16 December 2010

Morning Runs

Amanda J left a question on my blog a couple of weeks ago about running at various times of day -- OK, make that 6 weeks ago (sorry, Amanda). She's a relatively new mom and has been running midday after her son goes down for a nap. Amanda's also like a second daughter to me -- she grew up in Tanzania and our families have been close friends for almost 25 years. This will be a bit long and a lot rambling, so hang on.

I almost always run in the early morning. In the US, I like to be on the road by 5:30AM. Yes, it's still very dark much of the year, but the roads where I've normally been are very good and traffic is light. Plus, if I run while it's dark, then I can't see how slow I'm going! Here, in Nairobi, Kenya, I head out between 5:50 and 6:30AM. Because the roads are in such bad shape, I'm hesitant to run in the dark -- even a headlamp doesn't show potholes very well and a lot of the roads where I run are not paved. If I go later than 6:30, traffic is too heavy and dangerous.

Plus, during at least half of the year, it's too hot for me midday or in the evening. God seems to have created me with a low tolerance for heat and humidity. Once the thermometer heads north of 70°F, and especially when the humidity is higher than 85%, it just saps my energy. The closer the temperature is to 50°F, the more I enjoy running. And, actually, there are studies that show a decrease in pace as temperatures increase above 55°F or so. I enjoy running the most when the temperatures are between 40° and 55°F -- above 50°F, I wear a short-sleeved running shirt; between 40° and 50°, I wear a long-sleeved running shirt (unless it's below 30°F, I wear shorts -- below 30°F and I pull on lightweight wind pants). So, mornings fit my thermostat better.

I have found that, assuming temperatures are to my liking, I actually run a bit faster later in the day. Still, though, I like running early, even if I'm a bit slower.

I also run early because I'm sure nothing will interfere with getting the run in. Not too many folks want to schedule a meeting before 7:30AM, so it's unlikely that a meeting will interfere with running at 5:30 or 6:00. And, running early gets my body started, my blood flowing, and I just feel better the rest of the day. I can be obsessive about running but it's mostly because I really like running, so that drives my getting out. Even if I don't run, I'm usually up early anyway.

The biggest enemy of my running early is going to bed late and not getting enough sleep. I ofter kid that by running first thing in the morning, by the time my mind actually wakes up, I'm already halfway into my run and it's too late to quit. Amanda, that can be a real problem for moms with young children. I do fine with 6:30+ hours of sleep -- better with 7:00 -- so I really need to be asleep before 11:00PM. That does make me somewhat of a party-pooper and I gave up watching Sunday night, Monday night, and Thursday night football long, long ago. When in the US, I don't watch the news at night; I don't like going to movies at night; etc. -- all of those cut into my sleep, thus cut into my running.

Physiologically, I don't know if there really is an advantage to running early versus later. Unscientifically, I think it depends on the individual. It does take some "want to" to get out of bed early enough to run early. There are those who say that a lunch-time run is good for weight loss -- primarily because one tends to be less hungry right after running and because the running cuts into the time available for lunch for folks who have limited lunch breaks. For me, though, heat and sweat prevent me from running midday -- the result of my body's dislike for warm/hot weather, is that I sweat profusely. Even this morning, after 5.6 miles in 58° temps, I was soaked. If I ran at midday, I certainly would have to have a shower but even with a shower, I wouldn't stop sweating for 1-2 hours after running. That doesn't work too well in an office.

There are others who push evening runs. They say it helps one unwind from the day -- a destressor. For me, though, besides the heat, there are too many things that can and will interfere **and** I'm usually so tired at the end of the day that it's too easy to slough off the run. I much prefer to be proactive and handle the stress of the day before it happens and I stand a better chance of being more consistent in my running if I run first rather than last.

All in all I think it's better to run early. How? Good question ... here are some suggestions:

  • Plan to just do it. Decide that you like running enough to do it first. Some Christians will have their quiet time first; I'm more alert for that after I run and have a shower.
  • Have your stuff ready before you go to bed. I put my running kit on the counter in the bathroom before I go to bed. That way I don't have to rummage through my dresser drawers in the pre-dawn darkness and it's a reminder that I really want to run.
  • Get enough sleep so that you wake up ready to run.
  • Eat something before heading out. Not always necessary -- I've done 6-8 mile runs early in the morning without eating something. This also depends on how your body handles food. If I'm going to eat "real" food, I have to get up early enough to finish at least 30 minutes before running -- and I don't eat heavy -- a banana, half a toasted bagel with some peanut butter. I avoid acidy foods (oranges). Some people like caffeine -- if I'm up early enough, I might have a mug of chai with my banana. But, since lack of sleep is the enemy of my running anyway, if I'm going longer than 4.5 miles, I'll usually down a Gu (Chocolate Outrage or Mint Chocolate are my favourites) and 10-12 oz of water right before I go out the door.
  • If you need the extra motivation, find someone to run with. You're less likely to leave your running partner standing around waiting on you than you are to talk yourself out of running by yourself. Plus, when you run early with someone else, there's someone to listen to you gripping about how early and dark and cold it is and how much you'd rather be back in bed. Of course, you also have to listen to them gripe.
  • Be safe. If I run in the dark, I wear a reflective vest. No matter when I run, I wear a Road ID and if it's dark, I clip a Firefly Supernova blinking light onto the Road ID band. (If you buy something from Road ID after clicking on one of those links, I do get a discount from Road ID.) In very dark conditions or if the road isn't quite smooth or if I think there will be a lot of unsuspecting pre-dawn traffic, then I'll pull on my running cap and clip on a headlamp. I also, with very few exceptions, always run facing traffic and am always aware of the verges so I can step off the road if necessary. Finally, I do not listen to music when I run, especially in the dark -- I want to be absolutely sure that I hear anything coming my direction -- I actively listen to what's happen around me.
Enough from me. When do you like to run? Do you have other suggestions for getting out early?

This morning, I ran farther than I've run in Nairobi in more than 13 months -- I've only covered a longer distance twice in the past year and both were at less than 1000' above sea level and I walked some on both of those runs. It was only 5.6 miles and it wasn't nearly as fast as I wanted (9:17 mpm), but it is an accomplishment. I'll review my year at the end of December but suffice it to say at the moment, that this has been the worst year of running for me in the past 7.5 years. So, running 5.6 miles is a reason to celebrate!

Run well, y'all,

04 December 2010

Good Saturday Run

It's been a long time since I last posted -- since I first got to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Running in West Africa -- Burkina Faso and Ghana -- was a welcome change from running in Nairobi. Even though Ouaga is the capital city of Burkina Faso, it's not nearly as large as Nairobi and there is not nearly as much traffic. So, the air was cleaner. I did have to watch out for hundreds of motor scooters and bicycles (thousands as work traffic picks up later in the morning). It turned out that the safest place to run was in the middle of the road rather than on the side.

Much of my running in both Ouaga and Ghana was on dirt roads. My shoes got filthy!! After we got home, I left my running shoes outside, next to our door, as usual. The dear lady who works for us here commented that I must have run somewhere besides Nairobi. Curious, I asked her why. "That's not dirt from here," she said. She was right, but how did she know?

This morning's run was a good one. It wasn't long -- none of my runs these days are long -- but it was a good 3.9 miles. The first part felt especially good. Maybe I'll get my endurance back some day. The weather was great -- I left before sunrise in the pre-dawn light -- the temperature was 59° and the humidity was a comfortable 59%. I almost decided not to run because I didn't get enough sleep last night. But, I'm really glad I went.

I hope your weekend run(s) is as satisfying.

Run well, y'all,