How I Became a Morning Runner + How to Build Effective Habits

Good things about being an adult: Your own house, your own rules. You make your own money. You can drink wine whenever you want.

Bad things about being an adult: More responsibilities. Less time. Less tolerance for drinking as much wine as you want…

Being an adult runner means you’re choosing to make running a priority when you have a million other things you could be doing instead. The laundry won’t do itself,  the dishes aren’t going to get washed on their own, kids (if you have them) need constant attention. But still, you carve an hour or two out of each day for something that others might consider “frivolous” and “unimportant” — because it’s important to YOU.

The biggest way I’ve been able to carve out time to running, which is important to me, is to switch to morning workouts.

Why I switched to running in the morning:

  • The morning is my time. Getting it done first thing, before the day has started, gives me the least chance of interruptions, distractions, or things “coming up” at the last minute.
  • Running in the morning gives me more energy and makes me less stressed for the day ahead. I notice a HUGE difference in my energy levels, concentration, and mood on mornings I run, vs. mornings I don’t. I am a much happier, nicer, and more productive person with a boost of endorphins — and also just having invested time in ME before I’ve had a chance to give to anyone else.
  • Running in the morning helps me make better decisions later in the day. When your first choice of the day is a good one, it creates positive momentum for the rest of the day. When I run first thing in the morning, I am more motivated to make a healthy breakfast, keep my house clean, be more ambitious and proactive at work. And even if nothing else goes well that day, I can take comfort in knowing I did at least one good thing.

My best tips for becoming a morning runner:

  1. Success happens the night before. When you run early in the morning, you set yourself up for success or failure by what you do and don’t do the night before. The night before I always lay out everything I need to get out the door — from my Garmin, to my phone pouch, to my house keys, full outfit, socks, and sneakers. I put everything in my bathroom so I don’t wake my fiancé as I’m stumbling around getting dressed. When I wake up, I don’t have to think about anything — I’m just on autopilot.
  2. Set your alarm on the other side of the room. This helps eliminate the delirious snooze hit. Once you get up to turn off your alarm, you’re already out of bed (the hardest part!).
  3. Get enough sleep the night before. Obvious — yes. But it can be a struggle getting to bed at the time you need to in order to wake up early. Especially initially. Here is my best tip for making that happen: Almost everyone has a smart phone today — and your smartphone has alarm apps! Use them to their full potential! Think about what an alarm does — it disrupts you from your current state. I like to set a couple of alarms the night before (on auto-repeat for each weeknight, so that there’s no excuses) as check-ins for where I should be in my nightly routine. It’s a great way to pull yourself off the couch if you’re struggling to get up and get moving. And it’s a great way to pull yourself away from any task you’re in the middle of. I usually set one alarm to start my “wind down” routine at night (AKA, disconnect from social media, or finish doing the dishes, and start getting ready for the next day). Then, I’ll set an alarm at the time I actually want to be in bed by. That’s my hard stop. Lights out.
  4. Halfway dressed, and you’re halfway there. A tip I had heard when I first started experimenting with morning running was to wear your workout clothes to bed. To me, sleeping in a tight sports bra is very uncomfortable. And I do love wearing real pajamas. So I compromise. I’ll wear my running bottoms to bed, and a comfy pajama top. It’s only one less step I have to do in the morning, but oddly, having that one layer already on seems to make such a difference.
  5. Build a practice. Create a routine, and cues. Take inspiration from yogis who don’t call their yoga a “workout routine”, but rather a “practice.” Develop a morning routine that can become your own form of practice. Once you go through a routine enough, it almost becomes meditative. You should have a super specific item-by-item list of what each step in your routine looks like. This takes a little work upfront, but the payoff is always having a plan and never having to wonder what you need to do next to get yourself out the door. Throughout your routine, set external “cues” for yourself — which are key for building habits. The act of brewing your coffee. Lacing up your shoes after putting on your clothes. Maybe you read the newspaper, or a book, while you drink your coffee. Maybe you spend a few minutes jotting down your goals for the day. All of these are tangible experiences that, once repeated day in and day out, will signal to your brain that it’s time to go running.
  6. Consistency is everything. Nothing works unless you’re consistent with it. The same thing goes with building habits. If you fall off the wagon, get right back on it the next day. No guilt. No overthinking. No deep-seated feelings of anger or shame. Don’t allow yourself to get into the mindset that you need to wait until next Monday, or next month, or the start of the next year, to “start over”. There is no starting over, really. Keep putting in the work, forcing consistency when necessary, and know that over time it will become so ingrained that not running in the morning will feel like forgetting to brush your teeth!

Ricotta Turkey Meatball Subs

Ricotta Turkey Meatball Subs

I say it all the time, but it has been amazing to see how far gluten- and dairy-free products have come… not only in the past 10-20 years, but even as recently as the past 5-6! I first started experimenting with gluten- and dairy-free products in high school 10 years ago. There wasn’t a whole lot out there, but everyone told me it was so much better than 10 years before that.

Then, my freshman year of college, I was getting sick all the time and had chronic stomach upset and bloating. I went to a doctor who ran some tests, put me on an elimination diet, and I found out I had bona fide wheat and milk allergies. Since then I’ve been obsessive about researching and keeping up-to-date on every new product on the market. Anything that could make my life easier. I hated that most of the gluten-free products out there were super refined (basically the equivalent of white bread), and nutrient-poor. I hated that most of the vegan cheeses out there had a 20-something ingredient list with lots of words I couldn’t pronounce, and tasted rubbery and artificial.

But again… we’ve come a long way! I want to do a round-up of my favorite gluten- and dairy-free products on the blog soon. In the meantime, here’s a product I recently discovered and can’t get enough of: Kite Hill’s new almond milk ricotta. Last week, I used it in a chicken sausage, tomato, and ricotta frittata. This week, I made homemade Ricotta Turkey Meatball subs. You’ve got to add these to your dinner rotation STAT!

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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb. lean ground turkey (I like Trader Joe’s 99% lean, but I’d recommend anything upwards of 80/20)
  • 3/4 cup Kite Hill Almond Milk Ricotta
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 5 tbsp. almond flour (use unblanched for the most fiber and nutrients)
  • 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano, plus more for topping
  • Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 32 oz. marinara sauce
  • 6 small rolls, or 4 larger ones – Sliced in half lengthwise and toasted
  • Optional: Nutritional yeast for topping

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INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat your oven to 450º F.
  2. In a large bowl, mix with your hands all ingredients except the marinara sauce and rolls.
  3. Lightly grease a baking sheet with olive oil. Roll the batter into meatballs and place on the baking sheet. You should get 12-16 balls, depending on how large you make them. I found the ricotta gives the meatballs a great consistency and helps them bind nicely. But if yours are not staying together, cover your bowl and place the batter in the refrigerator for 20 minutes – 1 hour. Take out, and try rolling them again.
  4. Bake the meatballs for 7-10 minutes. They should be lightly browned on the outside when they come out. The higher fat content of the ground turkey you chose, the more color they’ll get (and vice versa).
  5. Use tongs to transfer your meatballs to a large pot. Pour marinara sauce on top, cover with a lid, and cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, slice and toast your rolls. Once the meatballs are done on the stove, assemble your subs, making sure to spoon out some extra sauce for on top. Dress with extra dried oregano and (optional) nutritional yeast.

A Week of Meals: Buffalo Chicken, Loaded Nachos, Waffles, and More

A WEEK OF EATS

I always tell my fiancé — anyone who thinks healthy eating is boring should come spend a week with me. I firmly believe the best thing you can do for your health (and your running and/or fitness routine…) is learn how to cook. Cooking opens you up to so many fun, creative ways to combine foods, and trust me – there are SO many ways to eat healthy outside of just steamed veggies and chicken (AKA what most people think of when they think of eating healthy).

This week I wanted to share a week’s worth of meals for Ryan and I. We have gotten really smart about the way we plan our dinners, how we cook once to eat twice (or sometimes three times). We have been enjoying our food way more than ever before, saving money and wasting way less food, and feeling better than ever (in our workouts and daily life in general).

The trick to making all of this happen is just a little planning and prep work. I’ll start brainstorming meals and looking at recipes on Saturday of the week before, and on Sunday we’ll write our grocery list for the week and go to Trader Joe’s for one big grocery haul. But going into shopping, I always know exactly what our lunches and dinners are going to look like for each day.

I LOVE getting creative in the kitchen, so we have fun mixing it up and trying new recipes each week. The recipes I choose always: (1) are low in refined sugar, (2) use real, whole foods (100% corn chips are about as refined as we get), and (3) have some kind of veggie and healthy protein. We love to treat ourselves once or twice a week, but I make sure our main meals are always packed with nourishing, good-for-you ingredients.

For breakfast, I tend to eat the same thing every morning. I go through cycles depending on what I’ve been feeling lately. For a while I was doing oatmeal every morning. Lately, my go-to breakfast has been two slices of avocado toast with two fried eggs, and two slices of turkey bacon on the side.

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What a Full Week of Eats Looks Like for Us

Sunday was the start of the NFL season (my fiancé is a huge football fan), so I made Paleomg’s Buffalo Chicken Casserole for us with corn chips and homemade Chili Sweet Potato Wedges. The casserole serves four, and I purposefully made a big batch of sweet potato wedges so we wouldn’t have to worry about lunch the next day. The Buffalo Chicken Casserole was out of this world, and we both agreed if you placed it in front of someone without saying anything, they wouldn’t believe it was healthy. In reality, though, it is packed with veggies — onions, red peppers, and a base made out of spaghetti squash! The ground chicken also gives it lots of filling protein.

Monday lunch: Leftover Buffalo Chicken Casserole + Chili Sweet Potatoes

Monday dinner: A Fall-Themed Power Salad

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Trader Joe’s mixed greens blend, grilled chicken breast, quinoa, dried cherries (unsweetened), and pecans, tossed in a homemade Maple-Dijon Dressing

To make, all we had to do was cut a few chicken breasts into bite sized pieces, roast them on a baking sheet for ~20 minutes at 400°. While that was in the oven, we made a BIG batch of quinoa (enough for a big salad + quinoa bowls tomorrow night). Quinoa cooks up in 15 minutes. We combined the dressing ingredients in a mason jar, shook it up, tossed all the salad ingredients together, and poured the dressing over the salad. Voila… a little over half an hour start to finish. Again, we made way more than we needed for two people… this gave us four large, meal-sized salads (two for dinner tonight, two for lunch tomorrow).

Tuesday lunch: Leftover Fall Power Salad

Tuesday dinner: Deliciously Ella’s Mexican Quinoa Bowls (from her cookbook, but you can also find the recipe online here)

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I put a pound or two of chicken breasts and a little chicken stock in the crock pot in the morning. They slow-cooked for eight hours, until they were super tender, and when Ryan got home from work we shredded them with a fork. The quinoa was already made the night before, and Ryan and I tag-teamed the rest of the ingredients – the cashew cream which blended up in <5 minutes, the guacamole which came together in <5 minutes, and the tomato salsa which also came together in <5 minutes. The recipe serves four people, which meant we had extras of all the ingredients (except the quinoa) for the next day.

Wednesday lunch: Mexican Chicken Salad

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We made salads out of the leftover ingredients from last night.

Wednesday dinner: Take-out from a Thai restaurant around the corner. I got the stir-fried broccoli, carrot, garlic, and chicken in one of their lighter, healthier sauces. Served over rice.

Thursday lunch: Big green smoothie bowl – Mint Matcha Chip (recipe coming soon). I used protein powder in it to make it more satiating.

Thursday dinner: Homemade turkey burgers (unpictured). I ate mine as sliders, and Ryan ate his on Trader Joes’ whole-wheat buns.

Friday lunch: A big “kitchen sink” salad, with mixed greens, extra chicken from the week, and pre-cut veggies I had bought for exactly these kinds of days.

Friday dinner: Dinner at my future in-laws’ house

Saturday lunch: Take-out from By Chloe… a healthy vegan “fast food” restaurant and one of my all-time favorite places.

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I got their Kale Caesar salad with shredded kale, chopped romaine, shiitake bacon, avocado, almond parmesan, sunflower seeds, and caesar dressing. Air-fried sweet potato fries, and coconut water (straight out of the coconut) on the side.

Saturday dinner: Loaded Vegan Nachos and Homemade Salted Watermelon Margaritas

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Perfect for Saturday date-night-in (AKA movie night). The Loaded Nachos are made with corn chips, black beans, a homemade vegan queso sauce (which was out of this world), pico de gallo, sliced black olives, homemade guacamole, and fresh cilantro. The recipe is from the Minimalist Baker cookbook… my newest obsession. (Every recipe in there is gold.)

Sunday brunch: Gluten-Free Double Chocolate Waffles from Minimalist Baker (recipe is also from her cookbook)

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The stats:

  • I went grocery shopping once. (Because I had a plan… this is key!)
  • I cooked only six times for twelve lunches and dinners, and one brunch.
  • I ate out twice.
  • I saved a lot of money.
  • I had no cravings. (Because the food I eat satisfies me, and I genuinely love what I’m eating!)
  • And health and happiness are both very high.