What’s the best time to run? I’ve been asked this question many times from clients, or anyone interested in getting started running. That and its sister question, ‘When is the best time to work out’? are the two things I’m asked most often as a trainer.
The short answer? Whenever you can.
The long answer? It’s a little more complicated.
Let’s break down how you can figure out what is your best time to run. Planning is key to not just finding the best time to run, but for making it part of your regular routine, so I’ve put together a planning project for you! All you’ll need is a calendar (just the one you use now for scheduling is fine, or you can use a separate calendar for this project if you feel like you need a blank slate).
What’s Your Why?
Let’s look first at your motivation for running. There are so many possible reasons why you want to get out and run. Just to name a few, you could be running to train for a race; to train for a PR; to lose weight; to get fit; because you love it; to begin running from scratch; for stress relief; or as part of training for another sport. You may even find your ‘why’ is actually two or three reasons rolled into one. Write down all the reasons you want to run, then order them by importance.
Once you have your motivation for running clear, you can move onto working out how that impacts your prioritization of your running schedule and when your best time to run is going to be.
What Are Your Priorities?
With your reasons for running all written out and clear in your mind, grab your calendar and think about what your priorities for each day, week and ‘season’ are. By ‘season,’ I mean a season of running. If you run just for fun, or for stress relief, or as your regular cardio, your ‘season’ in this case might be forever (or for as long as you can run). If you’re training for a specific goal, think of your season as your training program leading up to the event.
Priorities for the day and week: List everything you need to do on a daily basis and everything you need to do at some point during the week. Things on this list would include going to work, dropping off/picking up kids, regularly scheduled appointments, dates, cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc.
Priorities for the season: Look at your block of time for the season on your calendar (if your season is ongoing, it may help to do this exercise every three months or so). What’s coming up within that time period that could affect your running schedule? Things like birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, parties, business trips and vacations would be things you’d list here.
Your list of motivations from the first step will now come into play. If there are certain specific workouts you need to do for a training plan, for example, you’ll have an idea of exact times you need to have free in order to get those done. If you like to just get out and run for 30 minutes at least four times a week, you know you’re looking for half hour slots with a little padding on either side for getting ready and getting cleaned up.
For the daily/weekly priority list, are there tasks you can cut short? Are there things you could delegate to someone else without it being a big deal? Rather than looking at your schedule as a set, chronological series of events, start thinking of it as a big jigsaw puzzle that you can take pieces out of without affecting the overall picture. Whenever you can take pieces out, that’s a section of time that is now freed up, in which you can run.
For the season list of to-do’s, think about how your running fits into the bigger events coming up. For example, if you have a vacation coming up and you know you’re going to be walking a lot and you want your focus to be on your family or your travel partners, maybe running takes a backseat during your trip. If your ‘why’ for running is training for an event, it would be important to work your training around this break – to make sure you make the week you’re on vacation a cut-back week in your training program, or to front-load and back-load harder or longer running workouts for right before and immediately after your trip.
Maybe it turns out that after looking at the bigger picture, you can only run very early in the morning. It could be that you can see that a midday ‘runch’ is your best bet. Or that the only time you’re consistently going to be able to run is immediately after work, do not pass go, do not stop to do anything other than get changed into your running gear.
How Does Your Environment Affect You?
You also need to take into how your immediate environment impacts your plans for finding the best time to run. Environmental factors like temperature, humidity, safety of available running routes, proximity of where you run – all these are going to factor into your choice of time. It’s one thing to say you have an hour after work, but if your commute or the weather are going to cut into your running time, you’ll need to reassess your schedule, or find an alternative like the treadmill.
When do You Feel Best?
In a perfect world, with no responsibilities, when you feel best running would be the only thing you’d have to take into consideration when planning your run. For me, I prefer to run in the early evening, around 5pm or so. I tend to have more energy then, I enjoy the temperature and light fading and I like coming home feeling a little sore and tired to eat, relax, then sleep. Guess how often I ran at that time when I was last in training for a race? Maybe once or twice, out of probably 60 to 70 planned runs.
We all have things in our life that need to take precedence over our running (unless you’re a professional runner!). So do think about your time preference. Take a good look at your priority lists and see where you can fit in your preferred times. Hopefully it will work out that they coincide, but if they don’t just accept that the time you feel best for running may not be the same as the best time for you to actually get out and run.
How Can You Make Your Best Time Work?
Once you’ve finished this project, you should have mapped out the times and days for every run throughout your season. While last-minute emergencies and unforeseen events will undoubtably spring up, now all you need to do is to stick to your plan as best you can. Just like anything in life, but particularly when it comes to working out, running and fitness, consistency is key. Schedule those workouts in pen, or with an annoying reminder alarm on your phone. Then do them. Consistently.
Once you get into the habit, the times you’ve now set for getting your running workouts done just become part of your routine schedule and you’ll get them done without thinking twice. That’s when you’ll know you’ve made your best time to run work for you.
What’s your favorite time to run?
Do you plan your running times now? Or just run whenever you can squeeze in the time?
What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to planning your workouts?