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The joys and benefits of early morning training

Why training in the dark can be enlightening and enhance your training

Photo by: Kevin Mackinnon

As we edge our way into late fall one truth becomes more and more apparent – we are getting less sunlight every day. This darkness can compound the other challenges of the season, such as colder weather and tricky roads. The idea of heading out on a run or ride in the pitch black can also seem just wrong – like you’re still supposed to be in bed.

These are definitely obstacles to working out in the outdoors in the fall, and I don’t want to minimize them, but with some preparation you can still work out safely if you use lights, wear reflective gear, find safe spaces to run and buddies to train with, etc. If you do, it will all be worth it, because there is something absolutely amazing about getting your exercise in in the dark.

Andrew Nevills, Marlene Line and Sharon Mackinnon push through an early morning interval session on Hamilton’s Waterfront Trail. Photo: Kevin Mackinnon

One of these advantages is that everything is much less crowded than it is during the summer. This can bring an extra sense of calm to your workout, helping to make the experience even more rejuvenating.

Another benefit of exercise in the dark is the chance to witness the unusual beauty of places that might otherwise be very familiar to you. A few weeks ago, I was riding loops with a small group through a local park in the dark morning and a light fog drifted in. For twenty minutes we weren’t just completing a challenging morning workout, but were also exploring an eerily beautiful haunted Victorian forest – it added a whole other dimension to the session. In addition, if you are up and working out in the dark mornings, you are probably going to be up for the sunrise, and what better way to start your day then to finish your session just as the sun is coming up? Combining the feeling of release that a good workout brings with the joy and majesty of a glorious sunrise is a pretty amazing thing. If you are getting your workouts in after sunset, you are probably going to get some great views of the night sky. Cool, cloudless nights are some of the best times to see stars, even if you live in the middle of a city.

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Fewer distractions lead to focused training

But the truth is that despite the moments of beauty that come with working out in the dark, most of the time there isn’t much to look at. This, combined with the smaller crowds, is actually an additional benefit of working out in the dark – your sessions will have fewer distractions. With nothing much to see and fewer people to have to navigate around you can shift your focus from all those external elements around you and focus in on your internal experience. How is your breathing? How is your running or cycling cadence? How is your body feeling at the moment? What is the best line to pick for this section of the trail or road?  This shift to a more internal focus can create a positive “tunnel-vision” where your world shrinks to the experience of your movement and the immediate cues around you that are needed to keep you moving safely. This means we’re more likely to experience the sense of “flow” so many of us have heard about.

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So, as the days get shorter, don’t miss out on your training. Strap on those shoes, put on those cycling booties (and lights), and head out for a workout in the dark. Once you’ve found your flow and cruised through the session, don’t forget to stop and watch the sunrise.  There’s no better way to start a day.

Darian Silk is a triathlon coach and Certified Exercise Physiologist based in Toronto.  Read more about Darian at https://teamatomica.com/training/coaching/coach-darian-silk/  or email him at darian@teamatomica.com.