Whether it be to start the day off on the right foot, to take advantage of the silent, empty streets of the city, or to witness the first rays of the dawning sun, numerous runners take to the sport early on in the day. They are called the “early birds”. If you wake up at 7 AM and take a look at your Strava, they have already clocked in the miles and posted a “morning run”, accompanied by shots of the sunrise and delicious croissants. Excuses and other justifications to not run are not of their language. They are a source of inspiration as much as of perplexity to others. In Paris, you see more and more of them running from the quais de Seine to the canal de l’Ourcq, striding by Montmartre or the Buttes Chaumont. Photographer Romain Bourven met 4 of them to discuss this early morning practice and discover more of their playground.
Hi! Could you introduce yourselves, in a few words?
Romain: My name is Romain Carette, 30 years old, from Lille. I have been working for a communications company specialized in PowerPoints (yes, that does exist!) since 2015. Although I have moved to the capital, I have remained faithful to my northern origins keeping my affiliation to the Lille Métropole Athlétisme club with which I have specialized in distance running: marathon (2:26:50), half (1:07) and 10k (30:47 mins). I have also been on the Saucony Team for the last 4 years!
Adèle: Hi! My name is Adèle, I live in the 18th arrondissement of Paris. My central interests revolve around food, theatre, music, and, of course, running! I particularly love hills, more technical rocky paths, with mud as an option.
Ruddy: My name is Ruddy, self-employed as a digital talent, which includes roles such as brand ambassador, influencer, model, consultant and much more! I am also captain of the Power Up community in Paris.
Fran: I’m Fran, a 32 years old runner, originally from Alsace, I have lived in Paris for 4 years. I work in sports marketing, and love running on roads as much as in the mountains, for long distances more than intensity.
Why do you run early in the morning?
Romain: For a number of reasons. Firstly, I currently live in the 10th arrondissement. Have you ever tried crossing the Faubourg St Denis, the Grands Boulevards or the (Seine) quays at rush hour? It’s hell! In the morning, around 6-7, we own Paris and can decide to run wherever we want without having to slalom between people and other hurdles.
Secondly, it’s a little less glamorous, but running early in the morning, on an empty stomach, allows me to run without having to worry too much about digestion and stomachaches. It is a common issue when you run later in the day, if you have a slower digestion, or if your nutrition is not well balanced.
Thirdly, it allows for easier to manage double-run days when I am training for a marathon. In that case, one of those runs will necessarily have to be at dawn anyway. Lastly, morning runs also make it easier to say yes to afterwork jogs with friends. No more “sorry, I can’t, I have a tempo run to roll in”.
Adèle: I’m running mornings mostly when I’m nearing a race. Firstly, because it’s a necessity to organize my day and space out the trainings with the following one the day after, in the evening. That way, I can optimize recovery. I tend to start off grumpy, but once I get going, I tell myself “oh yeah, okay, it’s good…”. I mostly train around Montmartre because of the hills and stairs, which is great to prepare for trail races. Running there at dawn, when the cafés are opening and the morning light slowly bathes the city, it’s quite cool!
Ruddy: It’s by choice, and I actually run at both dawn and dusk. The good side is that, at those hours, there is a lot less people than throughout the day. I also really enjoy catching sight of the early morning lights. That’s the poetic side. I find that running before you “start your day” is actually very energizing. For a creative job like mine, this kind of energy is essential. Actually, that’s also quite poetic!
What’s your ritual before you start running?
Romain: You really want to know? So… Normally, my alarm rings at more or less 6 AM. I start off by going to the toilet, where I stay until I’m fully awake. Then I put on my clothes, drink a glass of water, and it’s a go!
Adèle: Complaining! I’m a bit of an “Angry Bird”.
Ruddy: I don’t really have a “ritual”, other than not drinking or eating anything before going out to run. If I am not with my team, I simply put on a good rap song, and get going.
Fran: I wake up, refresh myself a little, put on some clothes while having a quick coffee. I stretch a little and get running really easy at first, 15-20 mins after coming out of bed. If I know I have a specific training session to do, or that I will be running more than an hour, then I will eat a fruit or a small snack.
What does your typical run look like?
Romain: There are a number of routes in Paris I enjoy running. One of my favorites, in the morning, takes me to a number of spots that are otherwise very busy at night; the Sébastopol Boulevard, the Rivoli street, the (Seine) quays, the Louvre, Tuileries, Concorde, Champs-Élysées and the Grands Boulevards.
Adèle: There is this route that I have designed “myself” (lol, you imagine me copyrighting this?!) that I call the “Zigzag des Champions” (no comments). It gives you the most stunning view of the Montmartre grapevines, the Sacré Coeur, followed by Dalida’s legendary golden bust. It goes up and down and up again, and you can do that on repeat before going for a quad-grinding session at the cable car stairs.
Ruddy: I really like the Buttes-Chaumont loop, which is approximately 2.5 K long. I start off with an easy loop, followed by a second, faster one, and a third one at full speed. I then top it off with 10 reps of a hill that mixes stairs and flats. After this, YOU FEEL GOOD!!
Fran: When I’m in Paris, I essentially run around the Ourcq canal, towards the East. Whether I’m doing 10k or 30k, I simply follow the water, and turn around whenever I come across a walkway or turn back the same way I came. It’s very calm, there are no cars, and the sunrise there is really nice, in both summer and winter.
What was the earliest time you have ever woken up to go for a run?
Romain: During the lockdown, I was doing my best to steer clear of others when I was doing my 1h runs, in that 1k radius from my place, once a day. But, as I have said earlier, I live in a very busy area of Paris’ 10th arrondissement. Even during the lockdown, there would still be a lot of people around during the day. I would just wake up really early, around 5 AM, to get my run in. It was very quiet!
Adèle: I don’t really have any interesting anecdotes on that. I think the earliest was just before the Valencia marathon, when my coach Alexis and his friend Pierre started acting like idiots very early in the morning, as if they had just come back from the night before, and my alarm had not gone off yet. Seriously. I complained a lot.
Ruddy: The earliest I have done is 3 AM. But those who know me a little know that my favorite time is around 4 AM, for the trails. That one time at 3 AM, it was because there had been a storm and I could not get myself to sleep. Since I love running in the rain and had nothing else to do, I decided to run out from Choisy le Roi to the Bastille. Knocked out, I then called an Uber to get back home, and the car ride really lulled me to a slumber. I got home and fell asleep like a baby.
Fran: I moved to Paris in 2016, with a job that was starting at 7 AM every day, while I was preparing for a marathon. Without really knowing what time I would be back in the evenings, I took to early morning runs quite easily. When I had to put in a 1h30+ run, needless to say I had to start early around 4-4:30 AM. I could now get back to running around 8AM but my love for early birds is still there! I once had to wake up at 1:30 AM for an ultratrail, but that was an exceptional case.
Do you think those early runs help in improving your performances?
Romain: I don’t really have an educated opinion on the matter. I prefer not to say anything stupid. But I can speak of my own lockdown training. I was essentially training in the morning and would then supplement with muscular reinforcement in the garage. A month later, I was clocking in my second-best performance ever on the marathon distance (2:27). Did the morning runs help? I don’t know, but it for sure was not detrimental either!
Adèle: Absolutely, but who am I to confirm it or not? However, I’m entirely incapable of doing speedwork in the morning, it just makes me throw up!
Ruddy: I don’t know if it improves performance for everyone, but I know for a fact that it is a key element in my own improvement. After my runs, I have the whole day to recover and let my body assimilate the gains.
Fran: I have no way to prove this, but I am quite certain that training and waking up early in the morning represent a type of self-discipline and mental strength. You know, that same fortitude that you need when you’re preparing for a race for example. You can love the sport and be motivated as much as you want, when your training gets harder, the only thing that matters is that self-discipline. Training early also allows me, sometimes, to do double-run days, which for me is better than doing a single long run in the evening that could potentially hinder my sleep and recovery after. (I think we all have a very different relationship with endorphins!)
What would you say to runners who cannot get up in the morning?
Romain: Try it just once and see for yourself. You might notice that your soul gets liberated, and that you can then start off your day with full mental clarity. “Great, now it’s done” as we say. Then you only have to make the most out of your day and evening.
Adèle: Don’t snooze, and think about it this way; in the evening, you will be able to go have a couple beers, relaxed, with your friends because your run is already in.
Ruddy: NOTHING! Stay in bed, that way I can train alone without having all Paname in one place!
Fran: It might not be the most “natural” thing today to put on an alarm to go out and run early in the morning, but if we decide to, it’s easy to do it! Here are a couple tips that can help, at first: prepare your running kit the night before, put on a number of alarms, and leave them away from your bed, set a meet up with some friends to run together (engaging yourself with others really helps). In any case, try it and I can almost guarantee you will not regret it! Promise! The shift from “ok, I’ve done it” to “ok, I’m of the morning team now” happens without you even noticing it!