Morning vs Afternoon 5k Race

by Tristan
(Rock Hill SC)

morning vs afternoon 5k race

I am a 16 year old male and I am in my 2nd season of high school cross country. We train 7 days a week and my average mileage per week is 65 miles.

We have had 3 cross country races this season; my 1st was an afternoon race and I ran an 18 min 22 sec.

My next 2 races were in the morning and I ran a 20 min 4 sec and a 21 min 6 sec.

I run just as hard in the morning as I do in the afternoon, but the morning races seem harder.

Any help on how I should train differently? By the way these are 5k races.

Answer by Dominique:

Hi there,
Thanks for your 5k racing question.

I have got some thoughts on this:

1. Variability in cross country courses
2. Why morning running can be harder
3. Strategies to improve performance in the morning

Variability in Cross Country Courses

morning vs afternoon 5k race
The differences you are taking about are very substantial. When you are able to run a 5k in 18:22, a 5k in 20-21 minutes is almost like a walk in the park. Generally speaking.

I'd be curious to know... if anybody else ran those same races and how they performed.... Were you the only one significantly slower?

Additionally, I'd be curious about the race circumstances themselves. Weather, hills, length of the course.... Cross country runs are not always well measured. One time the course might be 4.8k, another time 5.2k. That's enough to cost you 90-120 seconds....

So, my first thoughts are not so much with morning vs afternoon performance. The difference feels too large to me.

But let's not rule it out as a contributing factor. Maybe there is some truth in what I have suggested above. Maybe morning running is harder for you. Let's explore why.

Why Morning Running Can Be Harder

morning vs afternoon 5k race
It's important to recognize that it's not unusual for some of us to run slower in the mornings. This doesn't necessarily mean there's something amiss with your training routine. But, your body, at your age, may need some time to go from a sleep state to an active state.

As a younger, growing person, you need a lot of sleep. And generally, compared to adults, your ideal sleep schedule is a bit different. You go to bed quite late and, if given a chance, I am sure that you'd have no difficulty sleeping in till mid-morning, maybe even late morning.

So, a morning run for a teenage can be quite a task. Like asking an adult to get up at 3am to do a run.

So, let's next focus on some strategies you can employ to run a bit quicker in the morning.

Strategies to Improve Performance in the Morning

morning vs afternoon 5k race
Here's a few ideas to improve your performance and be more awake for morning races:

1. Adjust your Wake-Up time
Try to get up earlier than your usual time. This could help you feel more awake and better prepared for your morning run. It's like giving your body a little more runway to taxi before taking off.

However, this also implies that you'll need to hit the hay sooner the previous night, ensuring that you receive sufficient sleep. Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule could also help train your body to anticipate morning activity.

2. Morning Kick-start
You might not want to wear yourself out right off the bat, but engaging in a brief activity immediately after waking up could jump-start your body's systems. When the sun is up, do a short 10 minute walk in the sunshine. It's a gentle yet effective way to signal your body that it’s time to start moving.

3. Extended Warm-Up
Consider allotting a bit more time to your pre-race warm-up routine. Simple stretching exercises, jogs, or strides can make a huge difference. Have a look at my Running Stretches page for some ideas on what a good warming-up looks like.

4. Mental Preparation
I am hoping that a combination of the above strategies will help. Another thing to consider is now that it is in your head that morning races are harder, whether it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In the week before your next morning race spend a few minutes, each day, a couple of times per day visualising yourself enjoying a morning race and running well. Visualisation can be very powerful.

These strategies should hopefully help ease your morning races. Remember, it’s all about finding what works best for your body and achieving a balance that aids in maximizing your performance.

Hope these tips are of help, and with practice, I'm optimistic you'll be able to improve your morning run times. Keep up the good work!

Kind regards,

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