Training for a 10K run at 4 a.m.

How early morning exercise helps this mother of two jump-start her day

Runner ties up shoes
Sabrina Young laces up her shoes before a run at Earlscourt Park Track between 4-5 a.m. Jade Acuña/Toronto Observer

At 4 a.m., Sabrina Young, 49, a resident of Toronto’s downtown west side, is already running laps on the outdoor track at Earlscourt Park. With a flashlight strapped to her headband to illuminate the unlit track, Young and her friend, April Boultbee, are alone with the cool breeze blowing across the empty track.

Young says that she is a morning runner by nature. She aims to run three or four times per week, tracking between 45 and 60 kilometres a week.

“I think it all started as a joke. My friend April’s twin sister was training for a 24-hour race, and she made a joke about having to run in the early mornings,” says Young. (A 24-hour race is a type of endurance event where runners or teams run as many kilometres as possible within a 24-hour time limit.)

“At that time, I was finding it really hard to fit running in (to my day), so I went out with her early one morning and thought, ‘Wow, that’s actually not too bad.’”

Young has been running between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. for the past three years. But even before that, she says that she was “out of house by 6 a.m.” and occasionally ran with the Longboat Roadrunners club one evening a week.

“If I don’t get enough sleep, then there’s no running.”

– Sabrina Young

Early morning runs became a habit for Young after she realized that it was the only way she could fit her workout into her day.

“If I don’t get enough sleep, then there’s no running,” says Young, who works in marketing for iRun magazine.

Two major factors help to ensure she has time to run, she says. First, she makes sure she gets to bed early and second, she makes sure her kids are on the same schedule as her. She aims to be asleep by 9 p.m.

“As a mother, their schedule is my schedule,” she says. “I get this workout done and then I start my day — so it means that I go home, get my laundry done, I get my kids’ breakfast ready, I get their lunches ready and then we’re up and we start the day well.”

In May, Young participated in the Ottawa 10K during the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend, which bills itself as the biggest multi-distance race event in Canada. It feature six events, including the full and half-marathon. The weekend in Ottawa was “part work, part racing for fun,” says Young. She was one of 39,000 out-of-town visitors to the city, and one of more than 32,000 runners participating in the weekend.

Toronto is also a big running city. Thousands participate each year in more than 60 different race events, including two full marathons: the Toronto Marathon, held in May each year, and the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon every October.

Young says running at 4 a.m. gives her the chance to experience a different side of Toronto. She has even met people who have wanted to run along with her, she says.

Studies from across North America have suggested that there are numerous benefits to running in the morning. The evidence suggests that this habit helps maintain energy levels throughout the day, improves sleeping schedules, decreases blood pressure, and may increase stamina, fitness and strength.

When schedules permit, Young says that she runs with her friends such as Boultbee because running with a partner helps them both stay motivated.

“I was training for a 24-hour race, so I wanted to get used to running at any hour of the night,” said Boultbee. “I did some overnight runs and just started getting up early to get used to running at that time when it’s dark.”

Despite the lack of light at 4 a.m., neither Young or Boultbee expressed any concern about running at that hour, even as women who run in darkness in the centre of the city.

“I find in the city, since it’s actually lit, I’ve never had any issue whatsoever (running in the dark),” Young said. “I’m not always completely alone; there’s always a car going by or something.”

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Posted: Jun 10 2019 2:35 pm
Filed under: Athletics Features Toronto at 4 a.m.