4 Reasons to Keep a Running Log

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Adding up miles, meters, hills and splits has long been an obsession of track and road athletes. It may seem a tad obsessive, but keeping track of your mileage and workouts can help you edge closer to your training and racing goals. You’ll be able to chart your improvement, hone in on what works and what doesn’t and hold yourself accountable for the goals you set; you’ll be able to keep track of how your body is feeling over time and identify the need for an extra rest day; and come race day, you’ll get a boost of confidence from looking back at the work you’ve put in.

Whether you’re trying to jump to a new distance, shave seconds (or minutes!) off your PR or just find the root of that nagging hip pain, logging your miles and workouts can help you get the most out of your training.

 Track your progress over time.

 Just pushed through your longest long run ever? Finally tagged the summit of that peak you’ve been eyeing? Finished an interval workout you thought would never end? Write it down. Make notes about what worked, what didn’t and how you felt. Not only will you be able to keep track of your mileage; you’ll be able look back later and compare your energy, mood and overall performance the next time you attempt something similar.

Matt Daniels, two-time member of the U.S. Mountain Running team and runner up at the 2016 USATF 30K Trail Championships, has logged every mile he’s run since the age of 11.

“I can always go back and look at previous years or workouts and compare how I was feeling at particular points in training,” Daniels says. The 29-year-old Texas native was an All-American track athlete for Adams State with a 4:02 mile and sub-15 5K to his name. Continuing to keep a log was integral during his transition from track to trail, allowing him to establish new baselines and track the effectiveness of new training strategies.

“I can track what trails I run on, the weather, elevation gain,” he says. “Re-reading [my log] every now and then forces me to remember that it’s not just a sport, but also a journey.”

Find the reason for your aches and pains

 With the excitement of a new racing season just around the corner, we can be tempted to jump in and immediately log as many miles as possible. But abrupt increases or changes in volume or intensity can lead to unexpected injuries. Every body responds differently to training adjustments. Having your workouts logged means less time trying to remember what day you noticed that niggle in your knee, and more time recovering.

Over time, you’ll start to see patterns. Maybe you’re always sore three days after a downhill run; maybe speed intervals tend to flare up a particular nagging injury. If you can look back over your training, you’ll be able to pinpoint just what types of training cause your body angst.

Ultrarunner and coach Jason Koop carefully monitors his athletes’ training logs as part of a continuous feedback loop. He says it keeps athletes accountable to their training and their own bodies. They’ll be more tuned in mid workout, knowing they’ll have to report back later.

“It helps the coach see how the athlete is adapting, as well as the context behind each of the workouts or phases,” says Koop. “Having that feedback loop is really the difference between having a coach and having a training plan.”

Avoid over- or under-training

 Whether you train with a coach, a group or on your own, keeping careful track of your runs is one of the best ways to maintain consistency. Adding up your weekly totals keeps you honest and helps you gauge if your mileage jumps are happening too quickly (or not quickly enough). Speedgoat 50K champ Anna Mae Flynn kept a log on the online trail-mapping tool Strava to monitor both her training cycles and her slow build in mileage as she shifted from half marathons to 50Ks and longer ultras. She credits it for helping her avoid overtraining.

“Training [to be] a mountain athlete is tough,” says Flynn. “Training properly takes a lot of time and self-control.”

This is especially key for runners new to trails or to ultra distances, she says. As you start to keep a log, make notes of how your body feels on particular days.

“It takes a long time to build a base, so maintaining a routine is key,” Flynn says. “I write notes for myself, for example, ‘Wednesday: heavy legs, but energy felt good; Thursday: recovery day, not worried about speed.’ Spend some time feeling your body out.” 

Gain an extra confidence boost come race day

The initial rush of registering for a race is great, but sometime between tapering and getting to the start line, doubt can creep in. If you’ve kept a log, you’ll be able to look back on all the work you put in over the preceding months. Seeing the endless long runs and countless miles will help calm pre-race nerves and remind you that the hard part is already done.

“My handwritten notes remind me of how things were when I was feeling great and racing well, or can give me hints as to why I feel run down or race poorly,” says Daniels. It’s a reminder of the hours spent on road and trail preparing for what he loves. “But it’s more than just logging miles and keeping tabs on training,” he says. “It’s my life story.”

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