They are shadowy figures moving in the dark while other people are sleeping. And they are everywhere — in parks, on the streets, even in stairwells. If you are one of those who rises before dawn to burn calories, these are your people.
Dorothy Mann, of New Orleans, is a full-time mother of three small children, ages 2, 3 and 5. She works out six days a week and is up by 5 a.m. to head out to spinning class or kettle bell class or to swim laps.
“This is the only time of day I have to myself. If I want to get some form of exercise, I know I have to do it early in the morning,” says Mann, 37, for whom getting up at the crack of dawn is more like a natural reflex than a concerted effort. She was a competitive swimmer throughout high school and college, heading to the pool before dawn.
When the birds start to chirp before daybreak, Kathy Cain’s eyes open. And if they don’t, she gets a nudge from Sadie, a German shorthaired pointer who is ready for her daily 5-mile run.
“I would never get in my run if I waited until the end of the day. There are no excuses or interruptions in the morning,” says Cain, who has been running for 30 years and conveniently lives five houses away from City Park, where her run starts.
“Morning is my time of day, the only time I am away from the phone and not talking to clients. It’s my best thinking time of day,” says Cain, 55, president of a communications company providing marketing and branding services for colleges and universities.
Victoria White, a 32-year-old lawyer who also lives in New Orleans, has found that exercising early in the morning is the best way to avoid guilt.
“If I don’t get in my workout the first part of the day, I will think about it all day. And at the end of the day, if something comes up and I have no time to exercise I feel guilty,” says White, who is executing her salutation to the sun in yoga class by 6:30 a.m. three days a week (on the days she is not running).
“I just know that if I go to yoga or go for a jog, I will feel so much better about the day — more energy, better mood and will feel better about myself,” says White. “If I oversleep, I will do some kind of morning exercise, even if it means getting to work late and working later.”
Norah and Charles Lovell have a buddy system that ensures morning workouts. They take turns making the coffee.
“We do not hit the snooze button, but the person who is charged with making the coffee is ultimately responsible for the waking up,” says Charles. Both he and his wife are dedicated artists who also have full-time jobs. She is a senior program assistant for a university honors program and also has an art grant requiring structured hours. He is a fine arts photographer and a development officer for major gifts and institutional advancement at a museum. With work weeks that can easily add up to 60 hours for each, morning is the magic time for getting in workouts 3 to 6 times a week, with a variety of classes that incorporate spinning, kettle bells, step class, body pump and bootcamp.
There is no sunrise negotiation about whether they will exercise.
“The only thing we ever say to each other regarding exercise in the early a.m. is ‘It’s your turn to get up!’ or ‘Is it really my turn; I thought it was your turn,’ ” says Norah.
But why this devotion to burning calories first thing in the morning?
“It’s almost like sleepwalking. If all goes well, you hardly remember doing it. And then it’s done. Also, the day usually goes better, I have more energy and am in a cheerier mood,” says Norah.
According to the early birds, sunrise casts a whole new light on one’s surroundings.
“You see turtles and swans, and all the beautiful nature in the park and how it is affected by the weather. And there are those wonderful mornings when it is foggy,” says Cain, who never misses the freshness of a day uncluttered by rush-hour traffic.
For those who still see the alarm clock as the enemy, there are the old-fashioned behavior modifications: putting the alarm across the room so one must rise to turn it off, committing to a workout buddy, or gradually establishing a new habit by setting the wake-up device a few minutes earlier each day until you reach your goal.
“Or find a fitness instructor than inspires you,” says Charles Lovell.
And, of course, there are apps for turning one into a morning person — a handheld lifestyle coach, if you will. The app Better Me works through humiliation by posting personal insults on your Facebook page if you fail to achieve your goal. Wake N Shake works as an alarm clock that must be shaken to turn it off. Most of these apps also record your progress.
Ways to wake up have come a long way since the rooster’s crow.