As much as you may love to run, there are still days when simply tying your shoes requires a marathon effort. Morning runners groan when the alarm buzzes; midday runners battle full inboxes and growling stomachs; evening runners are tired after a long day. And when you hit the road, you sometimes face the urge to walk a hill or turn back early.
“Hormonal and neurological shifts occur in our bodies, which can impact how we feel about exercise and how we feel while exercising,” says exercise physiologist Julia Moffitt. Luckily, you can outsmart these internal power struggles and reduce the temptation of hitting snooze, working through lunch or cutting a workout short. Here’s how to clear the roadblocks in your running day.
Morning hurdle: You're sleepy
WHAT’S HAPPENING “The pre-dawn hours are challenging because body temperature and heart rate dip to their lowest points at this time,” says Moffitt. “In the presence of light, body temperature and heart rate increase, so it’s easier to be active.” The carbohydrates in your last meal play a role, too. If you ate fast-digesting carbs like rice, bread or sugary desserts, your glycogen levels will be depleted, making it even harder to muster the energy to get up.
HURDLE IT Prepare for a morning run the night before. Eat slow-digesting carbs like broccoli, beans and lentils. Have a cup of coffee or tea after getting up. “Caffeine stimulates your arousal system and gets you ready to run,” says Moffitt. Shut-eye is important, too. Turn off the TV at least 30 minutes before you hit the sack and get blackout shades for your windows.
Midday hurdle: Work demands and hunger pangs
WHAT’S HAPPENING Melatonin production is at its lowest around noon, so physiologically that’s when you’re most alert, says Moffitt. That means you may be motivated to continue plugging away at your desk. Plus your blood sugar dips, which may make you too famished or weak to run.
HURDLE IT Schedule your run like you would any other meeting, then record your time and distance to give you a sense of accomplishment, says Steve DeVries, professor of exercise psychology at Cornell College, USA. Try splitting your lunch in two: eat half an hour before you run, then have the rest afterwards. If you’re still tempted to bow out, consider this: a 2006 study by Leeds Metropolitan University found that midday exercisers increased their productivity later in the day.
Late-day hurdle: You feel exhausted
WHAT’S HAPPENING Mental fatigue lowers dopamine, a brain chemical that makes you feel energised. Plus, blood sugar dips again between 5pm and 7pm.
HURDLE IT Don’t confuse mental fatigue with physical fatigue. Researchers from Bangor University in Wales report that short-term mental fatigue doesn’t impact the physical function. So it’s your mind – not your body – that craves downtime. And running is the perfect antidote. “Running elevates your nervous system, which increases your sense of alertness,” says Moffitt. Resist the urge to skip your run by packing your gear, changing at work and going directly to the gym or trail. Even better, join – or start – an after-work running group. Keep your energy up with a snack before your run.
Mid-run hurdle: You're tempted to stop
WHAT’S HAPPENING On a run that’s longer than 90 minutes, it’s probably a fuel issue. “As you run out of carbohydrates, your body uses fat for energy, which takes longer and leads to a sluggish feeling until that fuel kicks in,” Moffitt says. Or it could all be in your head: “You may feel like you’ve done enough, and no one’s watching anyway,” says DeVries.
HURDLE IT On runs longer than an hour, consume 100 to 200 calories every 30 to 60 minutes to replenish energy stores, says Nancy Clark, sports nutrition expert. Keeping a running log can also discourage you from taking shortcuts, says DeVries. You won’t want to write that you did eight miles instead of 10.
Post-run hurdle: You want to skip the cool-down
WHAT’S HAPPENING When you stop running, your blood pressure drops and blood pools in your legs, which may make you feel weary and lightheaded. “You may feel ‘my work is done; I deserve to chill out now’,” says DeVries.
HURDLE IT Slow your pace for the last mile of your run, and then walk for a few minutes before stopping. Because muscles are most pliable and inflammation is at its peak right after running, try to stretch and ice trouble spots after cooling down. Then, within half an hour of finishing, consume a carb-protein snack. “Carbohydrates refill your glycogen stores, while protein repairs muscles,” says Clark. Record your post-run routine (stretching, icing, refuelling) in your log so you’ll consider it just as important as the run itself, suggests DeVries.