Here's How I Motivate to Keep Up With Early-Morning Runs — Even Though It's Pitch Black!

POPSUGAR Photography | Jenny Sugar
POPSUGAR Photography | Jenny Sugar

I crave my early-morning runs to get the head-clearing exercise and alone time I need for my mental health. The only roadblock is that the sun is rising later and later, and now it's pitch black when I go on my runs. For a couple weeks, I cursed the dark, gave up those runs, and followed workout videos inside instead. But I just didn't enjoy them as much and knew I needed to get back outside, even if it felt like I was running at midnight! Here are the tips I follow to stay motivated to run in the dark.

  • Find the right gear and workout clothes: This was absolutely key to running in the dark. I wear a Biolite headlamp and Nathan reflective vest so I can see well and also be seen. Since it's also gotten colder, I wear comfy high-rise leggings, a long-sleeved shirt, and mittens, and on 30-degree days, I also wear a vest and a wicking hat.
  • Prepare clothes and gear the night before: Before I go to bed, I make sure my headlamp, earbuds, and phone are charging. I lay out my entire outfit in the bathroom so I can slip right into it before brushing my teeth. And I leave my socks, sneakers, vest, hat, and mittens by the door. Everything is ready to go so I don't have to waste time finding anything.
  • Make it fun: I always have a podcast or audiobook I'm excited about that I only listen to when I run (lately I love Lean With Plants). It not only gets me out the door, but because I don't want to stop listening, it also inspires me to run longer.
  • Go easy: I'm not setting any PRs here, so I just tell myself to run a few miles on mostly flat roads. I don't try to beat pace or mileage goals — I just run. The first mile is always the hardest, and I find that after I get through that, I feel excited to keep going, so I usually end up running longer than I anticipated.
  • Set up a weekly training schedule, and run less: When it was light outside, I ran four to six mornings out of the week, but now I aim for three. I check the weather and only run on nonrainy days, and I try to pick the warmest mornings as well. And one day is always on the weekend, so I don't actually have to run in the dark — I just run when the sun rises. On the other days, I do yoga, strength train, or follow along to a video indoors.
  • Alarm motivation: I make sure to get in bed by 8:30 p.m. the night before my morning runs, and I set my alarm a little earlier, so I have 20 minutes to snooze before I need to get up. I like having a little time to mentally prepare before pulling myself out of my cozy, warm bed. I named my alarm "Do it! You know you'll feel good!" That always works because truthfully, that's my biggest motivation: that I'll feel good during and especially after my run.
  • Track my runs: Although I'm not setting any big goals, I do keep track of my runs on my calendar in red marker. Seeing the red lettering staring back at me throughout the month motivates me to keep it up!
  • Revel in the beauty of the darkness: The first time I set outside in the pitch black, I was really scared. There's a two-minute hill I have to run up that is surrounded by woods and no street lights. As a woman, I was also a little freaked out to be out in the dark alone. That morning, I saw three deer cross my path and noticed a gorgeous full moon and sky glittered with stars — I never would have witnessed such beauty if I hadn't made the commitment to get out and run.

    From then on, instead of letting fear sink in or giving up because it wasn't as enticing as being out in the warm sun, I saw running in the dark as a gift. There is such a glorious peacefulness I only experience while running early in the morning before the sun rises, and that alone motivates me to lace up my sneaks and head out into the darkness.