night running

Should I try night running?

Night running can be a good change of pace to break up your training schedule.

Morning. What’s your gut reaction to this word?  You might think of some form of “Yay” or “Ugh.”  There are people who have the unique ability to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning. And then there are the people that hate those people. Early-morning runners tend to get all the accolades of discipline. What if you’re more of the proverbial night owl? There’s definitely benefits there too.

Night running benefits

In my experience, even if you’re more inclined to sleep in, the schedule sometimes necessitates an early morning training run. The good thing about marathon training programs is flexibility. You can modify the program to fit your life, preferences and schedule. So, if you don’t like getting up at the butt crack of dawn isn’t your thing, that’s fine. Night running sessions have huge upside potential. Even the most die-hard morning runners may consider including night runnings in their weekly schedule.

Here are a few of the benefits of nighttime running:

vo2max

Night running can help you run longer

A study done at The University of North Texas Department of Kinesiology, Health Promotion, and Recreation, found that “time of exhaustion was 20% greater in the evenings than in the morning.” That means you can run 20% more at night before you get tired, vs. the same training run in the morning.

Science backs nighttime running

The study also found that maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) is widely accepted as the single best measure of cardiovascular fitness and maximal aerobic power. This study found that maximal oxygen uptake was faster in the evening thus improving your overall cardiovascular fitness level.

Running at night may relieve stress

Everyone has stressful moments throughout the day. Whether it’s dealing with a micromanaging boss or bumper-to-bumper traffic, stress takes it toll on your mental and physical well being. Hitting your marathon training at night can help you deal with all that rage in a healthy way, so you don’t take all that anger to bed with you.

Get out of the Heat

The bulk of marathons are either in the spring or the fall.  This means that some of your training runs will happen in warm or hot months. The summer sun takes a lot out of you when you’re tacking on the mileage.

Summer night running

While training for a half marathon in the fall, my schedule called for some long runs in the middle of the summer. The bulk of those training runs I did in the early morning because of my school and work schedule. But I did manage to get a 12 mile run in the evening. I waited until my wife and baby girl was asleep. Then laced up the kicks and headed out around midnight. There was no one on the road which was both peaceful and creepy at the same time. I had the whole city to myself for a couple of hours. And there was no summer sun to slow me down.

Deeper Sleep

Late-night running will mess up your sleep schedule, right? Not necessarily. A study done at University of South Carolina found 97% of people who exercised at a high intensity at night discovered their quality of sleep was equal to or better than when they exercised during the day.  

“In many cases exercise actually improved their quality and ease of sleep,” said lead researcher Shawn Youngstedt. The increase in your body temperature that comes from running may enhance sleep the same way taking a hot shower right before bed does. “The area of the brain involved in lowering body temperature is also involved in promoting sleep,” says Youngstedt. “And running also has an anxiety-reducing, calming effect in general,” he says. It tends to ease both blood pressure and muscle tension, leaving you feeling more relaxed resulting in better quality sleep.  And as you’re probably aware, quality sleep is imperative to muscle recovery.

Final thoughts on running at night

Night running is a great alternative to the daily grind.  It breaks up the monotony, gives a different refreshing perspective and has many physical and mental benefits.  You don’t have to convert exclusively to nighttime running. But it is another way to ensure your overall marathon training success.

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