Transitioning to Become a Morning Runner

I used to scoff at runners who told me they’d wake up at what to me was the middle of the night to go running. In my mind, there was only one 5:00 and that time was in the evening. Living in downtown Toronto I felt fairly safe running in the evenings on well-lit busier streets so waking up that early never struck me as appealing – or necessary. My mornings were rushed as it was, I didn’t need to add another step into my schedule.

Then came the Covid, and like many others, my usual routine changed dramatically. Now I no longer had to allot time for commuting to work, getting “dressed up” for work was no longer a requirement, and on top of that I moved to the suburbs which meant losing my weekly runs with my crew and running partners. I decided it was time to try something new and capitalize on the two extra hours a day I now had and give running in the wee hours of the morning a try. 

Having always enjoyed running with others for the company (and safety) I looked for any running groups in Oakville. There’s one suburb crew in the Oakville/Burlington area (Connor’s Runners if you’re interested) but I couldn’t and still couldn’t muster their 5:30 am START time. So I figured I’d just need to adapt and get comfortable running solo. I don’t mind running solo but I find having a partner helps to stay accountable and the competitive side of me loves the challenge. 

Luckily I happened to get introduced to a new neighbour down the street who also is a runner and has a similar pace to mine. The one difference between us though was he was already accustomed to early wake ups. We exchanged numbers and I tried to sound cheerful about meeting at 6:30 am.

I don’t like being rushed in the morning and I’m not someone who can just roll out of bed and get going. My body needs time to wake up, have my coffee and smoothie, and to put on my gear. I figured waking up at 5:45 am would be enough time before having to head out to meet my new running partner. 

Being a fairly regular person, coffee usually does the trick for me to get natures call moving but on my first run with my new running partner, 3km into the run I had to go – immediately. I didn’t really know my neighbour to explain the situation and we were no where near a bathroom, luckily we were on a trail that had ample bushes…and leaves! 

The next morning I tried skipping my coffee entirely but that didn’t solve the problem either. Desperate for a solution I asked my coach for his advice (I figured he’d probably encountered this problem at some stage of his long running career). He had the groundbreaking recommendation to maybe try waking up earlier. That did the trick. I now wake up a full hour before I lace up in order to let my body do it’s thing under no pressure. 

This fall and winter, I’ve done a couple of runs after work but I find that I dwell on it all day and I’m usually hungry for dinner right after work. With winter upon us, daylight is at a premium but at least halfway through my run, the sun rises, making the whole ordeal worthwhile. By the time I’m finished, I feel energized and ready for the day. I never thought I’d be “one of those runners” but I’ve really enjoyed getting it done first thing and have the rest of the evening off. Or maybe it’s just because I live in the suburbs now!

If you’re thinking of making the switch to include a morning run, you’ll want to go to bed earlier. I go to bed around 9:30 (welcome to your 30s) because I know for my body it’s critical to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep. 

Everyone’s different but if you’re in a similar situation with more time on your hands due to working from home, maybe making a morning run part of your day will pleasantly surprise you.

High Park

High Park is way more than selfie crowds and cherry blossoms. With over 400 acres of mostly natural park space, High Park is a beloved Toronto landmark that was first opened to the public in 1876. Amidst the beauty of the Humber River, High Park is best known among runners for its steep inclines.

There are both road and grass trail options but keep in mind that High Park can get busy with cyclists and other sports enthusiasts.

Easily accessible by TTC via High Park Station, High Park is boarded by Bloor St. in the north, Parkside Dr. in the west, The Queensway in the south, and Ellis Ave. in the east. There are countless loops to explore depending on what your workout is and how your legs are feeling. The park is large but it’s hard to get completely lost, however, there are many alternate paths so look at a map ahead of your run or keep your GPS handy. Here are a couple of routes to get you started.

4km High Park Loop

Head west on Bloor St. towards Parkside Dr. and then head south. and then head east on High Park Ave. and then up Spring Rd. Here’s a map overview.

5.1km High Park Loop

The outer loop along West Rd. and then up Spring Rd. is roughly 5km and 55m in elevation. Here are some detailed directions if you’re checking out the area for the first time.

Hill Repeats

If you’re looking to give your quads a work out to remember, the hill on Centre Rd. is around 100m in elevation. The lower part of Colborne Lodge is also quite steep but the sharp turns can be a little tricky if you’re doing hill repeats here.

For some variability and some serious incline, definitely check out High Park. After you’ve finished your work out, treat yourself to breakfast at the Grenadier Cafe!