The Rise and Fall of the Early-Bird Exerciser

It took years for me to become a morning exerciser.

I mean, partly, it took years for me to become an exerciser, full-stop. The first time I remember going to the gym regularly was the first year after college, living alone in the suburbs, driving over to the nearby 24-Hour Fitness on Sunday nights to watch Desperate Housewives on the elliptical. I hadn’t found exercise I truly loved yet — was years from running (much less triathlon) — and going to the gym was tough enough on its own without an alarm blaring in my ear before dawn. I love sleep, I’m a night owl through and through, and the last thing that was going to motivate me to start healthy habits was an early wake-up call.

Then I spent a while working a job with a regular shift starting at 7 a.m. an hour away from home, and so while getting up at 5 became the norm, it was “getting up at 5 a.m. to stumble into the shower, wake up just enough to get coffee into the mug, and get to the car” — not “getting up at 5 for a nice, hardcore pre-breakfast sweat sesh.” When I stopped working that job, I maybe thought for three seconds that I’d keep my earlybird hours and use that time for working out, but then I remembered for the first time in a year how nice sleep was.

It was somewhere in my first year of running that I shifted over to a morning schedule. For one thing, I learned that I hated running into the wind that picks up in San Francisco many afternoons, and the temporary pain of dragging myself out of bed was worth it to have a more pleasant run overall. For another, I was working a job that had less flexibility in the evenings than it did in the mornings, so the only way I could guarantee time to run was to do it early. I got hooked on that feeling that I’d already done something good for myself before going to the office, that I’d secured a tiny bit of time and sanity that nothing would steal away.

Ever since then, most of my workouts, and probably all of my best ones, have happened before work. I’d do something in the evening if that’s the only way it could happen — rock climbing when my partner was free after work, yoga when the better classes are all post-6 p.m., afternoon running during that awful semester of grad school when I had to be in Berkeley before 9 a.m. — but my preference was to put in the miles or the yards first, then get on with my day. I’m not some super early riser — 6:30 is about the best I can do without an extraordinary dose of motivation — but that’s usually enough for me to get in an hour of something, 90 minutes if I put in some extra prep time the night before. Through a marathon and several half-marathons and my first couple of triathlons, that’s been plenty. During Vineman, I had some double-workout days, but the morning one was typically the easy one to do; it was the evening swim or bike or run where I had to bargain with myself to get off the couch.

But all of a sudden, I’ve felt myself rocketing back toward an evening schedule.

The first blow was Wednesday night track. Track itself has been great for me; I love the workouts and the camaraderie and there’s no way I would work that hard on my own. But the harder I work, the less I want to get up less than 12 hours later for another workout on Thursday morning. At first, I thought track would just wipe out a Thursday morning run, and I was cool with that. But in fact, I quickly found it wiping out Thursday morning workouts of any sort, pushing them to the evening or turning Thursday into a rest day as I dumped everything onto Friday’s schedule.

Then I started going to evening computrainer classes — at first on Tuesdays, which was fine because Wednesday was evening track, and then on Thursdays, which was also fine because it eliminated my waking-up-after-Wednesday-track issues. But still, that was two nights out of a possible four. (Let’s be real, I’m probably never going to work out on a Friday evening. Actually, I used to, because the 24-Hour Fitness closest to our second San Francisco apartment was a hotbed of adorable gay couples going on gym dates and the people-watching was A+. But that was a very specific situation.)

Then I started working with TAG to Santa Cruz, and we swim at Aquatic Park … after work on Mondays. The nail in the coffin. I’m an evening exerciser again.

This week: Monday night Aquatic Park. Tuesday night computrainer. Wednesday night track. Thursday AM swim on the schedule … which I absolutely slept through.

I do not like being an evening exerciser. I do not like having to be hyper-conscious of what I’m eating all day and making sure it will settle well enough for me to get a good workout in. I do not like not being home to make dinner. I do not like being sweaty and gross before bed, and I’m not terribly interested in taking a second shower. I do not like how I get home late enough that my motivation to do stuff around the house is gone — and I cannot summon said motivation in the morning, so this week was four nights in a row of me saying “I need to clean the bathtub,” then promptly dozing off on the couch.

Morning exercise means my mornings can be for me and my evenings can be for me — or, more accurately, my evenings can be for happy hours and errands and baking and chores and TV and books and un-damp hair and yoga, which is totally different for some reason. Which is basically the same as them being “for me.”

I’m stuck with this through the end of September, and then I’ll suddenly be free of a group schedule for the first time since February. I have no idea yet what my “offseason” will hold, but I know it’ll involve some mornings of rising with the sun. And, much as 2007 me doesn’t really believe this, I can’t wait. While I may still dread the morning alarm from time to time, it’s definitely better for me than the alternative.

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2 thoughts on “The Rise and Fall of the Early-Bird Exerciser

  1. This is a great post! I made the switch to morning workouts this summer due to a busy schedule and I love it for exactly the reasons you mention. I get to start the day in a good place mentally and physically, and I don’t have to “find” the time to work out at night. As soon as winter sets in, I won’t be able to run outside anymore, so I’ll have to make the choice between getting up a little earlier to go to the gym or giving up my precious night time. We’ll see how it plays out, but right now I’m planning to stick with the mornings.

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