How to Stick to Early-Morning Workouts (For Real!)

Members of Philly’s November Project get up before sunrise to work out multiple days a week, every week — WHAT?! WHY?! HOW?! We found out.

Be Well Philly Underground with November Project | Photo by Susan Nam

Be Well Philly Underground with November Project | Photo by Susan Nam

Philly’s November Project tribe is a grassroots workout group — one of dozens of other free November Project workout groups in cities around the world (yup, the world … there’s NP Iceland, London, and Hong Kong) — that meets almost exclusively in the early morning hours. Philly’s group works out at the Art Museum steps at 6:25 a.m. on Wednesday mornings, in locations around the city at 6:25 a.m. on Friday mornings, plus the occasional pop-up workout or run. (Guys, it’s free, if you haven’t heard, so #justshowup — that’s their motto. That is, if you can first #justwakeup.)

Many of us want to be committed to early-morning workouts (after all, according to this Philly trainer, it’s the best time to exercise) but have trouble actually getting our butts out the door in neon spandex to bounce up and down the Rocky Steps before sunrise. To find out the secret to sticking to those good morning-workout intentions, we caught up with seven dedicated November Project early-risers, including the group’s two fearless (or insane) co-leaders, to find out what motivates them to get out the door when their alarms go off. Check out the (sometimes weird, sometimes adorable — see: puppy wake-up call) secrets to how they do it below.

Have accountability buddies — and promise yourself biscuits for breakfast afterwards.
Beth Blendell is an ultra-marathon running co-leader of November Project Philadelphia, so she knows what’s up when it comes to waking up EARLY (sometimes, she says, by 4 a.m. if she needs to get early miles in before NP). She says, “I know that if I don’t work out first thing in the morning, I probably won’t work out! I can come up with a thousand excuses not to run later in the day.

“It also really helps that I have accountability buddies that I meet up with for early run. The night before I put out all my clothes for the morning run and put anything else I need by the front door. That way, I’m not scrambling for matching socks in the dark. Also — and perhaps most importantly — I do it all for breakfast. Most of the workout groups go out for breakfast after the workout, so I wake up just so I can go to breakfast afterwards. If you’ve had the biscuits from Honey’s, then you understand!”

Remember: No one ever regrets a good workout.
Sanketh Guruswamy is an upbeat November Project runner and business development whiz who also has to make sure to be on schedule with his wife to get his almost four-year-old daughter Prisha to school (and occasionally bring her to stop by the workouts). He says of his early wake-ups, “I used to be like a bull in a china shop — wake up, stumble around for my clothes, water bottle, and shoes! Now I make it a point to set out my workout gear the night before. Also, I always tell myself that however much I don’t want to go work out, I will never regret going since it’s so great to see everyone motivated and smiling. I have so much energy after the workout that it’s worth it.”

Set a puppy alarm.
Tammy Rutledge is a badass, travel-loving, proud Canadian runner who relies on a cutie named Calvin (and sometimes her husband, Mark, too) to motivate her to get outside for her morning workouts. She says, “I have the best alarm clock: it’s furry, has four legs, and likes to come to the side of the bed and put its wet nose on my cheek. Calvin is so darn cute, but he doesn’t have much of a built-in snooze button. His walk comes before everything … even coffee!

“I also make deals with myself to get out the door. I tell myself I’ll set aside time later in the day for a quick nap … (yeah, right). But giving myself the ‘okay’ to indulge later on makes those early wake-ups easier. Speaking of deals, if I am not particularly in the mood to work out, I’ll make a deal with myself to just run a mile, or do loops near my home so I can bail early, or do half a planned workout. But once I start going, I always end up doing more than the minimum.”

“Accountability is one of the other things that gets me moving. My husband Mark is very active and on days that he heads out the door without me, I feel super guilty. A November Project ‘verbal’ [telling someone you’ll be at a workout] has meaning. Once I’ve told someone that I’ll be there, I make sure I show up. And knowing there is a whole tribe ready to give hugs and work hard together is incentive enough to roll out of bed. The social connection is a key component to the early wake-up times, otherwise I would be fine heading out for a solo run or workout any time of the day. “

Remember your “why.”
John Combs is also a co-leader of November Project Philadelphia. He says, “I wake up so I can get a workout in before work! I think it’s one of the best ways to start the day. Once you complete your workout, you’re in a good mood and usually feel more energized. I’ve also read you’re more likely to make healthier food choices afterward to benefit your workout. I also get up that early because my friends do, too. I like to work out with others — even if they aren’t vocally encouraging me, the company is encouragement enough. When I wake up to work out, I usually consider going back to bed for a few seconds then try to think about the reason why I set my alarm in the first place. I have goals, and they won’t be attained by sleeping in. I constantly remind myself of that.

“Once I sit up and put my feet on the floor, I’m good to go. Hitting the snooze is pointless and kind of tortuous. I leave a Nalgene bottle full of water on the floor by my bed so when I get up, I can drink a bunch of water to not only wake up, but hydrate for the upcoming workout.” (By the way, if you want a custom one, Combs is a freelance designer and will make one for you here. He’s basically the Batman of keeping this city hydrated.)

Think about how your workout will positively impact your day — and Don’t. Wake. Baby.
Richie Gebauer is a marathoner, a proud dad to a bouncing baby girl, and is constantly doing amazing things for students over at Cabrini University. He says, “I was introduced to November Project almost three years ago by a friend and I was immediately hooked. The energy level within the community of NP is contagious. I actually began looking forward to waking up; it rejuvenated a healthy competitiveness in me, promoted my own health, wellness, and fitness, and I quickly began to realize that I was much more productive at work due to my morning workouts motivating me to tackle the day.

“I set four alarms every morning, each alarm one minute apart from the previous one. I’m always worried about waking my wife and our almost nine-month-old daughter up with the reoccurring alarm, so that is a source of encouragement to ensure I get to that first alarm and get myself out of bed. Having said that, it has now honestly become easy to wake up. Sometimes my internal clock will even wake me up right before my alarm is set to go off.”

Trade off with your partner, and don’t build in “buffer time.”
Colin Smith is a consistently neon-clad runner, recent dad, and construction manager, so he has a lot of places to be. He says, “I’m an early bird, so my workouts are always in the a.m. I do three weekdays and I run one weekend day at the very least. I have to make my and my one- and a half year-old son’s lunch, so that when I’m back I can shower and run to work. Off days, my wife runs. She’s back before 7:30 so I can leave for work. I taught myself a long time ago to wake up on the first alarm — no snooze button. It helps that I don’t build in buffer time, so I’m up with enough time to dress, brush teeth and roll, no delay.

Bribe yourself with a great piece of fruit. (And conduct the freezer test.)
Vinnie Goodwin, who keeps Philly healthy working at Snap Kitchen and also runs even earlier in the mornings with Back On My Feet, says, “My routine starts the night before when I remember my friend Kaitleen’s 2-year-old reminder to make sure my alarm is actually ON and switched to A.M. Then, first thing I do every morning when I wake — but especially on days I work out — is eat fruit. Which fruit is the serious question I always run into. The answer is usually justified based on ripeness and density. I don’t like feeling too heavy when I run, but I’m a stickler for wasting food.

“I also have been tricking myself into drinking more water in the morning by leaving half-filled water bottles in each room around the house. This way no matter how lazy or in a rush I am, I have no excuse to not be hydrating! During the winter I usually conduct the ‘freezer test’ where I stick my head out my door to see how cold it actually is. Pending these results I add an extra layer or so.”

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