Night Runners Deserve All The Credit

One of the questions I get all the time is, “Where do you get your legwarmers?”

Another frequently asked thing is, “How do you wake up so early to run every day?”

The truthful answer is that I have always been a morning person. Waking up at 5 AM is so much easier for me than staying up until midnight. If a friend tells me a party doesn’t start until 10 PM, I know I’ll need a nap to make it that late. Yes, to me, 10 PM is a late hour at which to begin my night.

I'm pretty sure this photo was taken around 7 PM one night. My family knows how to RAGE.

But 5 AM? 6 AM? That’s when I do all my best work.

So whenever someone asks me for advice about “becoming a morning exerciser,” I’m often at a loss. I don’t have fancy tips or tricks to make it happen. I guess, if it helps, you can put your alarm clock on the other side of the room so you have to get up to turn it off, or you can turn the lights on immediately when you wake up. Those things help.

Really though, you just have to do it without making excuses. You’re tired? Yup, so am I. Get up. Your bed is warm and Central Park is cold? OK. Layer up and get moving. You don’t feel like it? Fine, then just don’t be a morning workout person. If it doesn’t work for you, there’s nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t really matter when you sweat (I mean, apparently science says working out at different times during the day has different effects, but go with me here). If you want to work out, make it happen whenever works best for you.

And that brings me to my point: People who don’t work out in the morning regularly seem to think it’s this huge, amazing feat when others rise and run before dawn. I, however, think you night runners deserve all the credit. What you do is damn hard, and I envy you.

Remember that time I tried to run at night in Vegas? That went super well. Oh sarcasm!

Coach Cane wants me training more regularly with his Thursday night City Coach group. I absolutely love his group of runners, and they’re all so nice and encouraging. They always ask what race I’m training for and they motivate me to be a better runner. It’s a very casual, non-competitive atmosphere, which is amazing considering most of Coach Cane’s racers, including his kickass wife, are triathletes, Ironmen and race winners. There’s rarely a local race where someone from City Coach doesn’t take home a top spot, either overall or in his or her age group.

I don’t necessarily get intimidated to run with the group. I know I’m by far the slowest of the bunch, but I don’t let that bother me. I know running with faster people is good for me.

I do, however, get intimidated by the fact that they all run at night so effortlessly. After my second and most-dreadful-run-ever with City Coach, I tried to swear it off for life. To summarize that run: I was out with Coach Cane and one of his top racers and I — twice — almost had a very scary Crohn’s-related incident. I had to convince a nice doorman at a fancy Central Park West apartment building to let me use his basement bathroom. It was embarrassing. So dang embarrassing.

While last night’s run wasn’t embarrassing — I was still the last person to finish the run and my pace on the final two laps were nowhere near where I had hoped they’d be — it still wasn’t my best work. I don’t know what’s going on with my running lately. It just hasn’t felt on.

The workout was as follows:

  • Warm-up from JackRabbit to West 72nd Street in Central Park
  • Run the 4-mile Central Park loop, counterclockwise, at marathon goal pace (8:45–8:50 for me)
  • Run two lower loops of the park (1.79 miles per loop), counterclockwise, at “ambitious but not delusional” half-marathon goal pace (7:45s would have been nice and keeping it under 8:00s was ideal)
  • Cool-down to wherever

The result? My warm-up from my apartment to JackRabbit was way too fast. Like, two minutes per mile too fast. I was running late thanks to the ol’ stomach, and had to book it to get there in time. The warm-up to the park was fine, of course, because I was with the group, plus Simon was there and he was awake, so rather than listening to Coach Cane describe the workout, I made smiley faces at Simon instead.

The 4-mile loop was OK. I stuck with the group, and the group went faster than I should have gone. I wanted to be running around 8:45s, and at times we were, but overall the paces were closer to 8:30s. Not a huge difference, but enough for me to take note.

Then most of the group left because many of them are racing the New York City Half Marathon on Sunday. I set off for two lower loops, and I just wasn’t feeling it. My body felt tight, and even though my hip and knee didn’t hurt, my stomach wasn’t quite right and I just couldn’t get myself to speed up.

I finished the loops and shuffled home, happy to have knocked out 12 miles on a Thursday night, but bummed that running has felt so challenging and unnatural for me lately.

Here’s how the splits look. My watch took an entire mile to get a satellite, so tack on an extra warm-up mile at the beginning:

Allow me to explain.

The workout started around mile 2.5 or 3 and continued through mile 9.25. I should have used my fancy pace button, but I was lazy and, frankly, didn’t care too much.

So as you can see, miles 6–8 are the ones that should have clocked in at sub-8:00s, and they didn’t. I don’t know how long I can get away with the “I’m recovering from a stomach flu and potentially on the verge of a Crohn’s flare-up” excuse, and I hate excuses, so I’ll just be honest and say I probably didn’t try hard enough. I was working hard, but didn’t push myself in a “balls to the wall” kind of way. I felt sufficiently drained by the end, but I think that has more to do with the fact that I ran 12 miles than the fact that I pushed my pace as hard as possible.

The great news is that I miraculously didn’t have to make bathroom stops along the way…which is a good thing, because all the Central Park bathrooms were closed! At least a few of them pop open in the early hours.

And so, night runners, my legwarmers are off to you. It is amazing to me that you can work all day and then feel motivated to put on sneakers and end your night with a bunch of miles, particularly if you’re setting out to do speedy ones. By the end of any given day, I’m tired, my stomach is full and funky-feeling and while I’m happy to sit on a spin bike, I find it difficult to push myself on a run. You do that, though, and I think that’s incredible.

Also, it’s so hard to eat after a night run! How do you eat dinner? All I wanted after this run was a cold, fruity juice. I’m turning into a weird person.

I convinced Brian to meet me at Juice Generation after my run, which he was excited about...until I showed up with scary Salt Face.

I couldn’t eat any solid food. Also, I got a wicked rush about an hour and a half later. Like, a major energy surge. I couldn’t shut up and I was all wiggly and energized. How do you people run at night and then get to sleep? I was too amped up! I also had a really sexy “I just ran in the cold and now I can’t stop coughing” thing going on.

Power to you, night runners. Teach me your ways. Tell me what you eat all day before you run, and tell me how you seamlessly transition from work-mode to workout-mode.

Maybe someday I’ll run fast after 6 PM. But until then, give me an 8 AM race time and I’ll gladly pop out of bed for it.

SERIOUSLY, GIVE ME YOUR TIPS: If you’re a night runner, how the heck do you do it?

And good luck to all the racers this weekend! I feel like I’m the only person not racing a half this weekend, and I’m totally fine with being on the sidelines cheering you all on. Run fast, run hard and prove you’re a badass by puking on the finish line. Or something.



67 Responses

  1. Ali!
    You need to visit Alaska in the summer. It’s impossible NOT to run or hike at night, especially when it’s light past midnight.
    I’m a dedicated night runner. I love running down mountains at 11: 30 p.m. during the long summer twilight. In the winter, I love running at the night, with the sky so big and full and the snow tinted lavender by the moonlight.
    I’ve tried running in the morning and while it perks up my day, I don’t get the same rush.
    Mostly, I think it’s an individual choice. Myself, I’m just happy to run, whatever the time of day.
    P.S. I’ve never commented before but I so love your blog.

  2. I cannot do any sort of formal exercise at night. Ahhh exercise at night just sounds really, really bad. Maybe that is because I am a dedicated morning workout person so I’m usually pretty dang tired in the evenings. Personally, I would much rather be in bed by 10. WOOOOO insanely early workouts!

  3. I guess like you and morning running, running in the evening feels natural to me. I am tired a lot and have to bribe myself to go, but I am a TERRIBLE morning runner. I need coffee or something to raise my blood pressure before I run 🙂

    We did practice at 9-11 pm at night in college (due to the wonderfuly nyc indoor court supply) so I guess 6 or 7 pm feels “early” now.

    The one thing I don’t like about night running is that it hangs over your head all day and if you get held over a little late at work, that can be stressful…

    Secrets? Hmm afternoon coffee and a picky bar…and bribing myself with episodes of dance moms.

  4. I’m also a morning runner. I only run at 6 am on Saturdays, but during the week into around 9:30 am. For the rare night run, I eat my standard pre -race meal: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich about 2 hours before my run. And then I shower as soon as I get home

  5. I might be tired at the end of a day, but it’s much better than the haze and complete lack of coordination that are my mornings. I’m in awe of your 5:30 start times!

  6. So while not a night running tip, here is a gps tip when you power on dont immediately put your garmin on your wrist. Place it down and let it catch a signal, takes half the time!

  7. I am totally a morning exerciser. If I don’t exercise in the morning, I probably won’t at all. I go to a running club on Tuesday nights, and those days are pretty much “easy runs” for me, because I make it easy, haha.

    I once tried working out after work, but after two days, I went back to the 5 am workouts. Night workouts just. weren’t. working.

    Hope you get some good tips and have a great weekend!

  8. I would never call myself a morning person, but I run way better in the morning than at night, after i’ve had a full day. I’m definitely a night person, but I like morning workouts because they kick start my day and I feel like I make better choices in general when I workout in the morning.

  9. Confession: I love running in the morning because it frees up my evening schedule, but in general I much prefer running at night. I think part of it is my dedication to happy hours and late dinners. When I’m out until midnight or 1am (this happens a few times a week, oops) that makes an early morning run almost impossible. BUT I can usually get myself out the door around 6 or 7pm, leaving me with enough time to shower, and meet up with friends later on. It’s sort of like a second start to the day!

    As for the eating situation…it’s tough. Especially after hard workouts. I usually try to get in some fluids + protein ASAP (chocolate milk, smoothies, etc) and then try and nibble throughout the evening.

  10. I’m so not a morning person, so I guess that’s how I run at night, haha. I’ve tried to wake up early and run before anything else, but I get cranky, and I can’t run on an empty stomach, and I can’t run right after I eat, so I have to get up super early to eat, then wait an hour before I run, and that so messes with my sleep schedule because it is impossible for me to get into bed before 11pm. And now I’ve developed your knack for run-on sentences!

    Honestly, running after work is a nice way to pound out the stress of the day and leave it on the pavement. I make sure to leave several hours between a run and bedtime to allow myself to unwind.

  11. I ‘m still in high school and I get up at six just to get to school on time, so I almost never run in the morning. I just make sure not to eat too close to running or to eat any thing unhealthy or heavy earlier in the day. Props to you for trying out night running though!

  12. I like working out in the morning, but I do all my workouts at night because its easier for my schedule. But thinking on it right now, I think my workouts during the morning go a lot better than they do at night. Hmm. Must consider this.

  13. Right, so, on the rare occasions I make it to Thursday night CPTC workouts, the only thing I can think is that, on a normal night, I would be in pajamas at that time. Maybe even asleep, on a good night. So I’m there with you.

    Last year, I ran this bullshit track race at 10 p.m. and thought I was going to cry.

  14. When I work out at night, I cannot go home first. I have to leave from the office. If I go home, my butt will meet up with the couch and I won’t leave.

    Also, at night is when I have gastrointestinal unfunness.

  15. I was running in the park last night and this tiny little blond in a pink lulu zip up ran past. I thought to myself, that looks like Ali, but I shrugged it off because you always run in the morning. I couldn’t get a look at your face, but I couldn’t stop thinking it was you. Turns out I was right. It must have been coach Cane’s group that swallowed me up and then eventually pasted me.
    I’ve run at night every since I started running in the 7th grade. My whole body feels tired in the morning. It’s the whole reason why I have never ever run a race – they are always so early in the morning!.

    1. That was me! At the start of the run there were about 8–10 of us in the pack, so it’s likely you spotted us! Hope you had a great run!

  16. Great job on your long run! Can’t say I agree with the post title, though. True it might feel harder for some of us (myself included) to crank out fast miles at night, but it’s no more of an accomplishment than a morning run. Kind of like how speedwork on a treadmill (the thought of that makes me want to hurl) counts just as much as on the track!

    1. Yes, you are right on all those points. Morning running is easy for some and night running is easy for others. And for those people who think both are easy, well damn them. I’m jealous. But agreed, totally. Credit & Nutella toast for everyone!

  17. Thanks to long hours at work, I’m pretty inconsistent when it comes to time of day. I used to love morning runs, but when your workday starts at 7am or earlier, they can go out the window. I am better at speed work in the morning, late night running is more usually more about getting miles in. I’m lucky that I can run on a half full stomach, so as long as I haven’t eaten a big meal in the last 2hrs, I’m golden. In terms of destressing, late night runs are much more meditative than morning runs – I haven’t started stressing about my day yet! For me, it’s more about whenever I can fit them in.

    1. Yes, agreed on the meditative front! Morning runs are a little rushed because of getting to work. But last night I did enjoy the quiet park and the duskness (not a word), and it was nice to have time to unwind afterward instead of jumping right in the shower and on the subway.

  18. I’m a morning runner, too, but my team works out in on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, so I have to suck it up and do it. Like you, I struggle with a funky-feeling stomach (ulcers, not Crohn’s) so I have had to employ some trial-and-error re: what to eat during the day before nighttime practice. I’ve found that if I go easy on the fiber during the day and then have some sort of light snack 2-3 hour pre-run, I’m OK. But I definitely can’t have a salad for lunch and then go run sprints!

    MY main issue with nighttime running is the insomnia I get afterwards. I’ll let you know if I find a fix for that.

  19. I’m def. more of a night runner, but am trying to embrace morning runs too. Especially since the track closes in the evening for HS sporting events now. Boo spring sports! I’m running the Virginia Beach Shamrock Marathon this Sunday and I’m going to be wearing my “I Heart Sweat” shirt! Hoping I get fun comments that will power me through the finish line! Yeah Team Jack Rabbit/Ali/Finding a Cure for Crohn’s!

  20. I am most definitely a morning runner. I like to get it done and feel accomplished and, like you, I don’t have Crohn’s but I do get stomach issues when I run later in the day and tend to have to find a bathroom… quickly.

  21. I’m a night runner the same way you are a morning runner – you just do it.

    Running in the morning is not ideal for me #1 I can’t make myself get up that early #2 we have no sidewalks and running in the roads in the dark is not my idea of a good time. I’d always be scared, and that’s not fun.

    Running after work is not ideal, but it’s the best (only) time for me to run.. When it was getting dark at 5 i’d have to rush home, throw my shoes on and run out the door – I had to be careful about my afternoon snack – easily digestable, and not to soon before I left work. — Now that it’s not dark until 730, i can usually eat a snack when I get home, then head out an hour or so later. Dinner ends up being later, but whatever. I usually start dinner as soon as I’m done stretching. It just works for me — Not all runs are magnificent, but neither are your morning runs. Some days just suck – Tuesday I did a fabulous interval run after work. It went swimmingly well. Yesterday I did a measly 3 miles and they sucked.

  22. I am totally with you and being a natural morning runner. I am not interested in the slightest on switching over to being an after-work/evening runner. I am usually so mentally exhausted that i cannot do much other than become a slug on the couch after work.

  23. I’m with you! I would so much rather run on an empty stomach first thing in the morning. All I do is drink water and then eat afterwards. I decided to go out last night and had trouble with my appetite and sleeping too. I don’t have Crohn’s but I do have IBS and my stomach hates me if I try to run with anything that might be slightly bothersome.

  24. I run after work, but never more than a few miles (4-5 is my max). Like you, I’m up and ready to go nice and early in the morning…and ready to slam into my bed by 9:30 pm. To each his own!

    And I am running a half tomorrow—and I really, really hope I don’t puke!

  25. For someone who doesn’t do night running, you sure knocked out an awesome night run! I’m all about the morning runs too. I hate night running, mostly because I like running on an empty stomach.

  26. I wish I was a morning runner. I tried it for a few weeks but my runs SUCKED. I hated it. I run after work. Sometimes thats 4:30pm or it could be 5:30pm. I just change in the bathroom at work (they’re used to me by now. Im the crazy runner girl) and start my run from the office. I can’t go home first. I’ll never get back out the door. The call of the couch is strong!!

  27. Ali, I do speedwork with a group after work one day a week. It happens to be the same day that I teach yoga in the morning *before* work. So, it’s a long day. I get a good night’s sleep, and 1.5 hours before the workout, I have something to eat. I do an easy jog to the meeting location. I don’t push it to make it through lights, and this is where I figure out if I’m wearing the right layers. Then, on the pre-workout warmup, I keep company with the slowest runner in our group. I kill myself on the workout, and then *walk* a half mile back to my office and eat an energy bar. Then it’s another half hour until I’m home, at which point, I’m pretty hungry.

    That being said, I’m usually a morning runner!

  28. Those are great mile times, even if they’re not the goal. My legs are much looser at night and I tend to run faster. It might also have to do with wanting to be done so I can veg out. I prefer to work out in the morning though because I’m sure to do it. My motivation drops after a certain point. So, I guess I’m both!

  29. I was a morning person… if you want to train through the summer in Arizona, you must wake up super early or sweat away indoors (I do not want to run on the dreadmill every day). When I moved to San Diego I realized the weather was pretty perfect 24/7 and I could get away with sleeping in. Then I had to be at work by 7am (often earlier) each morning and decided to run after work. It was hard at first, but once it became a habit I was good to go. I think it’s all about just making yourself do it for 6wks and then it will feel normal. The food stuff gets easier, or your stomach gets used to it.

  30. I’m with you on the early morning workouts, except I’m also less tolerant of those who don’t work out in the morning. Mainly my bf, who likes to mock me by sleeping while I’m getting dressed in the dark to run. I think habit has a lot to do with it too. Force yourself out of bed every day for 3 weeks, and all of a sudden it doesn’t seem like such a chore. At least that’s what I found when I started running in the morning 4 years ago, and I haven’t looked back since!

    On that note, I discovered Juice Generation this past weekend after my 9 miler! Best. Find. Ever. Smooth Strawberry made every drop of sweat worth it.

  31. I am 100% a night runner. I have actually been trying to run in the mornings to balance out my weeks but I love, love, love running at night. I move faster and feel lighter at night. I usually run straight from work and do a loop on the Mall (I live in DC) and then head home. I like to eat a snack about 30 – 45 minutes before I run and then when I get home late, I eat a light dinner. There are also A TON of people out and about running by my office after work and that keeps me motivated because it’s a happy little community. When I read your Vegas post I thought, “That’s the race for me!” I don’t have any secrets, it’s just what my body prefers!

  32. I cannot for the life of me figure out how people run at night. When I have to coach a evening run you can bet I’m faking all that energy.

    I’m thoroughly impressed with your 12 miles!

  33. I’m a morning person too but I usually do my workouts at lunch. I’ll take an extra shower a day over an evening workout any time!

  34. I say wow to anyone who runs in Central Park when it is dark- AM or PM. Tough stuff. I like morning workouts and what helps me the most is sleeping in my running clothes. Then I just pop up and put my shoes on and start running before I fully realize what I am doing!

  35. I want to teach you to knit so you can make your own leg warmers 🙂

    I am a night runner [ok, jogger], but not a huge “snacker” so I can usually just go run and then eat dinner and go to bed after, but sometimes I’ll sneak a granola bar or orange before my run. Also, even if it’s frustrating that it’s sooo much harder to run when it’s not your normal running time (I know what you mean…running in the morning feels like scaling Everest to me!), I like to think that then I’ll go that much faster / it’ll feel that much easier when I get back to my normal time. So maybe your Saturday long-run will fly by in a cinch!! 🙂

  36. I love night running! I can pop out of bed for a great 6:30 am spinning class, but knocking out (always slow) miles on an empty stomach in the morning is so hard. Running in the dark is just so calming for me, and my speed comes out then.

  37. I am a night runner and agree with all the night runners have said. I’m too groggy in the morning and low energy. I just don’t enjoy my runs as much. Also — I can’t run on empty and getting up early enough to eat and digest is another challenge. What do you do about breakfast in the morning? Do you eat something and then wait to digest or run on empty..?

    1. During the week I don’t eat before I run, I eat afterward. For weekend long runs I’m not up quite as early and I’ll eat a small breakfast first. But I function best on a mostly-empty stomach.

  38. i’m a night runner! i give all the credit in the world to morning worker outters – i like sleeping til 7:45am then having the whole day to hydrate and stretch and get my poops done and out of the way by the time 5:30pm rolls around!

  39. I’m a night runner, and I see it as being the same as people who are morning runners; running in the morning sucks for me, and running at night sucks for morning runners. We’re all used to different things – I’m sure you could transition easily. In the summertime it’s really enjoyable – the heat from the day is cooling off and the sun is setting; beautiful.

    And thanks for the encouragement for racers this weekend! I hope not to puke. Not cute.

  40. That’s a decent run, Ali! I have no idea how people run at night either. I don’t actually think I’ve ever done it – I may spontaneously combust or something. I should probably get over that fear and be a little flexible.

    I want to try juice generation! Hope i see you cheering on Sunday!

  41. I do a lot of my runs at night because of my work schedule. If I don’t start out with an early morning workout on Monday, then the whole rest of the week I run at night.

    I guess it makes the pre-run fueling more difficult, but I always try to eat dinner or a “snack” (a whole grain mac and cheese cup) about an hour before I run.

    When I get home from the run, I try to stretch and change and do the nightly routine earlier because it usually takes me a bit longer to get through (because of the energy). But once I’m in bed, I can usually fall asleep pretty quickly. That is probably because I don’t get as much sleep as I should anyways… 🙂

  42. I like running after work as a way to run off the stress of the day, but then I do have a harder time falling asleep. As for the speed at night, the only time I managed to really push hard and run “fast” was when I had a conference call coming up and had to be finished in time to dial in. So, schedule calls and meetings at night and you’ll push through to make it there on time?

    And, thanks 🙂 [though honestly, I’d like to avoid the puke thing…I’m cool with not being a badass 😉 ]

    1. You are going to be so great this weekend. I am seriously so excited for you. YOU USED TO SAY RUNNING WAS CRAZY. Just reminding you.

  43. I run at night, but I have the same attitude about it that you have about morning running: it just comes naturally to me and I don’t know how to run in the morning. Morning running is really not an option for me, I’m a nightowl, frequently have trouble falling asleep and difficulty waking up, and I’m insanely groggy waking up at 730, so waking up at 5 or 6 is not going to happen. So working out happens the only other available time, which is at night. I just plan to eat 30-60 minutes before I run, and think about my plan to run all day so I don’t back out. Same as you; I don’t let excuses get in the way!

  44. I’m one of those crazy night runners you’ve described. I wish I could give you tips, but I feel like that would be as useful as me asking for tips on morning running! It’s just the time when I feel the best; I hate groggy, half-asleep morning runs, but give me hills after dark and I’m happy! Unfortunately for me, summer heat, training groups, and life force me to get out of bed WAY more often than I would like…

  45. I’m an early morning runner too. I agree, I have no idea how people run at night. After work I’m drained and then I have to worry about fueling and my stomach. It’s way easier to just get up and go!!!

  46. I am a morning person too, but when I run at 6am I just can’t move fast. A race at 8am however? I can. I think there is a big difference between 6am darkness and 8am awakeness + brightness. When I work out at night I am WIRED after, but lately I’ve been nauseous during morning workouts so I haven’t had much of a choice.

    Good news is that when I move next month and won’t have a commute to work, I can start my run later in the morning when it is lighter and hopefully that will help!

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about ali

I’m the creator of the Ali on the Run blog and the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast. I’m also a freelance writer and editor, a race announcer, a runner and marathoner, a mom, and a huge fan of Peanut M&Ms, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (way better than the first one!), and reliving my glory days as a competition dancer in the early 2000s. I’m really happy you’re here.
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