When I began running seriously, back in 1983, I almost always ran in the late afternoon. This was a practical decision as much as anything – I needed to start getting ready for work by 7 am; but I was usually home by 4:30 pm. It was a no-brainer - an hour or more in the late afternoon was the obvious option. The one exception was on Fridays, when after-work drinks precluded an afternoon run. Instead I’d run 5 km at 6:30 am on Friday mornings. But because I wasn’t used to daily morning running, I found these sessions a little tough.
A decade later I was working a different job; one in which I could never be sure when I’d be home after work. Even when there was some regularity, I wouldn’t arrive home till 7 pm – just in time for dinner with the family and too late (to my mind) to head out for a run. So, in the interests of certainty, I changed to morning running, usually hitting the road for an hour by 6 am. If I wanted to complete a long run before work, I would rise at 5 am. I got used to it pretty quickly.
For most people, it simply comes down to a basic question: “When is it most practical to run?” Everyone will adapt fairly quickly to running at whatever time of the day most suits their own particular lifestyle.
It is fairly easy for most people to transition from morning running to exercising in the afternoons or evenings. However, the reverse is rarely true - it is usually more more difficult to adjust from running later in the day to doing so in the morning. This is because the human circadian rhythm works in such a way that the body naturally “warms up” as the day progresses.
This effect has been acknowledged in athletic circles for decades. All track and field meets that encourage world record attempts schedule these events for as late in the day as possible – sometimes even around midnight. An athlete is much more likely to deliver a peak performance at the end of the day than at the beginning. And injuries tend to be less prevalent when exercising at the end of the day.
If you are new to running and have the luxury of a lifestyle that allows you to choose either the morning or afternoon/evening to exercise, be aware that you will run faster and easier in the latter part of the day and will be less likely to suffer injuries. However, also be aware that most races are in the morning, and if you are used to morning running, you’re body will have no problem adjusting to racing in the morning.
Tom Denniss is an Australian athlete, scientist, and entrepreneur. He has a PhD in Mathematics and Oceanography, has invented a technology to convert the energy in ocean waves into electricity, founded a company to commercialise that technology, has played professional rugby league, and was a finalist in the 2014 Australian of the Year Award. In 2013 he set a new world record for the Fastest Circumnavigation of the Earth on Foot. Tom lives in Sydney, Australia. A former professional musician, he has played to audiences in eight countries. He has written various articles for newspapers, magazines, and journals, as well as a book about his run around the world, titled The World At My Feet. You can read more of Tom's work here.
Main Photo Credit: Jacek Chabraszewski/shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit: Jaromir Chalabala/shutterstock.com