You’re at the starting line, anticipating the go-ahead to start running the race you’ve been training for—finally putting the miles, sweat, and effort you’ve gathered to the test. But then, pre-race anxiety spills into your mind:
- Have I done enough long runs?
- What pace will help me reach my goal?
- Do I have potential injuries I need to worry about?
- Am I hydrated enough?
- Am I ready?
Keeping a running journal can put these starting line doubts to rest the moment they emerge. Because we runners are driven by data, visible goals, and proof of our progress, a running journal works wonders for keeping us on track and in tune with our bodies during our workouts.
This article will cover why keeping a training log makes you a better runner, and answer the following questions:
- What should I track in my running log?
- Why keep a running journal if I already have a fitness tracker?
- How do I store a training log?
Consider this article your guide to starting your own running journal!
What is a running journal?
A running journal (also called a running log, training log, or fitness planner) serves as a visual account of your training progress. It is used to set goals and track your progression toward reaching those goals.
From how your mileage has improved over time, to how weather, diet, and how many times your baby woke up during the night affects your energy levels, tracking this information empowers you to grasp a deeper understanding of your runs and acknowledge how far you’ve come.
What Should I Track in a Training Log?
You’re in full control of what you track in your training log. The running journals I’ve kept as a marathoner vary in content—one was a mile-focused training log, one documented my daily distance throughout 2020, and the one I currently use is scribbled with senseless thoughts I have while running (graciously titled “Strides of Genius”).
What you choose to track in your running log depends on what you find relevant to your runs and what motivates you to reach your goals. Regardless of how far you go with your notes, every running journal should include at least the following:
- Duration of your run
- Distance you ran
- Your pace
Here are some examples of what else to track based on the data that drives you.
Variations of tracking metrics for your running log:
The Minimalist Miler – Duration, distance, average pace per mile.
The Data-driven Dasher – Duration, distance, pace, route, weather, time of day, heart rate, calories burned, cross training workouts, additional comments.
The Food-fueled Fanatic – Duration, distance, pace, weight, what you ate before and after your run, calories burned, foods that work with/against you, water consumed, favorite on-the-run snacks.
The Endurance Explorer – Duration, distance, pace, route, terrain, hydration locations, shoes worn, additional workouts, observations of surroundings.
The Mileage Maven – Duration, distance, pace, lengths of go-to routes, mileage goal vs. mileage achieved.
Training journals can also prevent injuries by alerting your mind to symptoms that occur during your run, such as a slight twinge in your IT band that you definitely should not power through.
You can also use your training log as a reference after an injury. You may find you increased your mileage too much, too soon or that you didn’t include enough corss training. Being aware of how your body responds to training can help you avoid being injured again in future.
If you’re a mother who runs with a jogging stroller, recording your running stats when you run with your jogger and when you run without it can be helpful. Seeing the side-by-side comparison validates your effort and allows you to observe how much running with a jogging stroller impacts your runs.
There’s no wrong way to keep a running journal. Tailor it to include what you find significant toward your goals.
Where do I start with my running log?
There are pre-designed running logs available online. Getting started with a basic notebook or wall calendar works just as well. Don’t pressure yourself to make your running journal a full-blown art project where perfectly manicured is the standard. Running journals are meant to complement your runs—not the other way around.
Start by setting a goal to work toward (for example: a racing event, desired mileage, weight goal, max duration, etc.), and mark a realistic achievement deadline. Make note of where your fitness is at now by answering these questions:
- How long can I comfortably jog at this moment?
- How does my current fitness level compare to my fitness goal?
- How do I feel about my fitness right now?
- How would I like to feel about my fitness a week/month/year from now?
Distance and duration are the most important stats when it comes to tracking your progress. Additional metrics can unfold and evolve as you get into the practice of keeping a running journal.
Why Keep a Running Log if My GPS Tracks My Runs?
This is a fair question, especially if you’re a busy mom and like the idea of leaving it all to a digital tracker to save some brain power. It’s definitely not wrong to rely on a fitness tracker. However, as NY TIme writer Ingrid Skjong points out, tech gear and their constant reminders and feedback can “mess with your ability to gauge how hard you think you’re working.”
Skjong dissects the consequences of this concept, called “perceived exertion,” in her must-read article titled I Review Fitness Trackers for a Living. Here’s Why I Won’t Give Up My Running Journal. As helpful as fitness trackers are at collecting data, Skjong informs they don’t allow you to “pinpoint details, stories, and patterns that produce a holistic picture of your training.”
For example, as I write this very section you’re reading now, it’s 3:45 a.m. and my alarm is going to go off in 1 hour so I can “wake up” for a marathon I’m pacing today. According to my FitBit, I’m not meeting any of the ideal criteria that says I’m in shape to run 26.2 miles. My sleep score is trash and I ate more ice cream than balanced carbs yesterday.
According to my FitBit, outlook is bleak. But according to my running journal, I am ready. Rather than allow the record of poor sleep to stunt my ability, I’m focusing on my sheer excitement (and stubbornness) to propel me across the finish line.
10 Reasons to Keep a Running Journal
The benefits of a running journal culminate into you becoming a stronger runner. Here’s why you should start keeping one:
#1: Learn more about your body, ability, and grit.
By noting your efforts and observations, you will better understand what kind of training schedule benefits you.
#2: Track improvement
Your training journal accurately represents your efforts and progression. It’s a visual display of your improvements and the effects of your workouts.
#3: Avoid the comparison trap
A personal training log guards you from comparing yourself to social media which can thwart your motivation and undermine your training efforts.
#4: Easily review your progress
Your entries are easy to reference because they aren’t buried by mountains of insignificant data, sponsored ads, and public feed.
#5: Avoid injuries or work out how you became injured
As you write down how your body feels after each run, a running journal helps you avoid injuries by making you hyper-aware of early symptoms. This way, you can take appropriate action before real damage is done.
You can also use your training log in hindsight to review common symptoms that pop up and determine where an injury started. This will help identify if the injury was from factors such as the shoes you wore, increasing mileage too quickly, or not doing enough strength training.
#6: Log your thoughts
It offers space to log observations, suggestions, experiences, and whatever else you want.
#7: Plan future training
A training log takes guesswork out of what you need to achieve in a given week, while allowing the flexibility to shift training days when Life interferes with your workouts.
#8: Keep track of goals
It gives you a platform to dream up and establish your goals, and keep a deeply personal account of your journey.
#9: Make yourself accountable
A fitness journal allows you to create visual motivation and schedule milestone rewards.
#10: Fine tune your running style
A running log helps you diagnose culprits that negatively affect your run, such as foods that trigger Runner’s Trots, temperatures that slow you down, and even psychological woes that slash your stamina.
Plus, there’s something about engraving your metrics in writing that makes them feel more virtuous.
How Do I Store My Running Log?
How you store your running data is up to you. The only requirement is it has to be something you’re going to use. Make sure it works with your goals and what you care to track.
Examples of What to Use to Store a Running Log:
- A pocket-sized booklet that records your most basic stats (date, miles, duration, pace).
- A personal notebook styled with everything you find relevant to your running workouts.
- A training log made in Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets.
- A wall calendar where you jot daily mileage.
Former pro runners and moms Lauren Fleshman and Roisin McGettigan-Dumas have specially created the Believe Training Journal which is more than just a journal with helpful tips and prompts.
The Complete Runner’s Day-by-Day Log by Matt Fitzgerald is also a favourite with many runners.
Examples of What to Include in Your Training Log:
- Strong headwind throughout most of the run
- Felt strong and finished fast
- Small blister developing on left big toe
A running log offers you an indisputable reference point to look back on when you find yourself questioning your training. It guards your goals and records the journey you took to reach them—including what works, what doesn’t, and what you’ve learned for the next time. It can awaken the motivation to press forward, or tell you when you need a break.
No matter what you decide to use your running journal for, the sure thing is this: A running journal will make you a better runner.