Training Logs Are Not Always What They Appear To Be

A training log can be on the computer or a basic notebook. Photo: www.shutterstock.com


Everyone’s schedules fluctuate, so training logs are a constant juggling act.

Ten years ago, I was one of a comparative handful of runners who posted their training logs on personal websites. Though not elite, I was close to the Olympic Trials Marathon qualifying standard, and my status as a regular writer for running magazines probably played a role in my exploits earning more attention than those of others at my level.

But more than the times I managed in competition, my unrelenting stretches of 100-, 120-, and even 140-mile weeks drew message-board comments and private e-mails from other mortals, whose typical contribution was along the lines of “How does anyone do that?” combined with “I’m going to try that” — a sketchy combination out of the gate.

I’ve always advised people not to copy my or anyone’s training log. This isn’t because I perceived them as lacking the ability to duplicate my or others’ schedules (although it bears mentioning that no one can be the arbiter of what another runner’s mind and body can tolerate or benefit from). It’s mainly because I was keenly aware that no matter how much detail I provided in my faithfully provided rows and columns, the numbers could not possibly tell the whole story or what created them — not even close.

When runners see another athlete’s log that’s laden with prodigious miles and sparkling with ambitious, quality workouts, they typically assume that such a fine body of work was assembled perfectly and according to plan from beginning to end. In most cases, though, especially when high mileage is at issue, what appears in the log is a far-from-perfect reflection of the athlete’s blueprint.

Now that quite a few elite runners share their training logs online, it’s imperative to be advised about what these logs conceal as well as what they reveal.

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The Myth Of Magic

When I was routinely logging triple-digit totals, when it came to my planned schedule, I did so much shuffling, juggling and adjusting that I could have written a couple of paragraphs each week to accompany the log itself. A typical example was planning to do a medium-long run with a tempo portion at the end on Tuesday, a set of fast 400s on Thursday and a Sunday long run at a modest effort.

This was in January in New Hampshire, and what happened instead was that I found myself working late on Tuesday, necessitating pushing back the 13-miler to Wednesday morning. That put the kibosh on the Thursday intervals, and with a blizzard expected during the weekend, I decided to do the long run Friday morning and include a good portion of it at goal marathon pace. When the storm failed to materialize, this left Sunday open, and so, tired from but not ravaged by the Friday run, I did 8 x 400 instead of the 16 I had originally scheduled. While this generated an impressive enough week, it wasn’t what I had crafted in advance.

Other than general life mayhem and weather, the most common reason runners are apt to bag a hard session is basic fatigue, something naturally afflicts those pushing their personal mileage ceilings ever higher. Former mile world-record holder John Walker reportedly had no qualms about packing it when a speed session began inauspiciously and trying again the next day. 2:14 marathoner Nate Jenkins, whose training logs are intimidating in terms of both volume and intensity even by elite-runner standards, makes no pretense about this being his experience time and again.

“I’ve had a couple of blocks where I’ve hit everything as planned for a couple of weeks or even a month or two,” he says, “but that’s maybe three or four times in 10 years.”

Before Jenkins’ first marathon, he planned to do 15-20 hard sessions in a six-week period, not an unusual total. Instead, he says, a level of fatigue he didn’t plan on reduced this number to five workouts.

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On Oversight

Jenkins is self-coached, but most top runners are not without some kind of outside guidance. Jaymee Marty of Sacramento, who qualified for her first Olympic Marathon Trials (2012) in a time of 2:45:09 at the 2010 Chicago Marathon, effusively praises the coach who gets her there, Nicole Hunt, but admits that the pressure of having to adhere to a very rigorous schedule was very stressful.

“The workouts were super complex and I was often having to stop mid-interval to rest for 30 seconds to be able to complete them,” Marty says. “I was also perpetually anxious, worried that I would not be able to nail my goal marathon pace workouts or get in the miles in those high-mileage weeks.”

So unlike Jenkins and myself, Marty’s tactic was to make in-workout adjustments rather than table the session for another day. Nevertheless, the underlying principle is the same.

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Degrees Of Freedom

What clearly emerges from these and other runners’ experiences is that while getting in a planned set of workouts over a given time frame is clearly desirable (assume a reasonable plan in the first place), it’s not vital to make every week resemble what’s on your template. For example, if you have a half dozen workouts planned in a three-week period, all that matters is getting them in within that stretch while allowing enough recovery to ensure their effectiveness. While this may seem like common sense, most runners who follow schedules tend to be very meticulous and details-oriented, and the flip side of this asset is fretting over matters in a way that can only be termed pathological micromanagement.

So emulate the greats to your heart’s content, but bear in mind exactly what makes them great, which — appearances notwithstanding — is not a rigid adherence to a planned regimen.

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