People often ask me how I went from a back-of-the-pack ultra runner to the to the 2017 Western States Champion in two years.
The long answer is complex (I moved and my life changed) but the short and most important answer is glaringly obvious: I simply ran more.
I went from running ten-twenty unspecific and unrecorded miles a week, to slowly increasing and recording my mileage on a Google Doc. I thought I was putting in the work to be able to perform well on race day but the Google Doc woke me up to the cold reality about my training. With an unimpressive three hours a week of running, I was vastly and chronically under-trained.
The Google Doc was a wake-up call. It provided irrefutable evidence of how little I was actually running and revealed patterns that led to sustainable training and successful racing. Two years later, the Google Doc long retired and a Strava account activated, I have a year’s worth of training, with 4,240.3 miles logged and 513 runs archived.
It’s no coincidence that this was my most successful year of running. If you want to improve, here are some tips to building your own training log and clear benefits of using one.
Benefits of a Fitness Log
It’s irresponsible to run a 50 or 100-mile trail race with only two-three hours of running a week and so I did poorly. I didn’t do well and races weren’t nearly as enjoyable as they would have been with strong, well-trained legs and I’d often come out of the races with an injury or symptoms of overtraining, delaying my ability to prepare for the next event.
Since logging my workouts, I’m a much healthier, happier and fitter athlete. Here are my three favorite benefits to keeping an extensive training log to draw information from:
Accountability: Setting a goal isn’t all that hard but developing an implementation plan for achieving one is. If nothing else, a fitness log can remind you of those goals, give you a workout to do so you’re not floundering aimlessly at the gym, and get you out the door.
Motivation: Seeing your progress will likely help create a sense of pride in what you have accomplished and help motivate you to keep going.
Information: A fitness log paints the big picture for you. By tracking your workouts, you’ll be able to identify your strengths, weaknesses and correlation patterns in your fitness progression and how you feel. And it can provide critical information regarding overtraining, injury and in my case, even under training. A detailed fitness log can help you understand how sleep, food affects your performance and adjust your lifestyle accordingly.
What is a Fitness Log?
The bare-bones definition of a fitness log is just a record of your workouts. But if done right, it’s much more than an account of exercise achieved. A fitness log contains a wealth of useful information regarding your day-to-day exercise regimen, progressing fitness levels, patterns and plateaus. It shows you where you’ve been, where you’re going and how close you are to getting there.
In addition to Strava, I record my daily workouts (including rest days) in a spreadsheet, so I’m not just limited to the information recorded on the app during my workout. My fitness log includes:
- Type of exercise performed including (but not limited to) running, skiing, weight training or cross training.
- Planned workout vs. Actual Workout
- Duration of exercise (and/or distance)
- Elevation Gain/Loss
- Elevation of the run (example: sea level)
- Time of day
- Equipment used
- General state of health (tired, energized, sick, injured, etc.)
- Mood before and after
- For strength training: weight used and number of repetitions
- Food: what you ate before, during, and after
- Additional information related to exercise (For example: left knee started hurting after 2 miles; swollen after run; iced for 20 minutes)
There are countless ways to log your workouts. You may choose to keep a simple notebook dedicated to your fitness or use a specialized workout chart. There are even several online fitness journals to help you track your exercise. The more detailed the log, the easier it is to draw information regarding your fitness level.