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8 Points Every Runner’s Training Log Should Include

One of the most important tools for any endurance athlete (not just triathletes, but runners, cyclists, and swimmers) is the training log. We document key aspects of our training so we can track them over time, and then modify our approach if we need to. Keeping a training log can provide some really useful insights that hopefully will prevent (or treat) an injury and create breakthroughs in performance. In short, we learn from the past so we can better shape the future. Triathlon training is no different.

There are tons of different software and app options available that make tracking your training even easier now. Strava, Wahoo Fitness, Training Peaks, the online dashboards for any multisport watch or computer, like Garmin, and many others make tracking health and performance indicators easier in the quantified-self era. But whether you use technology, or like to go old school like me and simply use a regular old notebook, a training log is our lifeline as endurance athletes. It helps triathlon coaches design programs for their clients and it helps athletes create their own.

My training log

My training log: a composition notebook

So, whatever medium you use as your log or journal, here are 8 essential data points to track.

  1. Session Structure – A barebones training log should always include the details of your training sessions. Try to be as detailed as possible to ensure consistency over time. This will allow you to make comparisons and see if you’re improving. If you’re main swim set was 15×100 meters with 15 seconds rest, be sure to note those details.
  1. Pacing – This is a natural extension of the first point. Some sessions are steady-state long runs, but many sessions include variable pacing. Whether you’re running/biking intervals, doing a fartlek, or doing 400m race-pace intervals in the pool, pacing gives us feedback about our current effort and how it compares with our goal. Pacing can vary within a session as well. We might care about our overall pace of a 16-mile long run, but we probably also care if we’re hitting our goal paces for our 1-mile repeats, or if we’re able to run a negative-split tempo run (completing the second half faster than the first half).
  1. Volume – Many coaches differ as to whether distance or duration is a more valuable indicator of volume. For me, it usually depends on the goal of the session. Structuring a session using duration, such as a base long run, has its merits. If you’re on the track running 1000-meter repeats distance might be the more useful metric. Either way, you should record the total volume of your session. Did you run for 60 minutes? Did you bike for 50 miles? You may want to consider tracking both. And if you use a GPS watch, bike computer, Strava, or some other smartphone app, this is now easy to do.
  1. Feel – Perceived effort is one of your most valuable pieces of information. In fact, numerous studies show it to be a better predictor of aerobic capacity, or VO2 max, than heart rate or other data sources. In other words, knowing how hard a specific pace and distance feels gives us a great indication of our current fitness. So, at the end of a hard track session or hill repeats on the bike, how do you feel? How did you feel during the session?
  1. Nutrition – By nutrition I mean both during the session itself (if it’s long enough to warrant exogenous fuel) and the food you consumed in the previous 24 hours. Did you eat an entire pizza and have a few beers the night before an 18-mile long run and then feel heavy-legged the entire way? Keeping tabs of the specific foods that maximize your performance is key. Then, when it comes time to planning your race week meals, you know exactly what foods to stay away from, and which to load up on.
  1. Environmental Conditions – This has two parts: the atmospheric conditions and the topography. What was the weather like? Did you run or bike in the middle of a hot summer day when the temperature was 90 degrees F? Was it raining? Were there 25 mile per hour wind gusts? What kind of terrain did you complete the workout on? Did your three-hour bike ride include 4,000 feet of climbing? Did you run on rolling hills? These are all important details to note that will influence perceived exertion, heart rate, power and pacing.
  1. Previous Night’s Sleep – Chances are this will correlate with perceived effort and other performance indicators. If you’ve had a string of poor sleep, whether quality or quantity, you’ll likely see the effects of that in your training. More importantly, once you’ve identified a stretch of consistently poor training, and a similar stretch of diminished sleep, you’re now armed with some valuable information to change things.
  1. Running Shoes or Bike – Identifying the running shoes you wore and bike you rode (if you have more than one) allows you to track their use over time. This can be especially helpful with running shoes, which tend to have a shorter life span of around 300-500 miles (this, of course, depends on the shoe). Run beyond the life span of the shoe and you might encounter an injury along the way.

Data Extras – I call these extras because you need specific equipment to track them. They aren’t essential (some would argue with that statement). Yes, from a performance standpoint, do they offer benefits? Absolutely. But if you aren’t able to or don’t care to track them, that’s okay. You can still develop a solid, well-rounded training approach that you can track over time without them.

  • Heart Rate: Heart rate can be a helpful complement to “feel.” Certain training approaches, like the Maffetone Method, use heart rate as the primary parameter. Documenting whether you stayed within your target zone is somewhat helpful, but paired with “feel,” it’s even more so.
  • Power: It’s mostly used for cycling, though you’ll find there is a new running power meter coming on the market. Power’s a primary data point that many professional triathletes and cyclists use to guide there training and racing. Unlike heart rate, power isn’t influenced by environmental factors (such as temperature). Many would argue, such as renounced exercise physiologist Dr. Andrew Coggan, that power, and specifically functional threshold power, is “the single greatest determinant of cycling performance.”
  • Heart Rate Variability – I’ve written about HRV before in this article about knowing when to take a day off. It’s basically a marker for stress and your nervous system’s preparedness for training. This data point is helpful by itself, especially from a lifestyle standpoint. But, looking at HRV in conjunction with other markers of performance can provide some really helpful insights about tailoring your upcoming training session.

Craig Moscetti

Craig Moscetti, MPH is a public health & wellness consultant; runner and triathlete on the Timex Factory Team; founder of Craig Moscetti Training Systems; freelance writer and blogger; and Minnesota Distance Running Association Board Member. www.craigmoscetti.com
Author: Craig Moscetti

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