Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Wake Up, Sunshine

My biggest barrier when it comes to running is not the aching pain of hills, nor the muscle screams in my calves or dragon-like fire burning through my lungs. It's actually something much less frightening though equally powerful:

I'm a morning runner, and there's no way to change that. I get home from work around 7PM and want nothing more than a cheese-filled meal with my husband to accompany our nightly viewing of Jeopardy! Delaying that by 40 minutes so I can cover myself in sweat is not only unpleasant, but impossible. My energy level on night runs is non-existant. My body is more tired and my breathing doesn't feel right. It's just awful.

Thankfully, I am indeed a certified morning person. This has served me well over the years in just about every area of life that doesn't involve human interaction, but even the AM queen that I like to think myself to be can have a hard time getting started when sleeping is just so gosh darn fun.

When I decided to train for a marathon, I knew the most important question to ask myself involved how I was going to get in all of those extra training miles. For someone like me, the only answer was to become extremely disciplined about getting up earlier and allowing no excuses to keep me in bed. Like most parts of marathon training, that's easier said than done. Thankfully, I've taken the last month to hone a few handy tricks to get me in my running shoes before the sun shines:

1. Decide your plans the night before AND DON'T CHANGE A THING.
For a while, I was counting on "seeing how I feel when I wake up" to decide whether to run or not. Guess what? At 5AM, I NEVER saw myself feeling like I wanted to run. It's 5AM for crying out loud. The skunks and opossums still have jurisdiction over my park.

I finally realized that pre-sunrise, I'm simply not trustworthy. I now plot my running schedule over the course of the week, carefully inserting rest days when I know I may be up later the night before. Unless I were to wake up with pink eye or, I don't know, a missing eyeball (neither has happened yet), I roll out of bed and follow the plan. So far, it's working.

2. Schedule a very specific snooze.
The snooze button is the enemy of anyone trying to wake up in the morning, but it's the absolute nemesis of a runner trying to get some miles in before the work commute.

In my rougher days, I'd set my alarm and hit the you-know-what button. And then I'd do it again. And again. Finally, my fail-safe actual get up WITHOUT running alarm would go off and I'd resume my usual morning schedule, only with a tinge of guilt and self-shame.

My new system is a little more calculated. As I've learned that I need the pre-wake up feature, I now set my alarm 10 minutes earlier than my actual wake-up time. Rather than the snooze cycle, I turn off the first and either sleep until the 'official' alarm or, if I'm frisky and ready, get up with the first. I don't let myself think of it as snoozing. It's more a warmup, leaving less to chance or again, the silly notion that at 5AM, I can trust myself to "feel like running." That ain't gonna happen.

I've also newly discovered the joy of "naming" your alarms, letting me tell myself exactly what each one means. Hence, when "10 minute warning" sounds, I can rest easy. When "get up and move your fat a$$" goes off, I scowl at the nastiness of that more awake chick that programmed my phone. Then I get up and move my fat a$$.

3. Go to sleep knowing what happens next.
Aside from the obvious trick of laying all clothing out in an easy-to-reach place, something that helped me has been to mentally prepare myself for the morning. I check the morning weather just before bed to know what conditions I'm working with (warmer days may mean shorter runs and later alarms, cooler mornings might mean hills or adding a mile, and thunderstorming danger means skip it or do an exercise video). When my head hits the pillow, I try to fall asleep thinking about what kind of workout I'm hoping to have. While on most nights, my brain usually makes a few stops in different areas of focus (work issues, the enormity of the universe, still trying to remember how to explain the ending of Lost), it's a handy, boring little topic to busy a tired brain with. If I'm lucky, I fall asleep thinking about the next morning. There's something weirdly zen about it.

4. Drink up.
There are some things I can sleep through. Thunderstorms. Gunshots. Cats meowing for breakfast. Cats firing gunshots. My snooze button. My husband's snooze button. The apocalypse, most likely.

You know what I can't sleep through? The need to urinate. I am not a superhero.

A simple trick: right before I turn out the light, I drink.

A half a small bottle of water usually does the trick. I pee just before bed because I'm a human being, then load up on more hydration before going to sleep. I'm not the kind of person who wakes up in the middle of the night to use the restroom, partially because I tend to sleep through the night like the baby nobody ever has, but more because I just really HATE getting out of bed before it's time to wake up. Part of that is the aforementioned gun-toting felines that prowl my hallways demanding attention or subsistence as soon as a human stirs.

If I have JUST ENOUGH water in me, I will ultimately have no choice but to get out of bed when my kidneys demand it. There's certainly a balancing act in learning not to drink too much for fear of 3AM emergency stops, but once I found that magic number, I haven't slept past my running alarm.

Thus far, all of these tricks have helped me amass more weekly miles than ever before during my run-heavy days. Will they last? Time will tell. But so far, so good...