Training journals: most of us keep one in some form or another, whether it’s electronic or old school pen and paper. In it, we log every thing we’ve accomplished during our training week. We document the miles logged, the reps completed, and even what we didn’t do on our rest days.
But when is the last time you recorded how you felt about what happened during your day, not just the details of the events themselves? I bet a lot of you kept diaries when you were little girls and possibly well into your adolescent years. I know I used to. So when did we start focusing more on what we did rather than how we felt about what we did?
Recently I was skimming the index of my careworn copy of Joe Friel’s The Triathlete’s Training Bible. I noticed the words “training diary,” and instantly my finger paused over the black text. I had skipped over that section in the past thinking I didn’t need to read it since I already knew how to keep a journal of my workouts, but this time I felt the need to check it out. What I read was illuminating. In his training tome, Friel points out the importance of documenting how athletes feel about each of their workouts. He notes that the journal shouldn’t be restricted to merely listing our activities, but should also be a place where we record our goals, objectives, and how we actually felt during and after our workouts.
This really resonated with me for a couple of different reasons. One, I do log all of my workouts into my phone calendar so I can go back and review how many miles I completed in a week, what strength exercises I did, when I bumped up my weights, etc. But what I don’t have is a record of how I felt about each of those performances. When I increased the weight on my leg presses, was it easy or hard? How sore was I the next day, if at all? When I finally broke into double digits with my mileage, how did my body react? Was I able to maintain my form? All of these questions can’t be answered by a mere listing of activities.
The second reason the concept of a more thorough training journal stuck with me was due to my injury. Look, we’ve all been there, from shin splints to major corrective surgeries. We remember that when we were injured we felt pain, felt frustrated, and we know we felt great when were able to start training and racing again. But what about how we felt leading up to that injury? If I had taken the time to write down how I felt about the last couple of workouts leading up to my labral cartilage tear, something may have clicked; I may have been able to prevent it. At the very least, I would have a record of those days to review now to ensure I don’t make the same mistakes I did back then.
I put Friel’s book down and decided that I wanted to begin keeping a pen-and-paper diary, al la my youth. I jumped online and Googled “training diaries” to see what was out there, and the first thing I hit on was Lauren Fleshman and Róisin McGettigan-Dumas’ Believe training journal. The bright red of the embossed cover leapt off of my screen and slapped me across the face. This is the one! I ordered it then proceeded to impatiently wait four business days for it to arrive.
When the book finally came in the mail, it surpassed all of my expectations. Firstly, Lauren had signed it, so there’s that little nugget of badassery. Secondly, it’s chock full of bonus material that I have already found to be incredibly valuable. There are workouts, motivational photos, sample workout weeks by both athletes, tips and suggestions, and little check-in areas every few weeks. There are also several places to record goals, to unload the negative thoughts holding you back, and quizzes to help you identify your strengths and areas of improvement. In short, I was completely enamored with this book from the moment I opened the front cover.
There is plenty of space for you to record not only what workouts you accomplished each day, but also ample room for you to note how you felt about each activity. Each week starts with a little box in the upper left-hand corner where you can document your focus for the week, and at the bottom there is an area for you to sum up your thoughts after the seven days are complete. There are also inspirational quotes from athletes, coaches, and famous authors lining the top of every page. At the end of each day, you can place in the mileage box how many you’ve covered, and you can also rate each workout however you see fit (I like to use a 1-10 scale, but there are some suggestions in the Introduction section if you prefer something else).
Rather than skipping ahead and reading all of the auxiliary material right out of the gate, I’m treating my new diary as if it were a novel, making my way through it cover to cover, wondering what the next surprise will be at the turn of a page. Though I have only been using the journal for a few weeks now, I am hooked. I love going back to the first couple of weeks and reading about not only what I achieved physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. It’s like I’m conducting a physiological and psychological study, and the patient is me. There’s also something about that tangible pen-to-paper feel that makes me feel more invested in the entire process.
You certainly don’t have to buy Lauren and Ro’s Believe journal in order to start partaking in the entire diary process (though I highly recommend it). You can use an electronic journal, such as the popular TrainingPeaks website, or a cheap spiral notebook.
No matter your chosen medium, just make sure you heed Friel’s advice to not write too much or to over-analyze what you are recording in your journal. “…[S]ome diary keepers seem to have the compulsion to use it as a ‘scorecard,’” he points out (see Salty’s piece The Perfect Training Log Trap for more on this common issue among athletes). Remember, the training journal should not be used solely as a measurement of volume; it is a tool to gauge, to plan, and most importantly, to reflect.
Do you keep a training journal? What’s your favorite method?