I am not a morning person. I awake with a snarl not a smile. Talk to me if you wish but like letters to Santa, do not expect a reply. Each day I feel born anew, struggling to comprehend the world I find myself in.
Sometimes a whole day, nay week, can pass me by for I am in a state of limbo, paralysed by sleep, living a foggy dream where people talk at me, my brain unable to comprehend. I am sunk, underwater everything is slower, all noise merges into one and I float at the mercy of the current.
Strange it is, that dawn marks the start time for so many of my rides. The beauty of early morning cycling is that anybody can do it, even an early morning zombie like myself, bursting at the seams with the oats I have force-fed myself. Do it once and you’ll either fall for the beauty of the early morn and become a sunrise rider or you’ll hate waking up early so much that you’ll never do it again.
“It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.”
Aristotle. Fan of the Kellogg’s cereal fun pack first thing in the morning.
A random number of reasons to cycle at dawn1) Beauty
The sun peaking above the horizon, the sky black, purple, pink, red, orange, yellow, brilliant blue. A cycling rainbow just for you. An early morning mist clings to the lowlands, the fields still wrapped in their morning blanket. You are the first person on earth to ride this road. You feel amazing.
Damn those furry critters, the four-legged pedestrians of dawn, making our morning rides dangerous beautiful. Who needs safari parks when you’ve got morning rides. No screaming children sat in the back seats, just gasps, your own. Did I just see that? Yes, yes you did, you lucky thing.
Alone, there’s nothing but the rubber of your tyres rolling across the road to disturb you. Shhh. It’s so early even the birds are yet to wake. You are a zombie, marching on, pedals a’ turning, eyes a’ opening.
4) No traffic
The roads are yours and yours alone. Nobody can cut you up or beep at you for no apparent reason. You can swerve potholes to your heart’s content and ride the lines down the middle of the road should you so wish. You don’t pay road tax and yet the road is all yours. Amazing, this is what it is to be a car driver.
5) Satisfied achievement
We humans are easily pleased. Getting up before the sun is one of those moments. Such feats are rare in our lives thus a dawn rise makes us feel special, proud, so much so that we wouldn’t say no to a sunrise badge if somebody offered to sew one onto our jersey sleeves (don’t get any ideas Rapha).
6) Live two lives
I know this may seem odd, but yes, whisper it quietly, there is life beyond cycling, a normal world void of cranks and bottom brackets. Friends, bed partners, children, pets, you know the sort of thing. Life I believe they call it. Riding early is for time crunched cyclists who can return home without the wife and children even noticing they have been on a magical voyage of sunrises and lung busting hills.
7) Beat the heat
Up and out early in the summer, the morning is your own personal air con unit, hours of refrigeration before the sun rises high to scorch the earth.
8) Science claims it is better for you. Perhaps.
Exercising in the morning is said by some to burn more fat because you are riding in a fasted state, assuming you skipped the English breakfast with extra sausage. The science behind this looks a little fragile, but I’ll leave that up to you. As humans we’re all guilty of believing what we want if it helps us to get out of bed in the morning. I do not recommend cycling on an empty stomach for any great length of time.
9) You’re old
You have no idea what everyone is talking about. You’ve been awake for hours, 5 am isn’t early, it’s late!
A random number of reasons why you don’t cycle at dawn1) Winter
Dark, cold. Why, why would anybody get out of bed before the 10 am sunrise of December? Certainly not me.
2) Bed warmth
You’re not human if you can ignore the wonderful feeling of being cosy and warm in bed. You cannot move, foetal position fixed, the slightest of movements reminds you that the world outside is a cruel and cold place. Might as well stay in bed.
Snooze mode time. Circadian rhythms and your body’s natural clock will always fight the evil alarm clock. You wake when you’re ready and damn anybody who tells you any different. Once we were programmed to fall to sleep come dark and awake with the sun. Now we fall asleep when we’ve run out of things to do and rise only to beat the 11 am McDonalds breakfast McMuffin deadline.
4) You have joined a cycling club
Watches are synchronised and a time is set. You all meet at the same time, same place. You’re ready. Everyone that is except Dave. Every club has a Dave. He’s late again, making you stand and shiver whilst you wait for him because he couldn’t find a sock or, quite possibly, his bike. This is why I ride alone.
5) You don’t know what you’re missing
One early morning ride is motivation enough to get up and repeat. Just try not to pack too many early mornings into your schedule. Sleep is an important part of recovery.
Tips for riding first thing in the morningEven the most committed sunrise rider needs help. I know I do.
- Get an early night. You are not a hero because you can semi-function on four hours of sleep like some kind of Margaret Thatcher robot. The former UK prime minister was famous for sleeping little but then she was often caught talking gibberish and making ill advised decisions.
- Take it easy on the caffeine. I love coffee as much as I hate getting out of bed. However I prefer a slow introduction of caffeine into my system for early morning rides, especially if I have a long day ahead of me. There’s nothing worse than coming down from a caffeine high half-way through a long ride. I wake up to a cup of tea and take a caffeinated sports drink on the ride that I begin to sip close to the half way mark, thus measuring my energy boosts for the duration of the ride.
- Alcohol and cycling don’t mix. Avoid this cocktail of misfortune as you do not want to be cycling with a hangover. Hungover, I can barely function let alone cycle. Sure, have a drink with your meal, just be sure not to binge and wobble your way through the morning ride.
- Dress accordingly. You don’t need me to tell you it is going to be colder in the dewy frost of dawn than at noon. Do you? That said, come summer here in the UK you can get away with just a jersey and shorts, for you and the scorched earth will both warm up quickly. Autumn and spring make cycle clothing decisions a little more difficult. I prefer to overdress and be too warm when the temperatures rise rather than freeze for the first few hours of the morn. Winter? I wear my duvet and stick to my bed.
- Eat breakfast. Another obvious one, right? However this tip is easier said than done. At 5 am the last thing my stomach wants is food. Force feeding myself porridge is not a pretty sight. Remember when you was little and your mother would make you eat the cabbage and you would heave, convulse and wretch? That’s me eating breakfast at dawn. Try to find something you can swallow easily but will still provide you with enough energy to fuel your ride. I’m still looking for such a breakfast so do let me know what you manage to eat early in the morning! And remember not to eat too much, you don’t want to be digesting food for half of your ride.
- Don’t linger. I aim to be out on the road within 30 minutes of getting up, 15 minutes if possible. The longer I faff around or start reading the news, the less likely it is I’ll want to leave my cosy house for the great outdoors.
- Prepare your kit the night before. This little ritual will save you the hassle of trying to clamber into inside-out Lycra when you are still half asleep or the panic of trying to find your lucky cycling socks. I always get excited when prepping my kit, like a child the night before Christmas. I lay out my clothes in a pile ordered by how I will need to put them on come the morning. Everything is prepped. Kettle filled with water, teabag in cup, bowl and spoon out ready for breakfast. Now is the time to be obsessive compulsive.
- Squeeze out the number two. Sorry for that image, but this tip is important unless you enjoy searching for large leaves and pooping behind hedgerows. A hot drink will help. If not it’s time to grit your teeth and pray. Just think of all the extra weight you can er, dump.
- Start slowly. Your body probably still thinks you’re in some kind of cycling nightmare rather than actually preparing for a 100 mile ride. Spin an easy gear gently and work your way into the ride to prevent injury. In the old days, exercise nuts would recommend warming up pre-activity, not any more. Do not stretch a cold body, you’ll only risk injury.
- Take your shades. Nobody will see you looking cool but at least you’ll see the road when the sun is low in the sky.
- Wear dark clothes and put your lights on. I hate high viz clothing. Some studies suggest your visibility may actually be reduced when riding into a low sun wearing high viz compared to if you are wearing darker colours. Accidents happen so when a driver is blinded by the sun you want to make sure they see you. I’m not entirely sure about the dark clothes thing but at least make sure your back light is on, bright and blinking.
- Take your camera. It’s beautiful out there.
- Don’t brag. Too much. People will not think you’re hero for getting up before them. You know the truth however.
- Don’t plan an active day post-ride. You’ll be fit for bed perhaps but certainly not for operating heavy machinery.
- Take a post-ride power nap. Some swear by it but I can never seem to fall asleep following a ride. Back in my running days when I was training for the London marathon I would return home after a long run and literally pass out as my body recovered. Not sure that’s too healthy either.
Early bird or night owl?So what about you? Are you an early bird or a night owl? And just how do you eat breakfast so early in the morning?
Images courtesy of 1) Unknown 2) Rod Mclean 3) my-bicylce-and-i.co.uk 4) Unknown 5) Unknown