An ode to the zombie shuffle (aka the early morning workout)

Rachel Flanagan Uncategorized

Up until about four years ago, the thought of working out in the morning—especially before 6am—would make me laugh at the sheer madness of the idea.

I have always been a big sleeper, bordering on narcoleptic. When I was in high school, I could sleep until noon on the weekends. I can still fall asleep in seconds, which is a blessing and a curse. On the plus side, I’ve never had to deal with insomnia, but on the minus side, I’ve been known to fall asleep in the middle of a conversation with my husband, especially if we’re watching TV. He’s gotten used to it—and will always save the TV show we’re watching on DVR when I inevitably fall asleep during it, despite telling him how awake I feel at the beginning—but he is always amazed how instantaneous it is. The other problem with my narcoleptic tendencies was the danger of falling asleep during a college rugby party with Sharpies around. All I will say is that I am so glad that Facebook and Instagram did not exist in those days. But I digress.

When I did high school and college sports, working out was something I always did in the late afternoon. When I joined the workforce after college, I stuck to the timing and went to the gym on the way home from work. It was a ritual that gave me some time to myself to go over the day’s conversations in my mind and workout any frustrations. But when I decided to train for my first marathon in 2012, with a five-year-old and a two-year-old at home and a husband who also worked, the need to work out in the morning simply became a necessity.

I will not lie to you, dear readers – for the first couple of weeks, it was torture. I sat at my kitchen table at 5am, hunched over a giant cup of coffee and I wondered what in the world I was doing. But, I did get used to it, and eventually began to enjoy it, especially on running days when a deer would cross my path, or I’d see a beautiful sunrise, or I’d end up with a great set of songs on my playlist and would sing to the squirrels. It felt great to be done with my workout by 7am, knowing that I didn’t have to think about it for the rest of the day.

Then there are my fellow gym regulars who join me at the door, waiting for it to open at 5:30am. After four years, I’ve gotten to know a few of them. Some of them are incredibly inspiring. There’s a man in his 60’s who does pushups on his knuckles to strengthen his wrists for rock climbing. There’s a man in his 70’s who almost never misses a workout and always has a smile on his face. There’s a man who has been bringing his middle school-aged son with him so they can work out together. There’s a couple in their late 60’s, who used to just stay in the cardio area, and now the wife is doing weights and planks, and she has gotten really strong. It’s been fun to watch from the sidelines.

I tell you this story because so many people have told me that it would be impossible for them to get up early to work out. I can tell you this in no uncertain terms: it is often hard, but it’s not impossible. You will have to put yourself to bed earlier than 10pm, but it’s not a bad trade-off. Starting your day with a layer of stress shed away can change your whole outlook on the day.

I do have a few tricks for getting up and out in the wee hours:

  • Once the sports bra is on, there’s no turning back.
  • Coffee—it’s non-negotiable at that hour. I don’t usually drink the whole cup, but at least half makes me feel human.
  • Having an upbeat playlist on Spotify or my iPod shuffle, usually involving Pitbull or some 80’s music. And if I’m being totally honest, usually some Taylor Swift on there, too.
  • As soon as the alarm goes off, I put my feet on the floor. Similar to the sports bra mantra, once my feet are on the floor, there’s no going back to bed.

So now I want to hear from you, if you’re a morning exerciser: how did you get into your routine? Do you have any rituals?

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