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Morning routines: The small changes that change everything

By Jessica Short

As a competitive trail runner, Jessica Short is always looking for ways to optimise her training – physically and mentally. She’s been experimenting with her morning routine for the last 12 months to find what works. Here’s what she found…

The morning light slowly creeps in and I hear the birds outside. It’s 5.30am and I’m awake before my alarm again, and there’s a smile on my face. A new day.

Oh, how times have changed.

My mornings used to be a mad scramble: the alarm would go off and I would snooze until the last possible minute, knowing I probably should’ve gone to bed at least an hour earlier the night before... and probably not had that third glass of wine 😊

This would be followed by ten minutes of franticly getting ready to leave the house – to get to work, to go running. Whatever I was doing, I always ended up chasing the day.

So, what changed?

Perspective. And accountability.

I was constantly tired and grumpy. And I didn’t feel like my training was as good as it could be, or my recovery. And the worst part was that I knew it was my fault - my choices and my lifestyle.

A change was needed – so I researched and listened to podcasts to find out what encompassed a perfect morning routine: what changes did I need to make to not be chasing the day, to make the most of my time?

I wrote a list of everything I wanted to achieve before work each morning, including a few new things that I knew would benefit me:

  1. Exercise

  2. Meditation (new)

  3. Mobility work (new)

  4. Journalling (new)

  5. Stretching / yoga after exercise

  6. Connecting to family and friends back home (usually done on the run)

  7. Coffee (definitely not new)

  8. Learning or reading

So, how would I fit this in?

I read some more articles. The routine that resonated the most with my goals was Robin Sharma’s 20-20-20 approach: 20 minutes of movement, 20 of reflection and 20 of learning. It came with the claim of superhuman productivity, which sounded pretty good to me.

I tried to fit everything I wanted into those 20 minutes – but it wasn’t enough for me, especially for exercising.

So, I did more reading.

Then two things occurred to me:

  1. This wasn’t about how others led their morning routine; this was about how I wanted to lead mine.

I could incorporate all those items into my routine, I just had to adjust the time to work for me, working back from the moment I’d have to leave the house at 7.30am (pre-COVID). I knew that each activity would take me:

  • Exercise – 60 minutes

  • Meditation – 5 minutes

  • Mobility work – 5 minutes

  • Journalling – 10 minutes

  • Stretching / yoga after exercise – 5 minutes

  • Connecting to family and friends back home – 5 minutes

  • Coffee – during journaling

  • Learning or reading – 10 minutes

It totalled an hour and 40 minutes. Yikes. So, with getting up and getting dressed and spending a little time being a zombie in between activities, that was two hours in total. Which meant a 5.30am start.

I died a little inside.

But I wanted this. I wanted to try this.

Then my second realisation occurred:

  1. A morning routine starts from the night before

I realised that I was a night owl for no reason other than to watch Netflix, which had to change. I can’t remember which article I read (I do like reading, constantly), but it raised a great point: go to sleep when you feel tired and see what time your body naturally wakes up. Try this for a few days and you’ll get a good idea of how much your body needs.

Mine was the recommended 7/8 hours, almost every night. And I would imagine a little more when my training ramps up.

So, if I was to get up at 5.30am, I should aim to be in bed by 9.30pm. Crikey.

But why not? I knew it didn’t have to be every night, especially if I had plans.

I’d also read about the benefits of journaling and reflection at night, so maybe I’d add that in too.

So, I made a plan (as you can probably tell, I love a plan):

  • I created a training plan so I knew my exercise regime for the day ahead

  • I wrote some questions for myself – both for the evening and for the morning to guide my journaling. I needed this to be as easy as possible.

  • I researched the best ‘morning mobility routines for runners’ on YouTube and formed what I thought was the best from them into a five-minute routine. (the link is for Vlad Ixel’s 17 min routine which is a great starting point from a great runner).

  • I found a guided meditation where I enjoyed the voice, and I knew it would set me up for the day correctly. I also found some affirmations to listen to if I wanted to.

  • I talked to people about yoga and post running stretching and found Cat Meffan’s post-run yoga was great.

  • Finally, I found a daily email of the summary of news around the world, as well as using Flipboard to curate the news I wanted to read about – running, leadership, nutrition, wellbeing.

I had all my pieces of the puzzle.

And so I started.

Yep, just like that – with some trial and error of course. My first night I climbed into bed at 9.15pm and started journaling, and realised I was the furthest from tired I’d ever felt. I really enjoyed the journaling though, and lay down and counted backwards from ten a few times. Suddenly I was asleep.

5.30am came, and I’m not going to lie, it hurt like hell. No snoozing. Instead I used an app called SleepCycle that detects when you’re at your most awake around your alarm time and starts to wake you up then… so there is technology to help you.

I went through the routine, starting with my mobility and listening to some affirmations as I slowly woke up my brain and my body.

Then, with a coffee, I journaled – how did I feel? How did my body feel? What were my goals for today?

I contacted family from back home (the time difference makes this easier at 6am), then I read the news and at least one article in Flipboard – personalised stories and articles based on what you want to read about.

The sun was rising as I headed out for my run, feeling strangely awake and refreshed. When I got home, I did some stretching whilst listening to my meditation, spending the last few minutes in corpse pose (my favourite).

Shower, dressed, a coffee for the road.

I even had 10 minutes to spare, so I just sat with my coffee and looked out the window. Recharged and happy.

It was 7.30am… the day was only just starting, but for me it was already well underway.

I started with this maybe three times a week, then it crept to the five days with weekends a little slower and more relaxed.

The going to bed at 9.30pm suddenly wasn’t a problem, in fact I looked forward to it – knowing that I was going to get as much sleep as my body needed.

Don’t get me wrong – there have been times when I’ve struggled – late nights out or one wine too many, sometimes I oversleep or just choose sleep.

Because that’s life and because life happens.

When COVID happened, I adjusted: With no commute to work, instead of sleeping for longer, I simply spent more time doing the things I knew were good for me – including grabbing a coffee and heading down to a nearby river, my version of an ice bath.

12 months in and I feel refreshed; my body is less creaky, less achy and recovers better – even on double training days. My brain thrives on the reading I’m doing, and I feel more connected to my family because I call them so often during my routine.

It has been challenging in places, but so worth it. And I wouldn’t say I’ve streamlined the process but it flows better – mobility, journal, connect, exercise, stretch, shower. Ready.

I would encourage you to look at what might work for you, not just what might work (or what everyone else says will work).

If you really want to go next level then Ben Hardy suggests these to create your perfect morning routine.

Make it work (but give yourself a break when it doesn’t).

Pick three things, or even one thing that might make your morning a little brighter and your running a little easier, and try it.

What have you got to lose?

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