The Let’s Run Message Board is not a particularly healthy place for content, I’ll admit. But I’m on there last night reading, and someone started a thread about elite marathoner Ian Butler, who has a full time job as a school teacher but can run a 2:09 marathon, is training for the upcoming Chicago Marathon, and posted video of himself getting up at 4am to train in the dark.
Someone responded that they found little sense in Butler waking up so early to train when he could just train after work in the evening instead.
“I will never understand why some runners insist on running before the crack of dawn instead of in the afternoon or evening. School probably gets out around 3. There is plenty of time to do the workout later. It’s not Florida or Arizona so it won’t be that hot. Is getting to bed at 7 and waking up at 4 really a better option?”
First, I admit both bias and uncanny experience with both sides of the coin. I work full time and train a lot after work. I also turn in for bed fairly early and wake up rather early (in fact, I woke up with no alarm at 3:45am this morning, as I’ve done countless times), so I don’t find Butler’s sleep schedule all that daunting… though I realize others do. And I’ve done it both ways during marathon training, having my reasons for doing one or the other, or not.
Secondly, even though the above person claims it’s not that hot… having lived in the Midwest, regardless of where exactly Ian Butler is, it probably is rather hot during the late afternoon and evening. The temperature maxes out right before sunset, and the high humidity is probably very difficult to deal with. Butler is wise to train early when the temperatures are not as high and the sun isn’t there for the most part to add on surface heat.
Thirdly, the long workouts Butler is likely doing runs the risk of actually delaying his time to bed, plus the late workout runs the risk of revving his heart rate to the point where he may not be able to comfortably get to sleep and risks insomnia. I personally had little trouble getting to sleep in Chicago while training late in the day in these conditions, but I am a sample of one and others may not handle it as well. Butler may be one who doesn’t.
On top of that, who knows what kind of evening routine Butler has. If he has to preamble that routine with a long, hard workout, right after work… the resulting delays and stress may make it very hard to get to bed at a reasonable hour, relaxed enough to quickly doze off. And if he loses sleep night over night, that’s going to compromise his subsequent training.
Finally, and probably most importantly, here is the key thing with why Butler training at 4am is a good idea if he can handle it: It’s the best time of day to train, to specifically prepare for this race.
The Chicago Marathon starts at 7am. You practically cannot pop out of bed at 6:30, wherever in Chicago you are on that morning, commute to and rush to the start line and be comfortably ready to go at the gun. Speaking from experience (having run the race), you need to get up before dawn to be able to use the bathroom, eat something before, get your gear on, make your way to the start line, get in your corral, and be ready to run… even with the cush accommodations for elite runners he almost certainly will have.
Also, more importantly, if you are not used to waking up early and running early… doing it on race day is a shock to your system, and an elite battling a shock to his system while trying to run an important marathon probably will not do well.
Whether he specifically intends this or not, Butler getting up at 4am is preparing his circadian rhythms as well as his body for the task of waking up early to run a 7am marathon. On race day it will feel more natural to run that race, because he has spent months waking up early to run at an early hour, than it will for someone who sleeps in until the last minute every day, trains in the evening, maybe gets up early once a week for a long run, and then tries to run early on race day.
So, if you in fact don’t understand why it’s best for Ian Butler to get up at 4am to train… now you do.
I’m always Team Do Whatever Works for you.
I’m one of those folks who has to run in the morning (maybe not at 4 am) because things pop up during the workday and/or I lose motivation for an evening run. I wish that I could change that mold because my running groups tend to meet during the early evening on weeknights.
You brought up a great point about training for race start times. I’m a bit nervous because many races are starting later to ensure proper distancing due to COVID. For instance, my half marathon next week in Madrid starts at 11 am and my wave for NYC Marathon starts at 11:20 am. Maybe these later times will work out for me because I will not have to wake up super early to eat, poop, have a cup of coffee, poop again, shower, get dressed, and commute to the start.