat and set it out on the table (with dishes). I have even soaked oatmeal and left bread in the toaster to save time in the morning. Depending on how long I am running, I have filled the bottles for my hydration belt and put them in the fridge, and filled my pockets with bars and/or gels. There is a particular shame I have experienced in having to put away everything that I prepared when I have overslept. This is something I try to avoid.
3. Brush your teeth immediately after getting up.
This is my secret weapon to staying awake. For some reason, I feel more awake after doing this more than anything else I do. If you have any theory or explanation as to why this is so effective, please leave it in the comments.
4. Keep moving.
I cannot explain the physics behind this phenomenon, but time passes at an accelerated rate before 7:00AM. When I am up at 4:30AM or 5:00AM to get a long run in before the pace of life removes the opportunity, 30 minutes can pass in what seems like 10. In addition, activities that take 10 minutes in the evening, somehow take 20 minutes or more to do in the pre-dawn hours. Do not sit on the couch to check out the news on TV, or start reading e-mail or news articles on the web. Inevitably I will find something distracting, such as the end of a late night movie, and 30 minutes (or more) have disappeared. Having a plan really helps me focus.
5. Change into as much running clothing as needed to make yourself feel ready to go.
Getting out of the pajamas and into your running clothes is a key step in making me feel like I am ready to go. If the forecast is warm weather, you will probably end up fully dressed; if the weather is nasty, maybe you only have your base layers on. In any case, put on as much running gear as you need to tell your brain and body that running is inevitable. Again, there is a particular shame in having to change from unused running clothes back into street clothes without having run in them.
6. Eat as soon as possible after getting up.
Even if it is difficult, start shoveling in food as soon as you are dressed. I believe it gets the body working on something. The other thing is that, regardless of what time of year it is, I feel chilled when I wake up. A nurse I know explained to me that the reason for this is that one hasn't eaten in many hours. Eating, I guess, stimulates blood flow to your core for digestion and brings the core temperature up. Once you have eaten, put on the rest of your running stuff, lace the shoes and head out the door.
Another tip: While you are eating, turn on your Forerunner or whatever you use and set it in a window to lock on to satellites. You do not want to be standing in your street with your arm in the air for what seems like an eternity (because it always seems to take longer when it is dark. See step #4.), especially when it is cold or raining or both, waiting for your device to "Garminize" with orbiting satellites.
I can get through steps 3 through 6 in 30 minutes if I have thoroughly done steps 1 and 2 the night before. Anything I forgot or neglected to do delays my departure and potentially shortens my run or slams the window of opportunity shut. After 5 minutes of running, you will be happy that you are out there getting in your run long before everyone is up while your window of opportunity is still wide open.
If you have a routine that really works for you, please share it in the comments below.