Listen to Your Body Clock to Find Your Time of Day
Writer and Author of Running That Doesn't Suck: How To Love Running (Even If You Think You Hate It)
June 21, 2023
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: You don’t have to wake up early and get a run in before 7 a.m. to call yourself a runner.
It’s true that a lot of people like to wake up and run—some of the set alarms for 5 a.m. (or earlier) and head out in the darkness. They log miles in the quiet of pre-dawn, see the sun rise and greet the new day. They’re back home before the rest of their family or roommates are out of bed.
Some do this out of necessity, needing to start their workday and roll into family obligations and meal prep in afternoons and evenings, making early morning runs the only time of day possible. The rest of what I’m going to say might be irrelevant to that set.
But finding the right time of day for you has to do with not only your work and life schedule. It has to do with your personal body clock, and even your personality.
Body clocks, or, circadian rhythms, are different between individuals. While people are typically differentiated by being either an “early bird” or a “night owl,” it’s not so cut and dry. Our individual circadian rhythms are called “chronotypes,” and they can change throughout our lives. Many studies have suggested honing in on your “chronotype” to maximize productivity. But what if we tuned into our personal body clocks to figure out the best time of day, for us individually, to run?
I’ve never been a morning person. I started running the summer between high school and college, and had the luxury of having a flexible schedule and only myself to take care of at the time. My penchant for late afternoon/early evening runs may have started with procrastination—as I’d put off the run all day. But I also really loved sunsets, so I’d head to the beach in San Diego where I grew up to run while watching the sun go down. And even then, I felt like my body was creaking during morning runs, operating more smoothly in the late afternoons.
In college I continued running at dusk. I loved how a run was the perfect transition—for me—from day to evening. I looked forward to my run throughout the day, knowing that the run would help me sort through my day and reset me for the evening. But that’s just me. (Maybe I’m a “dusk wren,” since I seem to be my best around sunset...and, you know, to continue with the bird theme.)
Through having two young kids I ran early or midday or else; I was too exhausted by the end of the day to run. But now that my kids are older, I’m back to mostly running in the late afternoons or early evenings, most days, and I feel more like myself.
A few years ago, I learned that people prone to anxiety benefit from late-afternoon or evening exercise. That resonates with me, and end-of-day exercise has helped me mitigate my personal anxieties over the years.
So how do you find the time of day that’s ideal for you, if your schedule allows? Pay attention to your mood and energy levels throughout your day to help figure out your personal clock. Experiment with running at different times of the day. Note both your enjoyment level and how your body feels before and after a run. What works best for you may surprise you, and may change your relationship with running for the better.
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