Using Training Logs as a Key to Long-Term Success

When I started working out in May of 2008, I kept track of my runs and workouts on my regular wall calendar. I’d come home from a 30 min walk/run and write it down on the calendar, along with how far I’d gone. I did the same thing when I would go for a bike ride or do a Pilates DVD.  By October, I was several pounds thinner, getting fitter and taking my training more seriously. That’s when I decided it was time to start using a log book.

That first log book was simply a regular school notebook. I think I’d bought several during back to school sales for about a quarter each – nothing fancy! But, it was just perfect for my needs. I pulled down that wall calendar and moved over every single workout into the log book, so I’d have a permanent record of what I was doing to refer to. I had already been in the habit of recording my daily weight on the calendar since I was trying to lose weight, so I added that to the log book, too.

My journey from a size 14 to a size 4 is well documented thanks to my records that I kept. When I would hit a plateau, I was always encouraged when I’d pull out the log books and be able to flip back several pages (or to a past journal) and see just how far I’d come since I started!  It gave me perspective and renewed energy to keep training hard and eating better so I’d continue on the path to my goal weight. “Keep doing what you’re doing” I’d often say to myself after being reminded of my past success since the rewards DID come in time if I stuck with it!

The most important thing I got from my training logs was the ability to gain information about myself, my training, injuries, etc. just by turning back a few pages (or pulling out a past log book and comparing notes.)  I have always written down race times, the training I did as I prepared for each race, my weight, etc and any injuries or big life events that might impact everything else (such as a move, a vacation or an illness.)  When I got trochanteric bursitis in my hip, I felt foolish when I pulled out the log books since it was clear I had increased my pace and distances too quickly for a body that was just beginning to handle the pounding of long distance running.  I paid the price because I wasn’t taking the time to reflect on the bigger picture of my training at the time. It was right there for me to examine and make smarter decisions, but I chose not to do it.  These days, I try to get perspective from my log books at least once a month.

My husband has often found me sprawled on the bathroom floor, with several log books open at the same time as I try to compare notes from the same training season for different years or from season to season. I can get pretty absorbed in the data I keep and honestly find it to be like a great big puzzle that I’m trying to fit all the pieces together for.  I want to be a healthier, faster, more accomplished runner and sometimes I feel like reading my log books is a bit like reading tea leaves as I try to predict the success or failure of an upcoming race from the information I have gathered! 🙂

Here are some tips to get started on using a training log as a long-term key to success!

1. Keep it simple (you don’t need anything fancy and you don’t have to fill pages each day. I typically spend less than 5 minutes a day writing in mine.) And, as I said – a simple, ordinary notebook works just fine. I keep a pen with a clip attached to the front so I’m always ready to log a workout at a moment’s notice!

2. Put it somewhere you’ll actually see it often! I keep my log books in my master bathroom cabinet. When I wake up in the morning, I pull mine out and log my morning weight. After a workout when I’m ready to shower, I pull it out again and log the workout. At night I log my bedtime weight.  Having it in a place where I see it often makes it easy for me to remember to use it.

3. Decide what you want to keep a record of.  My log entries have evolved over time. These days I keep track of: The date, morning weight, day of menstrual cycle, any illnesses, injuries, workouts and how they went (weather, gear, who I went with, what pace, distance, the average heart rate, max heart rate and best pace for the day were, the elevation gain, how I fueled and hydrated, and weight after workout to determine dehydration) bedtime weight and on days where I really have a lot to express — I use it like a diary and just write out my private thoughts, hopes, dreams and feelings.  My log books are private. I don’t share them with anyone. I’ve teased my husband that “If I should die before I wake, throw my journal in the lake!”  Don’t be afraid to bare your soul to your log book. It’s really rather soul-cleansing to do so.

3. Occasionally document bigger things! I always write down race times, my splits (which are fun to refer to later, side-by-side when I race the same race the following year), and about every six months or so, I take measurements of my full body and note them in the log. I’ve been doing this since 2008 and it’s really motivating to go back and see how much fitter I am than when I began. I highly recommend keeping a similar set of data if you are just starting out, are on a weight loss journey (the changes in numbers will astound you later on, I promise!) or for those who just enjoy keeping good records of your fitness level. When I do full body measurements I usually record: My current weight, the “fat percentage” on my at-home scale, then I use a soft tape measure and check and note the measurements for: neck, bicep, wrist, bust, rib cage, waist, belly, hips, upper thigh, lower thigh, calf and ankle.

4. Write down your goals! A log book is a great place to DREAM BIG! You can then refer to that list throughout the year, to make sure you are working towards those goals!

I believe using my logs as a tool in my training has helped me to keep from over-training, to help me ramp up when I needed to push harder, to give me info that an injury seems to be right around the corner so I should make adjustments and helped further motivate me to stay on track with my training in order to reach my long-term goals! I hope that others will find it a very helpful tool as well!

Here are some sneak peeks into my top secret pictures of my personal stash of log books to give you an idea of how to set one up as well. You will now all be privy to why my 3rd grade teacher gave me a “D” in handwriting as well.  Ha!

P.S. I’m amending this write-up to mention that, I do, in fact use more modern, technical ways to document my training as well, since many people will prefer to use those methods in their own lives. I have used since I got my first Garmin in November of 2008 and thoroughly appreciate the data it saves for me and allows me to examine and learn from. I also adore for the great motivation from fellow athletes!  So, no matter how you record your journey (or if you’re like me and you use a whole ton of different methods since you can get something unique from each of them), I do encourage you to start keeping track of what you’re doing! It’s a great tool no matter how you go about it!!!!!

2 thoughts on “Using Training Logs as a Key to Long-Term Success

  1. Another nice post. But I have to say that the notebook just seem too old school these days for me. With the easy of setting up a blog plus with a Garmin that post to the Garmin Connect site, the local app Garmin Training Center and then Daily Mile the notebook is another “thing” I need to do. Plus the fact that notebooks are temporary compared to a blog that will live through any natural disaster, divorce or theft. Also blogs are searchable which are a great way to go back and find stuff. Blogs can be private as well if someone is worried about spilling their beens to the world. But there is something romantic about pen and paper journals.

    I have to totally agree with you. If I am not logging my runs they are just not as exciting or motivating.

  2. Ed, I started keeping a private diary in 7th grade after reading Anne Frank’s book and feeling inspired to take pen and paper and start to document my own, much less dramatic life. When I began running, it was that old-fashioned side of me that preferred to keep my information in a place I could touch and hold and thumb through.

    I have had a Daily Mile account (which is very active) for about two years, as well as a Garmin Connect one. I frequent both sights often and use the data there to further motivate me. I think I will amend my write up to include those options, as many folks would indeed prefer something a bit more modern than my old school notebook idea. 🙂

    My IT techie husband finds it insane that I keep my records in so many places, but I get a little something from each of them. Daily Mile is very social and that really motivates me. Garmin Connect is awesome for raw data (and I’m forever going there to play around with my numbers on similar workouts for comparisons).

    My old school log books, however are the more personal side of me. I share a lot in my blog and on Daily Mile, but I don’t share everything. And, I’ll always be the girl who prefers to write things down by hand or receive a hand-written note over a text or an e-mail. It’s just more personal – more human – to me. So, I know my activity seems lost in the dark ages — but I’m going to bet there are people like me out there who will always be more comfortable with writing something out by hand than typing it up online. And, you just can’t hug an online journal the same way you can a stack of old notebooks you’ve written in! I’m an old-fashioned girl sometimes….

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