Build Up Your Running Program with the Sun

by Stew Smith

For the past few years, I have started an outdoor running program as the weather breaks from Winter to Spring. This running plan works as the sun rises in the morning prior to work or school as we are about 65% more likely to accomplish a workout if done at any other time than immediately after work. As you know, life gets in the way in the early evenings if you have one. It is great for any level of fitness and the goal is to progress as the days get longer with your walking, running, biking, or other exercise plan. 

Here is how the Solstice Exercise Plan works:

Three-to-four days a week you wake up and start warming up and running about 20-30 minutes before the sun rises. Usually you have about 20-30 minutes of what in the Navy we called Nautical Twilight.  It is the time in the day and night when the sun is gone but there is still light for about 20-30 minutes. You have to set a stop time that is suitable for your fitness level and keep that standard through the 24 week cycle in order to get to school, work or other commitments on time.

For instance, I like to swim at 6:45 am (when the pool opens) nearly on a daily basis during the week. So, I have been starting the run part of the workout about 20-30 minutes before sunrise time which in March is about 6:50am. This gives me a starting running plan run workout of 15-20 minutes where we usually get in between 2-3 miles done before it is time to swim. I have been running all winter so I am not starting out running this week. If you are beginning a running plan, start out by walking for a few weeks and then start adding some running using the logical progression of the sun. 

Since it is after the Vernal Equinox, each day gets longer in daylight by 1-2 minutes everyday until the longest day of the year 20-21 June. We build up each week until we peak during the Summer Solstice and have a big event like a triathlon, or half marathon, or something challenging. From this point, we repeat in reverse order as now the days are getting shorter everyday until it is winter. 

I am sure this workout will not apply to many as the time constraints of work or school or family will cause early morning workouts to occur much earlier.  But you can always jump into the plan especially during the mid summer time when the daylight starts as early as 5:00am. The plan does require you to go to bed a bit earlier every other week if you want to be able to receive the recovery benefits of sleeping a full night's sleep.

Here is my workout chart you can use as a sample guide for the Solstice Running plan that my workout group started this week of 24 March 2008:

Weeks 1 -24 Start Time Stop Time
1 24 6:30am 6:45am
2 23 6:30am 6:45am
3 22 6:20am 6:45am
4 21 6:20am 6:45am
5 20 6:10am 6:45am
6 19 6:10am 6:45am
7 18 6:00am 6:45am
8 17 6:00am 6:45am
9 16 5:45am 6:45am
10 15 5:30am 6:45am
11 14 5:30am 6:45am
12 13* 5:15am 6:45am

*Once you reach week 12, you repeat in reverse order until you end where you started off. 

Break up the workouts too as you have more time to play with.  Once a week go for a longer distance run, but the other two - three running days add in some sprints, intervals, goal pace runs, and even some leg PT at regular time intervals to break up the monotony of just running long slow distance runs. See the running plans on the Military Fitness Article archive for running workout ideas.

At week 24, you need to decide what exercise routine is next as the days are shorter. We usually start lifting weight more and swimming more as a way to break up the training plan and recover from all the miles of impact we placed on our bodies.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Military.com Fitness eBook store and the Stew Smith article archive at Military.com. To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at stew@stewsmith.com.


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