When you run may make a difference in how you run. Or, says current research. In Central Texas, it seems like everyone is neatly divided up between these three groups who run at different times: Those of us who faithfully run every morning, others who make a habit of squeezing in a run during lunch and those who wait until after work or school to get a run in.
The reasons when we run as are varied as why we run, but somewhat surprisingly, there are very real differences among the three distinct groups, based on what time of day we take off to run.
Clearly, the most important aspect is simply carving out some time every day to get a run in. Even though there are advantages and disadvantages to running at one time of day or another, most committed runners feel they run better at a certain time.
This may be partly psychological as some night owls say they just can’t seem to get going in the morning and must run at night, while some early birds insist they can only run well first thing in the morning. Other use running as a form of stress release and run best at noon.
When we run is certainly a function of time demands and our individual circumstances, but it also has a lot to do with our circadian rhythms. These are small fluctuations in how our bodies perform on a 24-hour basis.
Dr. Roberto Refinetti, a behaviorial physiologist and the author of Circadian Physiology, a book on circadian rhythms, says: “Practically every bodily function shows daily rhythmicity. That means, in theory, you can improve your ability to do something simply by selecting the right time of day to do it.”
Why this is so important to runners is that some of the bodily functions that are key to running well peak at about the same time every day. Take body temperature. Exercise physiologists have pinpointed that body temp peaks in mid to late afternoon and it at its lowest in the early morning hours. Runners, as well all types of athletes, perform better when their temperatures are the highest which is why so many people insist they run better in the evening, rather than first thing in the morning when they are cold.
There are other compelling reasons why evening runners generally run better. Our lungs function better in the evening. Our muscles are more pliable and we’ve probably had at least one or two meals during the day so our energy stores have been topped off.
Many morning runners might think this is New Age hogwash, but most pre-dawn runners usually start slower and take a longer time to warm up than their evening counterparts. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is based on physiologic fact.
Even mid-day runs are easier than in the morning because many of our bodily functions are better and our energy levels are usually higher. From a psychological standpoint, a lunchtime run also has benefits because it tends to break up the day and can leave you refreshed and with a more positive, productive attitude when you return to work.
Here’s a look at the advantages and disadvantages of when you run:
Dawn Patrol: For many early risers and self-described “morning people”, running before sunrise is not only the best time, it may be the only time. Aside from the need some people have to run in the morning (or risk never getting in a run due to other obligations and time restrictions), an early morning run can be spiritually uplifting and provides a great way to start the day. It might not be the best time from a physiologic standpoint, but aesthetically it’s a beautiful time of day. Morning runners are also usually more committed to getting in their runs. And once they do run, there’s no chance something else will come up in the day to derail it.
1. The air is cleaner (there’s less pollution) and it’s cooler.
2. There’s much less traffic and running trails (and treadmills) are less crowded.
3. It’s a great way to start the day and mentally plan for what’s ahead.
4. Morning runners are generally more consistent than those who run later in the day.
5. Morning is the best time to build muscle, especially vital running muscles.
1. It’s dark and can be cold and lonely.
2. Low visibility. Not just for you, but for drivers who you must share the roads with.
3. Since muscles are cold and body temps are low, fast running is more difficult.
4. More prone to injuries and muscle strains.
5. Running on empty. Most morning runners haven’t eaten anything for 8-10 hours.
The pause that refreshes (mid-day, lunchtime) runs: If you work normal hours and have a convenient place to change into running clothes and shower afterward, a run at lunch is a terrific way to break up the day. It leaves you refreshed and often you bring a new perspective (or idea) back to work. It also gives you a chance to bond with co-workers who you might not ordinarily socialize with outside work.
1. A good run gets you out of the office, cube or classroom to do something physical, rather than gorge on a high-fat lunch.
2. Your bodily functions have improved and you’re more likely to put in a quality run at lunch.
3. Running at lunch doesn’t gobble up time set aside for friends or family later in the day.
4. In the winter months, noon runners also get a chance to soak up some sunlight which perks them up.
5. More productive.
1. If you don’t have an accessible place to change and shower, changing in a public bathroom (or in your office or car) is a pain.
2. After running, you are probably famished and forced to inhale a quick lunch at your desk.
3. You are often pressed for time and don’t allow for adequate warm up, cool down or stretching.
4. Some of your co-workers (or worse, a boss) can be resentful and impose restrictions.
Easy, relaxed evening runs: After a busy, stressful day, there’s no better way to recharge than to go for a run. Your day may have been lousy, but your run doesn’t have to be. It’s a great time to get together with friends and training partners for a group run.
1. Your bodily functions peak in the evening; it’s easier to run faster.
2. There are fewer restraints.
3. You can change and shower at home.
4. Many training groups meet after work or school.
1. Finding the motivation for a run after a long day.
2. Mentally tired.
3. Dark and in the winter, it’s cold.
4. Poor visibility.