It’s important–and easy–to keep a record of your runs.
Written by: Matt Fitzgerald
The training diary is a runner’s tradition that has been around for many decades. It goes at least as far back as Alfred Shrubb, a legendary English runner born in 1878 who kept detailed notes about his workouts, and even published a book that shared his training methods.
The impulse to keep a training log is a natural one for runners. Running 20, 30, or 40 or more miles per week, month after month, is a significant accomplishment, but it’s not like building a house—we can’t see and touch our accomplishments as runners. If you’re like me you probably can’t even remember most of the runs you’ve ever done. By keeping a training diary, we make our running achievements more concrete and less ephemeral.
Pride is only one motivation to keep a training diary, however. There are certainly others. The simple effort to keep a training diary increases our mental and emotional investment in the sport in ways that may positively affect our performance. And, of course, the information that is recorded in a training diary can be practically useful.
There are five specific ways in which keeping a training diary will help you become a better runner and find more satisfaction in your running.
- Training analysis. A training diary helps you determine how well you’re training is working. It does so by enabling you to connect cause and effect, where the cause is your workouts and the effect is your changing fitness level. By looking back over the information in your training diary you can determine whether you need to run more mileage or less, whether you need more speed work or less, and so forth. There is always a way to train more effectively than you are doing today. Keeping a training diary makes it easier to find ways to train better.
- Self-knowledge. Each runner is unique. Therefore no two runners can get their best results by training in exactly the same way. One of your most important duties as a runner is to learn about your running self so you can use this self-knowledge to refine your training recipe. Your training diary provides a wealth of information through which to develop such self-knowledge.
- Motivation and accountability. Training can be a real grind. It takes a long time and a lot of hard work to build peak fitness for an important race. It is difficult to consistently maintain a high level of motivation throughout this process. But the price you pay for losing your motivation can be severe. Your training diary can help you avoid motivational dips by reinforcing your investment in your goals. It’s a source of accountability to the standards you have set for yourself as a runner. When you look back over all the training you have done, you can’t help but think, “I can’t stop now. Look at how much work I’ve done already! I owe it to myself to keep my momentum going until the very end.”
- Troubleshooting. Things inevitably go wrong in the training process. You develop injuries, you experience flat weeks, you have bad races, and so forth. Figuring out the cause of each setback will help you reduce the number of future setbacks you experience. Your training diary holds much of the information you need to successfully troubleshoot your setbacks. For example, in looking over your training diary during a period of injury you might discover that you tend to get injured any time you increase your weekly running mileage above a certain rate. Armed with this information, you can hold yourself below this rate in the future and minimize your injuries.
- Confidence building. Every runner experiences doubts about his or her ability to achieve race goals. The runners who most often achieve their goals are those who muster the confidence to shout down these natural voices of doubt. Your training diary can be a great source of confidence. It is a rich record of how much hard work you’ve accomplished and how much progress you’ve made. It is the nearest thing you have to proof that you can achieve your goals before you actually achieve them. Whenever you hear those voices of doubt within you, pick up your training diary and remind yourself of how much cause you have to believe that you will achieve your goals.
How to Do It
Keeping a training diary is easy and it doesn’t take a lot of time. There are just a few basic types of information you need to record. These include the distance, duration, and format of your workout. So a training diary entry could be as simple as, “5 miles (45:59)”. When you do workouts with changes in pace, your diary entries will be a little more complex, because you’ll want to record times for each segment. For example, “1-mile warmup (8:07), 4 x 100m strides, 10 x 300m (57, 57, 59, 56, 58, 57, 57, 57, 58, 58) w/ 300m recoveries, 1-mile cooldown (8:49).” The only other essential information is a weekly mileage total recorded at the end of each week.
If you wish, you may also record a variety of other types of information in your training diary that could be useful. These include:
- Aches and pains – Noting sore spots in your diary may help you identify causes of injuries and avoid them by making your limits clear.
- Heart rate – If you use a heart rate monitor in workouts, record this information in your diary. Changes in your heart rate at different paces reflect changes in fitness and fluctuations in fatigue levels.
- Morning heart rate – A gradual trend toward lower morning heart rates indicates improving fitness. A spike in morning heart rate indicates fatigue.
- Shoes – Noting which shoes you wear in each run will enable you to track the mileage on them and replace them on a sensible schedule (the average pair of trainers is good for about 500 miles).
- Sleep – Some runners like to record the amount and/or quality of their previous night’s sleep in their diary, as it does affect running performance.
- Subjective feelings – How you feel during your runs is a very important indicator of how well your training is working and your current fatigue level. Very simple notes such as “Felt great!” or “Sluggish” can help you determine what’s working and what’s not working in your training and make necessary changes.
- Weather – If the weather (e.g. extreme heat) affects your performance in a run on a given day, you may wish to note that.
- Weight – If you’re trying or hoping to lose weight as you train, it’s a good idea to monitor this variable so you know how different training patterns affect it.
Many runners keep their training diaries in regular journal notebooks and day planners. But there is a variety of readymade training diaries on the market that are formatted especially for use by runners. Of course, my personal favorite is the one I created, The Runner’s Diary.
Check out Matt’s latest book, RUN: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel.