Lately, as daily temperatures have finally started falling, I’ve been able to return to running at my favorite time of day. Every runner seems to have a favorite time, from early morning to well after dark in the evening. For me, the ideal time is mid-day, anytime from noon to mid-afternoon. Perhaps this stems from starting my running life doing after-school workouts as a high school cross country runner, and, later, many years running with high school teams as a coach.
That’s not to say I don’t cherish early-morning runs, which I do all summer to avoid mid-day heat and often on weekends to get in long miles before spending the day on other plans. There’s magic and beauty in being out on the road as the sun peaks over the horizon, casting my shadow far across the fields. Running first thing sets a day up nicely, leaving a feeling of accomplishment and contentment that anchors the day’s emotions. And habitual morning runners are reportedly more consistent, as those who wait risk the chance that the events of the day will get in the way of getting in a run.
That said, when I get up early, the running part is always a bit of a struggle until several miles in, and I’ve never been able to do effective speed work first thing in the day. I’m not alone, research has shown that performance is poorer in the morning, and the level of effort feels harder than it does later in the day.
When I head out at noon, or early afternoon, a few lunges and leg swings waken my muscles and bring me to full range of motion, and I’m quickly zipping along. If I’m rested, it’s easy to accelerate to a tempo run, throw in a 5-4-3-2-1 half-time fartlek or push up a favorite hill repeatedly.
Even more than the relative physical ease of running later in the day, what I like about mid-day runs is the psychological timing. By early afternoon, I’ve inevitably lost the edge of my focus, decision fatigue is setting in, and my productivity is ebbing. A run, instead of taking away time, restores my mental acuity and I return to get more done than if I had soldiered through.
If the day has been a struggle, the run is a welcome escape. These are the days I often push the pace, needing the effort to demand my attention and derail the circuitous mulling of my mind. Surprisingly, by ensuring that I don’t think about the problems, I often return having solved them, or, at least, having gained the perspective to separate emotions from the actual issues.
On days when work is going well, the run acts as a catalyst, accelerating my creativity. Fresh ideas appear out of nowhere, hidden connections become clear, the puzzle falls into place: I understand the plot, I know the brilliant response, the perfect words dangle in front of me… I return to my office and try to capture as much of it as I can before it disappears, sweat dripping on my computer keys (which, admittedly, is not great for my computer).
Sometimes meetings or deadlines push the mid-day run off until it is an evening run, snuck in before dinner. There’s beauty there as well, especially as days get shorter; returning home as the light is fading and the cold seeping in, transitioning from the craziness of the day to the calm of evening and the warm comfort of home.
Truth be told, there’s never a bad time for a run. We often can’t run at our favorite time due to work schedules or prohibitive weather conditions — so we run at other times, and still enjoy it. But, we relish those periods when we can run when we feel best, when it feels right, when it gives us the greatest benefit and joy. I’ll take a mid-day run any day that I can.