Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Up with the lark or out with the night owls: what’s the best time of day to run? Martin Yelling explains

“Oh no, I never run in the morning.” How many times do we hear runners utter these words? I do sympathise. If I roll out of bed for my morning run before 7am, I don’t get into my rhythm before I’m back home. On the other hand, a few hours and a cup of coffee later, I’m positively raring to go.
But is this just talk or is there ‘good’ time of day to run? Are there segments of a day when it’s best to train? And can you improve your ability to do something by selecting the right time of day to do it?
Much of it comes down to your circadian rhythm – your body’s natural clock that determines your sleeping and waking. This is an internal clock that governs physical biology and physiological response: it tells us when to wake and when to feel sleepy.
The circadian body clock suggests we’re at our most alert at 10am; that we have our best co-ordination at 2:30pm; that we have our fastest reaction time at 3:30pm; and that we have our greatest cardiovascular efficiency and muscle strength at 5pm. This would suggest that there are, indeed, optimum times to run.
Of course, you may not be able to train at the optimum time due to work, family and other commitments, so do your own research with the time you have available. And take comfort in this fact: finding any time to run, whether you’re up with the early birds or out with the night owls, is a whole better than not finding time to run at all.


Early morning workouts are done between 5am and 7am. For many of us with regular 9-to-5 jobs and busy home lives, training needs to be done as the lark rises.
• Feels great in the summer when the mornings are light and warm
• There are physiological benefits to training in a fasted state
• Feels good knowing you’ve got your run out of the way
• Builds mental strength: if you can do it first thing in the morning, you can do it anytime
• Limited traffic, pedestrians and other road/path users
• Hard to do in the winter when it’s cold and dark
• Can be pushed for time fitting it into a tight window
• Requires an early night beforehand
• Body functions are typically at their worst first thing in the morning
Workouts that work
• Easy paced runs / base miles (40mins slow effort)
• Progressive paced runs (40mins, picking up the pace each 10mins)


This is between 1pm and 2pm. For many of us, a lunchtime run is a great opportunity to take a break from the office, get some fresh air and bank some miles.
• Gets your run done away from home so can relax after work
• Provides opportunities to run with others if you can generate some enthusiasm at work
• Helps you to feel more energised, focused and invigorated for your afternoon at work
• Research has shown those who exercise at lunchtime concentrate more and can be more productive at work in the afternoon
• Limits you time-wise as lunch typically lasts an hour
• Means you have to rush your lunch, and could risk skipping it
• If you workplace doesn’t have a decent shower, you could quickly become very unpopular with your workmates
• Body functions experience a lull in the middle of the day, especially body temperature, so keep a lid on top-end sessions.
Workouts that work
• 5mins warm-up; 1 x 30mins tempo; 5mins warm-down
• 5mins warm-up; 30mins fartlek; 5mins warm-down


This is between 10am and 11.30am. Although we may be at our most alert mid-morning, it may not be realistic for many of us to schedule a run at this time.
• By this time, your body has fully woken up and you feel more ready and prepared
• Your muscles function and lung performance is up to speed
• You’ve had breakfast so are fuelled and hydrated
• Testosterone levels are at their highest mid-morning so if it’s strength-based workouts you’re after, hit them at this time
• You’re psychologically at your daily peak
• Difficult to fit into a normal work schedule. Unless you’ve got a very understanding boss or are self-employed, you can’t simply down tools and clear off for a quick run
Workouts that work
• Mid-morning is a great time for harder workouts when you need to feel at your best. For some, this might be weekends only
• Threshold running (eg. 1 x 15mins threshold, 2 x 5mins threshold with 4mins recovery) or interval sessions (eg. 6 x 4mins with 2mins recovery or 8 x 3mins with 90secs recovery)


This time covers 5pm to 8pm. Evening running works for many people. Could this be the golden hours for nailing your training?
• It’s been scientifically shown that athletes perform better when body temperature is higher. This typically peaks early evening
• Your muscles are warmed up, supple and in a much better state of readiness
• Lung function has been shown to be better in the afternoon than at other times of the day
• It feels physically easier to run faster, meaning your workout quality is improved
• Your work day has finished, meaning you have focused time to spend on training
• This is a common time to train meaning you can reap the social and motivation benefits of running with others/in groups.
• It can be a struggle to find the motivation. It’s easy to bail and miss it if work runs over, kids need picking up or life generally gets in the way. Once the window of running opportunity has gone, it’s gone
• If you live in built up or urban areas, roads/paths can be busy with traffic and pedestrians
• If you’ve neglected lunch, feeling tired could be an issue
Workouts that work
• Event-specific time trials
• Track sessions – 15mins warm-up; 4-6 x 1K repeats; 10mins cool-down


This is between 9pm and 11pm. For those working shifts or with very busy work and family commitments, this may be the only time possible to schedule a run.
• If this is the only time you can run, it’s better than not running at all
• Roads more likely to be quiet
• Your body might be tired, meaning you are not as receptive to training or potentially as adaptive to the benefits
• You’re not sure when to eat: before your run or afterwards? If after, this can mean that you’re heading to bed late on a full stomach
• You’re wired at night after running, meaning sleep can be difficult
• Visibility will become a factor
Workouts that work
• Steady 30-40mins run
• Treadmill session – 2mins at 70%, 2mins at 75% effort, 2mins easy
• Repeat x 4

Friday, October 14, 2016



In a raft of studies, exercise – primarily in the form of, but not restricted to, running – has been shown to have several effects on the brain. It leads to the release of certain neurotransmitters in the brain that alleviate pain, both physical and mental.

Depression is related to low levels of certain neurotransmitters such as seratonin and norepinephrine, both of which can be stimulated by the effect of exercise on the sympathetic nervous system. Also important are endorphins: chemicals released by the pituitary gland in response to stress or pain, which bind to receptors in the brain’s neurons to inhibit pain and promote feelings of euphoria – more on that later.

Another positive side effect of running is a process called neurogenesis – the creation of new neurons in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls learning and memory. At a cellular level, it is possible that the mild stress caused by exercise stimulates an influx of calcium, which effectively ‘agitates’ proteins that promote the neurogenesis process. The upside is that exercise provides a natural trigger.

Running, in essence, can help fight the chemical imbalances that cause depression; a serious illness that can result in low mood, feelings of helplessness, self-harm and even suicide. “Depression can manifest itself in physical ways,” says Trainor. “You can suffer loss of energy, headaches, agitation or anxiety, and nutrition often suffers. There are also cognitive changes – loss of concentration, focus and confidence. Running can challenge all of these. GPs are able to prescribe gym memberships these days, and that’s because research has found that, in cases of mild or moderate depression, exercise is at least as effective as, if not more useful than, medication.

“It’s in severe cases of depression that medication may be required, day to day. But running can give you a sense of purpose and allow you to take control of your life.”

Running, can do most things – and helping to overcome, or at least manage, depression is one of them

So exercise is good for you, and the even better news is that running is just about the best form of exercise you can do. “It’s called the ‘runner’s high’ – we don’t hear the term ‘cyclist’s high’ or ‘rower’s high’,” says Andy Lane, professor of sports psychology at the University of Wolverhampton. “The reasons for this aren’t completely clear, but it’s likely that it’s because running is a movement humans learn naturally via walking as babies. It’s an extension of that natural movement pattern.”

At a very basic level, most of us can run – that is, physically put one foot in front of the other at a pace faster than walking. And you don’t have to flog yourself if you’re new to it. The key for beginners is not to overdo it. “Intensity is quite complex,” says Lane.

“If you’re unfit, running slowly is intense. Unfit people tend to start running at a high intensity and don’t enjoy it. Intense exercise triggers a response in the brain that says, ‘Careful, we can’t keep this up,’ and that message comes in the form of negative emotions – feeling miserable, sad and tired. Moderately intense exercise associates with positive mood.

“But once you reach a certain level, doing intervals or completing a hard session can bring a tremendous sense of achievement. Overcoming doubts and fears that you can’t cope builds resilience, and this can raise self-esteem.”

The benefits of running extend beyond the chemical reactions in your brain. It can help change bad habits and give a sense of achievement. “Sticking to a running programme is a form of exercising self-control, and self-control is a variable linked with a number positive attributes,” says Lane.

“Good self-control helps diet-management, job success, sticking to timetables and so on. Poor self-control is associated with a large number of societal problems such as anger and violence. Self-control is improved by training. People should run – it will lead to general happiness and, because of the physiological effects, reduces a whole host of cardiovascular diseases.”

There’s just one word of warning: if you’re taking medication, don’t bin it simply because you’ve pulled on a pair of running shoes and feel great about it. You should never come off medication without talking to your GP first.

“Depression is complex,” says Lane. “The causal link between exercise and mental health is not completely established, and exercise tends to help improve mood for those people who like exercising. People who dislike it and who are prescribed exercise might as well be given the worst-tasting medicine possible.”

RELATED: How to talk to someone about their mental health

Steve Clancey, 44, discovered that running could help him in 2009. “Over time, work pressures and life changes took their toll, and I was signed off in 2008 because I physically couldn’t work,” he says. “I saw a flyer to enter the London Marathon to raise money for Sense, the deaf and blind charity, and decided to do it on the spur of the moment. I didn’t particularly know what I was doing but I’d always been reasonably fit and entered some shorter events as part of my training.

“When I finished the marathon in four hours, in 2009, I was on cloud nine, and after the event I realised I missed it, so I joined a club and carried on.” The benefits were obvious. “It’s very therapeutic and training gives me a structure,” he says. “I also suffer from seasonal affective disorder so running makes the winter a lot more bearable, especially when I’m training for a race in the spring.

“Running has given me a focus. It’s improved my health and shown me it’s possible to improve at something. With running you get better little by little, and that shows you can overcome seemingly insurmountable problems by taking lots of small steps. I’ve met lots of new friends and I have a huge support network – there’s always someone to talk to,” adds Steve, who is a member of London’s Serpentine Running Club.

“In short, it’s something to look forward to, and a reason to get out of bed in the morning.” And that, when it comes to overcoming depression, is half the battle.

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