Christiane Nicolau, 36, has always liked to exercise. But with the birth of two children and the demands at home and work, it was difficult to find a time to play sports. At her sister’s encouragement, the university professor from João Pessoa (PB) tried out running, a modality that can be done anytime and anywhere. Next, Christiane tells how she manages to wake up at dawn and go to train:
“My father was a professional football player and he always used sport to teach my sister and me how to be disciplined, stick to schedules, keep to a regular diet, etc.
I played volleyball from 7 to 17 years old and won a scholarship to play for schools. As a teenager, I would wake up at 4:30 am to go to the gym with my parents — I’ve been lifting weights since I was 18. I always heard from my father and my coaches that sleeping late or eating too much, for example, would make my performance drop. At 20, I started doing gymnastics to gain strength, and classical ballet to improve my balance.
I cut back on exercise after my two children were born—Esther, in 2015; and Joaquim, in 2016. With the demand from children and work, my biggest difficulty was being able to reconcile my schedule with the opening hours of places that offered sports practices.
I didn’t stop with weight training, because I always thought strength training was important, but for me it’s a complementary activity. I missed doing a real sport, like playing volleyball, but I ran into the issue of time.
the start in the race
My sister Ana Carolina ran and called me to train together. She was a key player in showing me that running was a sport that depended only on me, that I could do it anytime, anywhere.
In 2019, I started looking for breaks in my routine to practice running regularly. The problem is that he had commitments and obligations from the time he woke up until the time he went to sleep.
My first attempt was to run in the late afternoon, around 5pm, during my kids’ soccer and ballet time. As I’m the one taking them, I tried to change at their school and run nearby, but I couldn’t. The second attempt was to run at the same time, on the gym treadmill, but I didn’t adapt. I found it super monotonous, the environment did not favor the activity to be pleasurable. The solution was to run whenever I could, but without regularity.
In 2021, I hired a sports advisor on the recommendation of my sister, and they started to send me training sessions weekly. I woke up early, around 5am. So I started getting up earlier, at 4:30 am, to train for a half four times a week.
I left home at 4:50 am and drove to the waterfront, where I ran from 5:10 am to 5:40 am. By 6 am I was already at home, as I needed to wake up and change my children, pack their lunch box and shower and change. I dropped the kids off at school at 7:15 am and arrived at work at 7:50 am to teach.
Running in an inspiring place motivated me to wake up early. I love seeing the sunrise, feeling the sea breeze, the wind on my face, contemplating the water, breathing fresh air, feeling the rain, saying good morning to people even without knowing their name. Having this connectivity with each other and with nature favored a pleasant environment for me to exercise. Running gave me a lightness and a feeling of being ready for the day.
I stayed in this routine of waking up at 4:30 am for six months. However, as I increased the distance and progressed in the sport, the 30 minutes of training became insufficient. I started waking up at 4 am, but I finished training at the limit — until I woke up at 3:50 am.
Tactics to wake up early
A lot of people ask how I manage to get up so early to train. In addition to doing a sport that I like and that gives me pleasure, I have some strategies to wake up, which start the day before.
Before going to bed, I already leave my clothes, sneakers and socks separated on top and on the side of the sofa; the already full water bottle in the fridge; the bag packed with visor, glasses, mask and wallet. I also ‘make’ my pre-workout snack: I leave a banana and a caffeine capsule on the kitchen counter. It’s important to separate everything beforehand so you don’t waste time or make noise looking for things in the closet at 3:50 in the morning, when the whole family is sleeping.
Also, I have two alarm clocks. A watch that vibrates on my wrist and the watch on my cell phone, which I purposely leave in the bathroom, to force myself to get up, turn it off and stay there to get ready. I also sleep with the window and curtain open, so that the natural ventilation and light naturally stimulate waking up (yes, here in João Pessoa the day starts to get clear very early).
Another important thing is to maintain a sleep routine to get a good night’s sleep, which is essential to be more willing to wake up early.
Around 7 pm, I shower, have dinner and read to my children. At 8 pm they are already in bed, sleeping. At that time, I tidy things up at home and start getting ready for bed too. I take one last look at my phone to see my messages and my schedule for the next day. I try to stop using my phone about half an hour before bed and I don’t watch TV.
I take a shower and go to bed to read. Reading helps to slow down the mind. Instead of thinking about the various things I have to do the next day, I focus on reading, I feel that my body and mind are relaxing, sleep is coming. I close the book and go to sleep around 9:30 pm.
On the days that I get very tired and I already imagine that it will be difficult to wake up early the next morning, I drink a warm chamomile tea and set several alarm clocks: one at 3:50 am, another at 3:55 am and so on, my limit is until 4:30 am, because I know that, waking up at that time, even if I can’t complete the training on the schedule, at least I’ll guarantee 30 minutes of running on the waterfront — or I run on the streets of the neighborhood, so I save the time I would waste driving to the beach.
Another thing that helps me to be disciplined is visualizing the schedules. I work very well with a paper diary, where I write down all the schedule of my life. On the weekend, I already visualize the whole week and start scheduling routine appointments: classes, children’s sports, my workouts, CBT guidelines, etc. Then, I schedule the sporadic, such as meetings, consultations and, finally, I make lists of what I should do in these tasks.
Keeping discipline is the commitment I have to record in the app how my training was for the day, so the teacher can monitor my performance, it also drives me. There is also the spiritual part. I grew up in the church and learned that our word must have value and that we must honor our commitments. Everything doesn’t always go according to plan, but prayer helps me keep my head on straight and get through one task at a time.
Thinking about the benefits that sport brings to physical and mental health also motivates me to wake up early. Running helps me with my thinking, my performance at work, it increases my ability to concentrate and contributes to my social life, because I talk to a lot of people, I make friends.
There’s also the side of looking at myself in the mirror and thinking about who I want to be, because I’ll only be different tomorrow if I change today.
As morning as I am, it’s not easy to wake up early — and I don’t think it ever will be. But we have to fight for our goals. Not every day we wake up we feel like going to work, but we see it as a commitment and we do it, because it needs to be done. With training it’s the same logic
For those who, like me, suffer from a lack of time to exercise and training early may be the only solution, my tips are: set the schedule and stick to it, rain or shine, whether you are willing or not.
Sometimes I wake up and it’s raining. The easiest thing for me would be to look at the rain and think: ‘I can’t go today, I’m going to go back to sleep’. But no, it’s not because of what I feel, but because of obedience and discipline, because of the commitment I created with myself.
So, I repeat the encouragement to you: when the alarm goes off, don’t hit snooze, get up and just go!”