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Live like a clock

Our bodies like routine and repetition. They don’t like having the daily cycle thrown out of whack all the time. That’s part of the reason why it’s so hard to wake up early, and why we start to drift off at the same time most evenings. It’s why we get hungry at the same time, and why consistency is the most important part of any training plan. There are lots of ways that we can think of the phrase “Live like a clock”, and each is useful in different parts of our life.

The first time I came across this phrase was actually in the book Return to Carthage, the sequel to the cult classic Once a Runner by John L. Parker, Jr. The second book picks up right after the main character has gone to the Olympics, a few months after the completion of the first book. His friend and coach, Bruce Denton, tells him to live like a clock. He’s been doing it for years as part of his training, and the consistency of continuing to do his morning run (even if he isn’t “training”) at 6 a.m. every morning will help keep him sane as he comes down from his Olympic Experience. And it’s true, keeping the normal routine, even if you’re not trying to do a specific workout, is one of the best things recently retired competitive athletes can do. The consistency helps them transition to “normal” life of school, work, family, etc. And eventually we learn to not stress about a missed “workout” because we had to go to the office early or we were up all night with a sick kid. Life happens, and learning that can take time for someone who is really competitive and mentally wrapped up in their training.

But “live like a clock” isn’t just for retired track stars. It can be one of the most useful things for all of us that are trying to balance training and life. One of the biggest reasons I get for clients having missed a workout is that life caught up with them and they weren’t able to get it done after work. Or they weren’t able to squeeze it in between other commitments on the weekend. Inevitably, the fundamental excuse is “my schedule didn’t allow it”. And that’s going to happen from time to time. Life happens. But those who make a point of sticking to a routine schedule seem to have it happen less frequently. If we make an intentional point of doing our workout at 6 a.m. every day, it’s probably going to happen more often than not. It’s also the case if we do it over our lunch break, or immediately after work, or whatever time we do it. The point is that if we make a point of doing it at the same time every day there seems to be fewer missed workouts.

The other nice part about living like a clock is that everything else in our day follows the same pattern. We end up eating breakfast at roughly the same time every day. We go to work at the same time every day. We pick the kids up after school at the same time every day. We eat dinner at the same time. And we go to bed at the same time. This means that we end up spending less time and effort trying to schedule stuff on the fly on a daily basis, freeing up more time and mental energy to actually do the things on our to-do list. And if it’s the normal daily routine, we’ll probably be more likely to actually be getting enough sleep and enough to eat. It prevents us from burning the candle at both ends, which almost always results in either injury or burnout. Or both.

Probably the most important part of living like a clock for most of us though is getting up at the same time every day. Our bodies really like the consistency of sleeping and getting up at the same time. There’s something to be said about “getting up early” to get done the highest priority objectives for the day. But if you get up earlier than normal, you’ll probably have a hard time actually executing your plan, get tired in the middle of the day, and just not feel that great by the evening. But if we get up “early” every day (i.e. at the same time every day), then our bodies will shift to that being normal, and we’ll actually be functional human beings all day. True, we may go to sleep “early” but we are really just shifting our daily schedule by a bit. We’re still getting the same amount of sleep if we’re doing it right. And the most important aspect of this is that the “early” isn’t early anymore. It’s normal. And that makes it easy to do. There’s nothing harder than trying to flip your sleep schedule around on a daily basis. You almost always end up feeling sleep deprived, groggy, and not up to snuff.

So live like a clock. Get up at the same time every day, even on the days when you don’t have to. Train at the same time every day if you can. Eat at the same time every day. Your body will thank you for the natural rhythm that comes with it. And your race times will improve.

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