The Early Habit

Responsibilities only increase with time, age and ambition. While it’s stressful to consider the additional mental load thrust upon you every day there is a perfectly practical solution to the unrelenting toil: wake up early.

There’s something magical about waking up before 5AM when the rest of the world is asleep. You can start to form your plan of attack, get in your workout before the day spirals out of control and reset your mind to focus on what lies ahead. When it comes to physical ambition, nothing is more convenient than getting the miles done while there are no other notable distractions weighing you down.

This strategy is not without peril. While waking up early is a win for your schedule, it takes a little time for your body to catch up; all of the soreness, creaks, and pains become all too real when you demand too much, too early, too soon. And to make matters worse, your mind is also your worse enemy. Your enemy knows you. Your enemy knows how you think and your worst fears and how to play to your ego, or comfort zones. Your enemy knows all of your excuses for staying in bed a little longer.

There is a way forward, however. By persistence, repetition, and unrelenting progress you can silence the enemy and get your mind to obey. The difficult becomes bland and ordinary and through repetition, the challenge becomes a habit. And habit becomes will-power. Each person only has a certain amount of will-power every single day – there’s just no way to sustain the onslaught of bad food, bad choices and bad situations. Unless you take CHOICE out of the equation – when you form a truly strong habit, the choice isn’t an issue – it’s just something that you do; it’s boring, not that exciting but yields the desired result and chronic infection of iron will.

My Daily Habit

The silent alarm on my Garmin Fenix vibrates at 4:45am – by design, I wear the watch to bed in order to both (a) track the sleep I’m NOT getting AND (b) minimize waking up my partner and getting a slap to the face. I rotate carefully onto the floor one foot at a time to assess the plantar fascia, my hamstrings already tight before the day even begins.

With all of my running clothes already laid out on my desk, I have about 15 minutes to pop in some contact lenses, brush my teeth and lace up before leaving the building. It seems like more than enough time but my fingers are pretty useless at this time of day. Equally, the last thing I want to do is wake up my little one – who is sleeping with her bunny, oblivious to the example I’m trying to set for her.

Finally, out the door, I immediately regret all of my decisions especially the choice of clothing. Checking the weather the night before is only a guide – if I get it wrong, there is NO time to go back upstairs and correct. Looks like this morning, my hands are going to get red, cold and numb. So be it.

Where I live, we’re not spoiled for beautiful running routes but it does make it easy to decide on the route. I typically have a few key routes: 4-mile recovery, 6-mile tempo, 7-mile hill workout or 10-mile long run – all allowing me to get back to my apartment by 6:30-6:40am. With this timing dialed in, I have plenty of time to get ready for the office, wake up my family and get the coffee water ready for beans. On a Friday if I’m feeling good, there may even be time to pick up some bagels HOT out of the boiler.

New Habits

This year, I have to figure out how to build on this example and figure out how to build another strong habit during the day. While getting into a routine in the morning is painful (the best pain though) I know that building a routine of repetition during the DAY is going to be MUCH harder; too many distractions, temptations and excuses short circuit pretty much every intention.

One idea I’ve been toying with is having a physical reminder of a goal – while the mind is able to create distractions, a physical reminder never goes away. For example, if I keep to a consistent strength program I may be more inclined to eat better simply because my soreness will be a painful reminder during the day of the long-term goal to get leaner. Terrible idea? Hard to say.


So – you want to get on the early train. Here are some tips:

  1. Early to bed: figure out how much sleep you need and work backward ( e.g. 9pm bedtime)
  2. Eat dinner EARLY enough to digest before you crash.
  3. Lay out your workout clothes the night before.
  4. Lay out your post-workout clothes the night before (office clothes prep saves time)
  5. Heat up the kettle for coffee (boil water) before you leave the house (saves time later)
  6. Run or bike-commute – making this part of your commute is a life saver
  7. Invest in a silent alarm (vibrating watches work perfectly)
  8. Reconnaissance the route to the gym before you need it (or your running route)
  9. Warm up slowly (expect a slow start but after 15-20 minutes let it rip)
  10. Track progress – doesn’t matter how even a notch on your bedpost works.
  11. Embrace the suck – if it doesn’t suck, we don’t do it. Expect discomfort – this is TYPE II fun.

Good luck!

Categories: Running, TechniqueTags:

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