One of the most common New Year’s resolutions involves living a healthier lifestyle by eating well and exercising often, no matter whether you are new to a fitness lifestyle or have been running your entire life. But have you ever gone to the gym and did only what you felt like doing for the day, run endless miles without ramping up in mileage or varying your run type, or perhaps just did the same things as you have been doing, and eventually found yourself wondering why you didn’t get the results you wanted?If this has been you at some point, you might be surprised to learn that the likely reason you’re not getting where you want to go isn’t because you’re unmotivated or clueless about how to get there. It may just be that you didn’t go into it with a plan to get where you want to go and what to do next; a plan that included steps to get there, challenges to avoid the dreaded plateau, or a timeline of when you could take it to the next level. I’ve been that person, the one who crosses a finish line at a race wondering why I didn’t get the time I wanted when I thought I had put in enough work to make it happen. That’s called guesstimating, and I have learned that it doesn’t work well for reaching goals.
Mapping Your Fitness Journey
If you have a goal—whether it is finishing the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run in 1:35 or as abstract as just wanting to rock the building off of its foundation when you walk into the room at your reunion/wedding/landmark birthday party—mapping out a plan and tracking your progress is the best way to get you there. Setting goals and tracking your progress gives you something to be excited about now instead of working out for days on end until you reach your long-term goal at some undefined point. On any fitness journey or quest for a personal running goal, it’s natural to lose motivation along the way, to doubt and question yourself, to allow the fear that you’re in over your head keep you from pushing yourself farther. This is why I have found a training journal to be the most useful tool in squashing any doubt and boredom that creeps up along the way. Because, whether you’re new to this or a veteran runner, it happens to all of us.
Using A Training Journal
It may sound mundane and pointless to keep a training journal of every workout or run that you do, but the benefits of keeping a training log are more quantifiable than you may think:
- Tracking your daily mileage and exercise provides something visual and tangible for all the hours you spend at the gym or on the trails. You might not see the results of your work right away—you will, but it takes time. In the meantime, you have something to show for your hard work.
- Keeping a log allows you to identify any holes in your training and readjust your strategy. For example, if your goal is to get faster but you keep missing speed work, you can either adjust your training strategy or reset your goal.
- A training log also can help calm race day jitters by reminding you that you did the work and are ready for the big race.
- Tracking your fitness journey is sometimes the only way to keep your motivation intact during the mundane wintry days when you’d rather stay in bed. For me, the idea of writing “Rest Day” in my training log on a day when I had a scheduled workout that I felt too lazy to do is enough to get my butt off the couch.
- Also, tracking your fitness journey allows you to push the pace or up the ante when you feel like you are on a plateau. By using a training log, you can see how you have prepared to take the next step instead of guessing and hoping that you’re ready to push it.
- Keeping a training log can also help you set new goals in the future. When training for my 2016 fall marathon, I used my old training logs from my 2015 fall marathon (where I set a personal record) to set a new training schedule using what worked and what didn’t work. As a result, even though I didn’t set a personal record in 2016, I came within minutes of my old time and met my secondary goal after a perfectly-executed marathon strategy.
Over the years, I have come up with several ways of tracking my fitness that work for me. It shouldn’t be an incredibly difficult process: the key is to figure out what works best for you, even if it sounds absurd to someone else. This is your journey.
Here are a few ideas to start.
Write It Down
Journaling is an effective strategy for figuring out problems and finding solutions, as well as mapping goals. Any bound collection of blank pages will do—from a 79-cent, wide-ruled school notebook to a spiral calendar/daily planner or a Moleskine. Grab some highlighters to help you classify your speed runs and your easy-pace, recovery runs, or your hip and core strengthening sessions. Go nuts and use stickers to mark your accomplishments and use markers to draw artistic cartoons or mantras if you want to make it personal.
You can also use one of these training journals that has everything built in for you:
- Believe Training Journal: Professional runners Lauren Fleshman and Roisin McGettigan-Dumas put together a series of training journals that are specifically designed to help you analyze your strengths and weaknesses, determine your hopes and dreams, and strategize a plan to get there. I love these journals because you can start them at any point in the year: the pages are left undated. Plus, they are full of training tips, motivational anecdotes, and inspirations with periodic stopping points every several weeks where you can assess your progress, get out your fears, and find the will to keep going. Bound with a rugged, leather exterior, it’s perfect for tossing into your gym bag so you can log your work as you go.
- Fitbook by Fitlosphy: If your fitness goals are more short-term, this might be the perfect journal for you. This book features specific places on each page to log your daily cardio and strength-training, as well as other things you may not think would impact your athletic performance like emotions or mood for the day, how much sleep you got the night before, or how much water you’ve been drinking. What I love about this book, too, is the weekly meal plans. So many athletic goals are derailed simply because we don’t put enough value on nourishment. This book helps keep things fresh so your goals don’t go stale.
Use A Spreadsheet
Personally, I use both the Believe training journal and a desktop spreadsheet. The spreadsheet serves as an overview of my training so I can better visualize where holes in my training exist without flipping through pages in a book and getting bogged down in daily details. It also makes it easier to access when I am on the go.
Here’s an actual example of my spreadsheet. E = easy, M = medium effort, P = pace run, L = long run
|Dec. 12 – 18||Yoga (40)||3E (10:45)
|6M (9:25)||3P (8:32)
|Rest||4E (10:17) Core Work||8L (9:48)||24 miles|
Use A Smart Phone App
Some people prefer to use their phones for everything, including tracking their fitness. If that works for you, you are in luck with the range of smart phone apps that help you log the details of your latest workout. Likely, if you have a GPS watch, like a Garmin, or a wearable device, such as a FitBit, you might already have a dashboard where the information from your wearable can be viewed after being uploaded via Bluetooth. However, if you haven’t gotten that far yet, there are basic apps like Map My Run, Runkeeper, or Strava to help you log every run and view your progress.
Deciding What To Track
Once you have decided on a means of tracking your runs and exercise, you may wonder what you need to write down. Again, this should be as simple and as workable for you as possible. Writing down your progress should feel rewarding and positive, otherwise you probably won’t do it!
The level of detail you want to get into should be up to you, but I caution anyone against turning it into a numbers game. Focus on one thing, like increasing your pace during speed workouts or upping your cadence (my 2017 goal). If you try to track or change or do too many things at once, you will end up chasing rabbits. That’s not my idea of cross-training!
This is a photo of my training log this week, in which I wrote down my mileage and pace as well as a few notes about the run or workout. On my Thursday strength-training day, logging the exercises I did and the reps will help me next time to see what I have been working out and, eventually, when I can ramp up the number of reps. You can also write down notes about the weather or your day that might have affected your workout, how much water you drank, what you ate, how many hours you slept– whatever information you think will help you get across the finish line!
However you decide to track your fitness and mileage is up to you: it’s your journey that you’re doing for yourself. For what it is worth, making a plan has been my best tool for getting where I want to go with my running goals! Be patient with the process, do what works for you, and explore new options if you’re sure there is a better way. Good luck, and go get ’em!
Do you keep a training log?
How do you like to track your workouts?