The best time of the year to start running at dawn

I have tried many times to become an early morning runner but most attempts have been short lived. Despite great intentions of starting the day with such success, I have always lacked the enthusiasm and forward planning skills needed to hop out of bed and hit the road in the morning darkness. But over the past few weeks things have changed a little. I now love getting out just before the sun rises to watch the light appear and the day begin.

A human alarm clock
Most of my early mornings have not been triggered by great motivation and determination but instead by an energetic 4 year old who feels that sleep is a waste of valuable time. In order to preserve my sanity, cut down on morning cartoons and avoid waking the neighbours, I have taken to driving down to my local beach to burn a bit of his energy and to wake me up. Leaving home before sunrise is not that much of a big ordeal when you have already been up for a few hours.

Why bother?
There is something magical about leaving home in the dark and returning home in daylight, warmed up and ready for the day. There is a sense of adventure, that feeling of going on holiday, getting up for that early flight even though I’m just driving 5 minutes in the dark to get to our local beach. Of course, I don’t get that peaceful dawn run I might aspire to. More often than not I don’t run very much at all. In fact my only running goal in these mornings is to wear my running gear so when I’m inevitably asked to play chasing or do races I’m ready for the challenge.

What time is dawn?
Our dawn adventures may sound a little less impressive when you remember that sunrise on the east coast is after 8am this December and maybe later wherever you live. I always assumed that summer would be the best time of the year to get up early. With bright sunlight streaming in the window and only one layer of clothes to put on, the temptation would surely be higher than these winter mornings. But imagine what time you would have to get up at in summer to catch sunrise. For us, the hour between 7.30am and 8.30am is magical and I have never before quite appreciated December mornings

A bigger picture
I spend many years commuting on cold winter mornings complaining about the weather and shivering at train stations never noticing much beyond my own self. I do wish I had paid more attention to what was going on around me. Sometime you do have to choose to look for the joy in things. Now rather than get frustrated with the early wake up calls I have reframed them as opportunities to get up and out. As soon as I get down on to the beach I forget what was annoying me at home and get distracted by the scenery around me. Being outside works wonders for our head. There is something magical about the open air that helps minimise problems that would have expanded if left to spin around in our head all day indoors.

Midwinter challenge
This week brings us the shortest day of the year which also means the biggest lie in you are going to get away with in order to witness the dawn. Could I tempt you to create a little adventure and treat yourself to a morning excursion over the next few weeks. Bring the family, a running buddy or indeed head out yourself. You can walk, run or even sit in the car and look out at the dawn if you don’t feel up for moving. I cannot promise you a stunning sunrise but I can guarantee you will be delighted you got up and out. You might even want to make a habit of it if you approach it the right way.

Make it a treat
Rather than seeing getting up as a chore, consider it an indulgence. Pack your winter woollies, fill a flask, and even bring your breakfast for the full experience. Check the weather and pick a nice morning to start with. Choose somewhere that ideally allows you to see the eastern sky. If work or family commitments don’t make this possible on an average weekday, could you plan it for the weekend or a morning over the Christmas holidays? One of the biggest perks of going to places of beauty in the morning is the solitude. Get out before the crowds and travel against the traffic on your way home. There is a stillness and beauty to the early morning before everywhere gets busy.

What happens next?
Maybe this will be the only winter I get up and out early. Next year I might have a child who I have to wake up for school and who has no interest in morning beach expeditions. Maybe even in the spring I will have a different relationship with these mornings. But for now, I’m going to embrace them. I’m not going to worry about having to be a maintain this habit forever or worry about how many miles I travel when down there. Rather than pine for longer evenings, I’m just going to get my winter fresh air fix early on the days that work for me. If I can keep it going as the dawn start to become earlier in the new year then that will just be a bonus. Go on, give it a try this week. You might just enjoy it too.

First published : The Irish Times December 2020. (Update 2022… now 2 years on school mornings are a little more tricky! But definately over the holidays.)

Here is what’s on this winter at ForgetTheGym.