Why I’ve Learned to Love 4:30am Wake Up Calls

It’s hard to remember a time in my life when I didn’t have an early morning wake up call. For many athletes, it’s pretty typical to wake up during the very early morning hours to get a workout in. Early morning workouts are associated with chasing dreams, determination, and motivation. (Some may say a little bit of insanity, too.) Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, I thought I’d share why I find the early bird status my favorite.

It started for me when I was in high school. I was one of the few freshman on my swim team, and I was determined to make a name for myself during my time there. When the time came in our season to start two-a-days, our coach explained to us that the only required swimmers were the returning varsity letter men. For everyone else, it was optional. I remember telling that to my parents at dinner and being excited that I didn’t have to jump in a pool at 5:30am that year. That’s when my dad replied with: “So I’ll drop you off around 5:15?” This was when I learned that while you might not always be a huge fan of morning workouts, they benefit you in more ways than one. My swim coach was impressed that I not only showed up for the first morning practice, but that I KEPT showing up. I showed him that I was dedicated and wanted to be the best I could be. My extra practices paid off when I swam every race my freshman year at the varsity level which then led me to swimming varsity all four years of high school.

That discipline came in handy when I went off to college and continued swimming at the collegiate level. Being a student-athlete at the college level was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. Balancing classes, practices, and still finding time to study and socialize meant learning how to prioritize. The season was longer, the workouts were harder, but thankfully I did not have to adjust to morning workouts and two-a-days on top of all of that. By my final year of college, I had been swimming competitively for 10 years. For 9 of those 10, I had been waking up at the crack of dawn for practice. It was safe to say that I was exhausted. That I was over morning workouts. On the bus ride home from my final meet as a college athlete, I made a promise to myself that I would never wake up early to workout again.

Let’s all laugh together at that statement.

I am now three years post-grad. I am certainly not as active as I was in high school and college, no two-a-days on my calendar anytime soon, but I still have goals I’m working towards each and every day. While I’m trying to better myself at running, I’m also advancing in my career. Since my responsibilities have changed in the lab so has the time I spend at work. I used work a pretty typical 7:30am-4pm shift. It was uncommon for me to be at work past 4pm on any given day. I was able to get whatever workout I wanted in before 6pm, and could still eat dinner at a reasonable time. Now my work days are a little less predictable, and I rarely get off of work at the same time every day. Working out in the afternoons became increasingly difficult, and lead to long nights after work.

This proved to become the biggest issue for me when I was training for my first marathon. I didn’t just want to finish the marathon, I wanted to do well. As you can probably imagine, skipping training runs for a marathon is generally frowned upon, and does not help you reach any of the goals you’ve set for yourself. I found that after working long hours, my motivation to go to the gym plummeted. And if by the grace of God I did get my butt to the gym, I didn’t usually eat dinner until close to 9pm. Afternoon workouts just weren’t cutting it for me anymore so one morning I set my alarm clock for 4:30am and hoped for the best.

While it was surprisingly easy to get back into the swing of morning workouts, I found myself to be dragging around 2pm. Thankfully, my body figured out its new routine within a few days, and I found myself having no issues falling asleep by 8:30pm. I also found that my body seemed to appreciated my morning workouts more in terms of my blood sugar levels. Working out in the morning kept my blood sugar levels more stable throughout the day, allowed me to use less insulin throughout the day, and I found myself having less frequent low blood sugar episodes during my workouts.

Sometimes it feels like all I do is workout, go to work, and come home to sleep. Some mornings it’s very difficult to get myself out of bed in the morning that early to get a workout in. I know that will prove to be even more difficult in the winter months. This might not be something I keep up for the rest of my life, but for now it’s certainly the best thing for me. The best part about morning workouts is that I got it done with right away in the morning. While everyone else is just waking up for the day, I’ve pounded out six miles or a heavy lifting workout. I accomplish more things before 6am than some people do all morning. (Plus, the gym and parking lot are never crowded at 5am.) I never thought I’d be an early bird again, but early morning workouts have helped me reach my running goals.

Want to start working out in the morning? Here are some things that helped me:

  1. Get everything you need for the next day ready before you go to bed. I lay my workout clothes and my work clothes out the night before. I make sure my lunch is packed the night before too. I save so much more time in the mornings by doing this, and it can mean more time to get just one more mile in.
  2. Start out small. When I got back into working out in the mornings, I did not start out with a 10 mile run. I did three easy miles, and then slept in the following morning. As they say, slow and steady wins the race.
  3. Getting an appropriate amount of sleep. The reason I go to bed every night at 8:30pm is so that I get AT LEAST 6- 8 hours of sleep. I know waking up that early in the morning is already hard enough, but waking up exhausted makes it even harder to near impossible. If I wake up exhausted, I don’t go to the gym. Plain and simple.
  4. Don’t press snooze! I know it’s really easy to say to yourself, “just a few more minutes”, but then those minutes turn into another hour, and you don’t get up to workout. Try your best to get up right away when your alarm goes off.
  5. Don’t sit down. While I don’t eat a huge breakfast before I workout in the morning, I make sure that I don’t sit down to eat. Why? Have you ever noticed how comfortable your couch is right before you’re going to workout? Before you know it you’re sucked into your couch, napping.
  6. And finally, plan your workout ahead of time. Whether it’s just pin pointing out how many miles you’re going to run, or just that it’ll be a cross training day, know what you’re doing before you get there. You’ll spend less time trying to figure out what your workout will be when you get there, and more time actually working out.


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