Sunday, August 5, 2012

Time to Make the Triathlete: Early Morning Workouts

There is no way around it, no matter what phase of training you are in, triathlon training takes up a lot of time; time you don't think you have!  In fact, most people who don’t get a chance to exercise (or do any other activity they wish they could) will probably attribute it to not having enough time.  Fitting in your workouts, and balancing them with work and your home and social life is an exercise in prioritization, organization, and often sacrifice.  For many triathletes the key is waking up early and doing your workouts while others (especially your family) are still asleep.  

If this seems hard to you, you're not alone.  I have been a night owl for most of my life (thanks for the hand-me-down Dad) and training in the morning always seemed like a non-starter.  In the beginning it was extremely hard to pull myself out of bed, but it got continuously easier and eventually became so routine that I hardly need an alarm clock.

In no particular order here are some of the things that helped me make the transition:
Find a Friend
One key to the AM adjustment was scheduling morning workouts with others; having a buddy or a group that you are meeting means that other people are depending on you to show up.  The extra motivation to not let them down helps make it easier to rise and get yourself rolling.  Plus, when you are tempted to dog it through your workout because you are still half-asleep you can push each other to work harder.

Time for Bed
Depending on your typical shluffy-time you might have to start going to bed earlier.  Staying up as late as you did before you started working out in the mornings will only work for so long.  Eventually it will catch up with you and it will not only be hard to wake up but your workouts will be a drag and your energy level will suffer for the rest of the day.  Being a night-person, this was the hardest change for me to make, as I had to completely retrain my body (and mind) about bedtime.  One trick is that even before the time I go to sleep I try to mentally wind myself down.  While I no longer have any trouble falling asleep (the result of hard daily training and a solid day’s work – both at my job and at home) I find that by keeping myself relaxed in the evening I tend to enjoy a much more restful sleep.

Make it a Routine
The specifics vary a bit day-to-day but in general I follow a similar program every morning (and night).  After I wake up, there is usually a cup of coffee, a Clif bar, some hygienics, and then suiting up (in some order).  I find that as I make my way through the normal sequence of events my body knows what comes next: the workout.  The nighttime is no different.  After dinner is settled I take a few minutes plan for the next day, which leads to...

Prepare Ahead
Solid preparation at night is the key to having a good morning workout and being ready to face the day.  For me, this means setting up everything from the gear I'll need for my workout to the clothes I'll wear to work.  Getting everything ready at night, when I am semi-coherent helps me avoid scrambling in the morning.  Trying to pull it together in the AM wastes precious time and often leads to forgetting something important.  I’ve got it down to a science now, but at some time or another I’ve forgotten just about anything possible: lunch, socks, keys to my office, shoes, underwear, towels (I had to dry myself with paper towels), a shirt (maybe not so bad; I did score a new wicking polo from work), goggles, etc.  

My experience with transitioning to morning workouts is that it doesn't happen overnight.  It probably takes a good few weeks before your body can accept your new schedule and perform at a high level.  If it seems hard at first, it is.  But don't give up.  Stick to your new program and it will get easier and easier.

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