Build Up Your Running Program with the Sun

Soldiers with the Georgia Army National Guard complete a sunrise run during annual training at Fort Stewart.
Soldiers with the Georgia Army National Guard complete a sunrise run during annual training at Fort Stewart, Jan. 11, 2017. (Capt. William Carraway/Georgia National Guard photo)

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 before work or school; we are about 65% more likely to accomplish a workout if done at any other time than immediately after work. This plan is great for any level of fitness, and the goal is to progress with your walking, running, biking or other exercise option as the days get longer. 

Here is how the Solstice Exercise Plan works:

Three or four days a week, you wake up and start warming up and running about 20-30 minutes before the sun rises. You usually 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 time commitments.

For instance, I like to swim at 6:45 a.m. 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, which is about 6:50 a.m. in March. This gives me a starting running workout of 15-20 minutes when we usually get in between 2-3 miles 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 every day until the longest day of the year on June 20-21. We build up each week until we peak during the summer solstice and have a big event like a triathlon, half marathon or something challenging. From this point, we repeat in reverse order; now the days are getting shorter every day until it is winter. 

I am sure this workout will not apply to many; the time constraints of work, school or family will cause early morning workouts to occur much earlier. But you always can jump into the plan, especially during midsummer when daylight starts as early as 5 a.m. The plan does require you to go to bed a bit earlier every other week if you want 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 the week of March 24, 2008:

Weeks 1 -24

Start Time

Stop Time




6:30  a.m.

6:45 a.m.



6:30 a.m.

6:45 a.m.



6:20 a.m.

6:45 a.m.



6:20 a.m.

6:45 a.m.



6:10 a.m.

6:45 a.m.



6:10 a.m.

6:45 a.m.



6:00 a.m.

6:45 a.m.



6:00 a.m.

6:45 a.m.



5:45 a.m.

6:45 a.m.



5:30 a.m.

6:45 a.m.



5:30 a.m.

6:45 a.m.



5:15 a.m.

6:45 a.m.

*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 with which to play.  Go for a longer distance run once a week, but for the other 2-3 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 long, slow-distance runs. See the running plans on the Military Fitness Article archive for running workout ideas.

At week 24, you should 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. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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