Whether you exercise in the morning, afternoon, or evening, how you go about your day has a direct impact on the quality of your run. "All of the actions we take during the day can enhance or hinder our workouts," says Aimee Kimball, Ph.D., director of mental training at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Center for Sports Medicine. "Eat smart, get enough sleep, stretch your legs, and those actions can lead to a faster pace, less fatigue, and better attitude when you run." To perform your best, you've got to plan your day right. Here's how:
5:30 A.M. Don't Hit Snooze
Morning runners should resist the temptation. Unless you're chronically sleep deprived, get up with your alarm and run. "Once you get going, you'll feel better, and the running will help shake off the sleepiness," says Thomas Balkin, Ph. D., chief of the department of behavioral biology at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. "The occasional night of inadequate sleep will not have catastrophic results."
7 A.M. Shower
Start your postrun shower with at least a few minutes of cool water for a mini version of an ice-bath. "Cold water constricts blood vessels to reduce swelling," says Michael Conlon, P. T., of Finish Line Physical Therapy in New York City. Haven't run yet? Crank the faucet to warm, and then afterward, stretch while toweling off to loosen up tight muscles.
7:30 A.M. Drink Water
And continue throughout the day. "Your urine should be pale yellow," says Lisa Dorfman, M. S., R. D., director of sports nutrition and performance at the University of Miami. "Clear urine probably means you're overhydrated. Apple juice-colored urine could mean you're dehydrated."
7:45 A.M. Eat Smart
Morning runners need carbs (for energy) and protein (for muscle recovery). Dorfman says. Running at noon? Opt for fruit with oatmeal or a whole-wheat bagel. "The meal before your next run should be the most carb-rich of the day," she says.
8 A.M. Dress for Success
Choose footwear with good support and cushioning. Avoid narrow shoes — squeezing into them after a midday run can exacerbate blisters and pinch swollen feet.
9 A.M. Ignore Your Inbox
"Reset your e-mail so it doesn't 'ding' every time you receive a new message, and check it as infrequently as you can," says Marsha Egan, author of Inbox Detox. "It takes four minutes to recover from any interruption. If you check e-mail 30 times, that's 120 minutes of wasted time every day." That's time you could use to work out.
10 A.M. Snack
Eating a 200-calorie mini-meal (energy bar; yogurt) two hours before a lunch-hour run will fuel your workout. It'll also help you resist the conference room doughnuts, which may make you feel lethargic, cranky, and achy during your sweat session.
10:30 A.M. Take a Walk
Stretch your legs every 60 minutes. "Get blood flowing to your leg muscles to alleviate stiffness," Conlon says.
11 A.M. Chat Up a Coworker
"Talking about your running goals makes you less likely to blow off a workout," Kimball says. Tell your colleague you registered for a 5-K to solidify your commitment.
1 P.M. Prioritize Protein
Morning and afternoon runners need to make protein part of their midday meal for muscle recovery. Running at night? Protein is still important, but you'll need an extra dose of carbs for energy.
2 P.M. Wrap Up a Tough Task
Distance mentally taxing projects from your run. A recent study reported that people who did a challenging job before a workout stopped exercising sooner than when they didn't strain their brains before hitting the gym. "You don't train as well when you're mentally fatigued," says study author Samuele Marcora, Ph. D.
4 P. M. Use Visual Cues
" My running log is the background on my computer," says Chicago marathoner Nate Cook, 32. "When I look at my progression of mileage, it puts me in the mood to run." (For more, see "Desk Inspiration," below.)
5 P.M. Tune In
You can listen to any music that motivates you, but cueing up a running playlist is ideal, says sports psychologist Costas Karageorghis, Ph. D. "Runners associate workout music with the bodily sensations of running, and that shifts their mind-set toward superior running performance."
6:30 P.M. Refuel
"Morning runners need evening carbs to fuel tomorrow's run," Dorfman says. Lateday runners need protein. "A liquid-based meal, such as hearty soup with beans and a glass of milk, is comforting," she says.
8 P.M. Get Ready
If you're a morning runner, set out your clothes for tomorrow's workout, so you're not digging through a laundry basket looking for clean shorts at 5:30 a. m. Afternoon and evening runners should pack their gym bags now—you're more likely to forget a towel during the morning rush.
9:30 P.M. Unplug
Avoid using your TV, computer, or BlackBerry in the 30 minutes before bedtime, advises Edward Suarez, Ph. D., a sleep researcher at Duke University. A bright monitor can make it harder to fall asleep. It can also inhibit the production of melatonin, the hormone that alerts the body it's time for bed. A solid night of shut-eye will make it easier to power through tomorrow's run and will also aid muscle recovery.
Desk InspirationYour office's four gray walls may not be inspiring surroundings — yet. Aimee Kimball, Ph. D., suggests ways to get a mental boost from your workspace. —L. P.
Hang an image of an athlete or loved one you admire. Or post a picture of yourself from a race where you PR'ed to remind yourself what you are capable of.
Decorate with running paraphernalia. Hang a postcard from the city of your next race, post bib numbers and finishers' medals, or keep your gym bag in plain sight.
Log onto The Loop @ RunnersWorld.com. Create a profile, interact with others, and track training progress. "Social support keeps you motivated," Kimball says.