Early Morning Miles – A Guide to Running Before Sunrise

“Are You Crazy?!”

Those closest to me would empathically respond, “Yes, Buelna is crazy.” But I’m really not that different than a number of other ultrarunners in the area that do things that by far defy more logic than I do. With one exception… I have developed a knack for being laced up and hitting the road at the crack of dawn, or if I’m being honest, pre-dawn. For well over a year now I have been logging Strava runs that start anytime between 4:20am to 4:40am. Generally speaking during training for a race this will occur about three times a week. So why in the world would anyone intentionally subject themselves to this when you could “just run after work, like a normal person”.

First of all, I’m not normal. I have actually developed a morbid enjoyment for this sort of self-inflicted pain. The reality is however, the benefits of adding this into my routine far outweigh the minimal sacrifices (and they are minimal, it is a little bit of sleep). So with that said, here are the reasons I choose to do this:

  • It is a good way to increase your weekly run volume. At the same time, it frees up time in the evening to incorporate strength training.
  • By the time I get to work at 7AM, I have already “accomplished something”. Not only is it a good feeling, but I start the day fully awake and ready to go.
  • During the summer, I caught more sunrises than some people do all year.
  • I use the fact it is hard to wake up to my advantage. By the time I’m fully alert, I’m already a mile or two into my workout.
  • The repetition of this early morning effort is highly beneficial for training for race day. On race day I will typically wake up at 4AM as well since my system is now accustomed to this routine. (I told you I was crazy).

So what are some of the tips I’ve learned that can help others embarking on this newfound awesome life changing phenomenon?

Proper Gear is Key

You will need different layers for warmth depending on the season. In the summer I’m in shorts and winter in compression pants (pro tip, it doesn’t matter what you look like. No one can see you at this hour). The most valuable clothing item in my collection is the Salomon Bonatti Mitt. I use this along with my Salomon Agile Warm Glove. And when temps drop below 20 degrees, I add hand warmers. The Salomon Bonatti Mitt is waterproof and windproof and it is amazing how warm they keep you. Plus you can flip the hand portion back to access your phone, car keys, whatever.

I have literally sampled a dozen glove variations to finally land on something that allows me to avoid frost bite. The rest of the clothing is totally a personal preference. I shoot for heading out slightly cold since you will warm up to comfortable fast enough. I do look for having reflective strips on both the back and front of me, even more important in the winter when you might have to run in your neighborhood streets. You will also need a good headlamp. Look for the lightest one you can find with lumens in the 300 plus range. Also make sure it is rechargeable. And charge it every other time out so you don’t have to walk back since you can’t see.

Get Your System Dialed

A morning system helps get you out the door on time. I lay out my clothes the night before. Limit the amount of thinking you have to do. I wake up and have an Ensure shake (Yes, I know. But they aren’t just for chronologically advanced folks. And are very easy to get down first thing in the morning) immediately after the alarm goes off. Then a cup of coffee while I wake up and get dressed and memorize what my training run sequence is to look like. This allows time for a trip to the restroom and out the door. I will often do some warm up and leg swings as I’m sipping my coffee. That way I can jump out of the car and start running warm.

Pick a Safe Place to Run

I spend a TON of time on the Legacy trail. It is a predictable foot plant where I don’t have to worry about tripping. This past year I tried trails for a couple months, but found that the risk versus reward of rolled ankles wasn’t for me. I also avoid dealing with automobiles by veering towards paved trails/bike paths. And shocking, there isn’t a soul out there between 4:30 to 5:30. Another favorite of mine is a loop around Donner Lake. Nothing better than finishing my run with a cup of coffee on a dock with a sunrise before starting the workday.

Lions, Tigers, Bears… Oh My!

The thing I hear most is, “aren’t you scared of bears”? The answer is no, I’ve seen and heard all sorts of animals in the morning. Not a single one of them has done anything but scamper away from me. They hear you coming (we aren’t as silent as you would think while running) long before we see them. That said, I don’t listen to music then or any other time running. Personal preference, but I prefer to be aware and present in my surroundings. Running with music in the dark may not be the wisest move.

Make it a Habit

Three days a week is actually easier than doing this just once a week. We are creatures of habit. This will become the new normal for your body. I found that only once a week was too hard of an adjustment for my internal clock. I would also say it takes a couple weeks to not have that mental challenge of whether or not you will get up when the alarm goes off. It just becomes what you do.

If you read this and give it a shot, high-five that guy you see on Legacy with a headlamp before 5AM. It is probably me!

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