You've probably wondered many times yourself: When is the best time of day to work out? When it comes to marathon training and trying to fit in three-hour runs, this simple question becomes a whole lot more complicated, as I’ve learned. But answering the questions below have helped me identify the prime times to fit in my miles, and they can help you find your personal best time to run too.
1. What keeps you committed?
Think about what will help you be consistent, says Andrew Allden, my training coach for my NYC Marathon running team, Team USA Endurance, the official marathon running team for the U.S. Olympic Committee. For some people, morning runs are the way to go because you usually can’t be sidelined by work, family, or other excuses that can derail a later workout.
But let's be real, not everyone is a morning exerciser. I'm a night owl. I work better in the evenings, I work out better, I have more energy, and I've had time to fuel up and hydrate during the day. Also, I love finishing a run and falling into bed; I can't imagine going to work and surviving a full day after running 15 or more miles. Find what works for you.
2. What time is your race?
One of the most important reasons to run at the same time as your race is that you’ll know how your body feels during the time of day when you line up at the start line, [Tweet this tip!] says John "The Penguin" Bingham, experienced marathon runner and author of five books.
For the New York City Marathon on November 3, I'm scheduled to start in the last wave, which takes off at 10:55 a.m. I'm also completing a half marathon on November 17, the Las Vegas Rock 'n' Roll Marathon, which starts at 4:30 p.m. "The biggest difference in a night race is that the temperature differential is opposite of most daytime races," Bingham says. "Typically you need to layer up for the cooler temps at the start with the idea that you—and the day—will warm up. In a night race it's backward. You need to start in your 'race gear' but carry an additional layer for when it gets cooler."
3. Can you be properly fueled?
Another big challenge I've come across with running in the morning is I feel like I just don't have enough time to eat and fully digest my food before I set off. Allden says athletes should eat before an early run since they likely haven’t eaten since dinner—possibly 12 hours before. Some, however, eat a light snack before their morning run and then eat a bigger breakfast after, while others eat before bed, he adds.
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4. How active are you otherwise?
Running at night puts you at risk of growing too tired to complete a successful run, as I’ve come across. Last Saturday I planned to do a 20-miler but only completed 15. I cut it short because I literally felt like I could have stopped on my route and curled up in the grass for a quick nap. I had already had a very active day and walked about six miles by the time I laced up my sneakers around 8:30 p.m. "The biggest issue with night running is general fatigue from your day, especially if you work on your feet," Allden says.
Morning runs have the advantage of allowing you to recover the rest of the day with massage, stretching, nutrition, and hydration, he adds. "Also your synovial fluid levels are higher in the morning, so that gives you more cushioning for your joints and knees. It gets pounded out over the course of the day." [Tweet this fact!]
5. How safe is your route?
I consider myself pretty fearless when it comes to running in the dark...until last weekend. I was running across the Manhattan Bridge when all of a sudden, I realized I was alone—there was not one other soul in sight. And then I saw another suspicious soul. I totally freaked, started sprinting, and didn't stop until I was safely on the other side. That was mile 14, and it really set me back.
Allden, who isn’t a fan of running in the dark, recommends staying in well-lit areas and wearing the proper gear so that drivers can see you. If an illuminated path leaves you without any softer surfaces to run on, do like some of Allden’s athletes and run on a treadmill.