The Perfect Training Log Trap

Years of B+'s in your training log will get you farther than a season of these.
Years of B+’s in your training log will get you farther than a season of these.

Training plans are the best. All you have to do is look at the day on the calendar and do what the training plan says. I don’t know about you, but I take a lot of pride in logging week after week of perfect training, nailing all my training plan’s workout paces and weekly mileage goals. I find that the more perfect training weeks I have the more I push myself to hit all my targets and to maintain that perfection for the entire training cycle. Who doesn’t need a little extra motivation every now and then?

But there’s an ugly side to training log perfection.You must be thinking I’m crazy. What could be wrong with nailing an entire season of training?! Now is where I ask you to take a step back and answer this question:

What is the point of training? Is it to log perfect workouts and nice round weekly mileage numbers? Or is it to get faster and nail your goals on race day?

Now I’m not saying we don’t need to work hard. We do. However, we tend to think of training as more is better, even when we know better. And that perfect training log thing suckers us, especially the type-A among us. In some ways, going for perfection even past the point of jumping the shark to the point of overtraining, even when continuing to run ourselves straight on into the ground is easier than smart effective training. With training log perfection there is only one rule: GET. IT. DONE.

But when it comes to smart effective training, it’s more complicated.

As you might guess, I am speaking from personal experience as a recovering training log perfectionist. I’ve worked with the same coach since early 2011 and for the latter half of that year, for weeks I did everything he said no matter what. It got to the point where I would cry if I couldn’t exceed my goal paces and then even worse, I found myself cursing and hobbling through my runs as I struggled stubbornly with a nasty case of piriformis syndrome … for months. Only in hindsight could I look back and see that my 2011 season of disappointing race results was more caused by doing too much in training rather than the not enough I was so afraid of.

But smart training, the kind of training that will keep you healthy, uninjured, happy and actually racing well requires a little more work on the runner’s part. While perfection requires reading the training plan and executing, smart training requires you to know when you need to modify and, unless you have a very hands on coach, what modifications to make. There are more rules and they seem way more complicated than the FULL. STEAM. AHEAD! approach of training log perfectionists.

Below, discover the problem with a perfect training log and the rules to know when it’s actually a good thing to be imperfect and deviate from your training plan.

The Problems With Training Log Perfection

If you’re nailing every workout, every mileage goal, every single aspect of your training week after week and feeling amazing while doing it, I hate to break it to you, but it probably means you’re underestimating your current capabilities and are completely sandbagging your training, meaning running everything way slower than you’re capable of (e.g. training for a 4:00 marathon when you’re capable of 3:20).

If you’re nailing every workout, every mileage goal, every single aspect of your training week after week and feeling like garbage, well, guess what. You’re probably on the verge of overtraining. And if you’re overtraining you will soon find your training interrupted because of burnout or injury.

Remember the cardinal rule of running improvement:

Hard work + Consistency + Patience  => Improvement

Yes, hard work is a fundamental component of improvement, but it will not make you a better runner without the other two parts: consistency over the long term (the patience thing).  Training log perfection emphasizes the hard work part to the detriment of the other parts and that does not equal the performance improvements we all ultimately seek.

[pullquote] As my coach told me, “Salty, your training plan is just a guide.” Just a guide. Remember that! [/pullquote]

Training log perfection is not a hallmark of good training. If anything, it’s a good indication something is off with yours.

When it’s Ok to Deviate from the Plan and Be Imperfect?

We should always strive for perfection in our training logs. There’s nothing wrong with that. But there are signs that suggest to maintain consistency (i.e. avoid overtraining or injury) we sometimes need to deviate from our perfect plans.

1. Workouts. I always say try your workout. Even if you have a cold, didn’t sleep well, or whatever your excuse du jour is. Try it. Even if you feel like death warmed over on the warm-up sometimes the workout goes really well. Heck, sometimes the first tempo miles or intervals are awful, but later in the workout things turn around. Give it a chance. However, here are signs it’s time to get imperfect and deviate from your plan:

  • You find yourself quitting when you normally wouldn’t.
  • You have to give yourself way more of a pep talk than usual.
  • You are physically hurting and it’s not improving with a warm-up, is altering your stride or feels like an injury.
  • Running feels torturous even just mentally.
  • And most indicative, you feel like you’re putting in the correct effort but you are way off of goal pace.

How you modify the workout depends on the reason. Injured or burned out? Skip it. Feeling ok, but your effort is not matching goal pace? Go with it and just do the workout slower than prescribed.

Basketball goal
Don’t waste all your slam dunks for training. Save some for race day. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2. Mileage Goals. Similarly, with weekly mileage goals, don’t assume the goal is out the window because you can’t squeeze in as many  (or any) miles on any given day of the week. Sometimes opportunities for miles present themselves later in the week, but even if they don’t, it’s not a big deal! One day of fewer easy miles during the week won’t hurt you. Heck, one unplanned down week won’t hurt you either if you need it. Here’s how to know when to cut back on your miles or take some time off:

  • You feel unusually exhausted, mentally burned out or seriously dreading your runs.
  • Fitting in your miles is stressing you out and negatively impacting the rest of your life.
  • You are physically in pain and the pain does not improve while running, alters your stride, keeps you up at night, makes you cranky, does not seem to be improving or feels like a full blown injury.
  • Running feels torturous even just mentally.

Again, how you modify your mileage goals depends on the reason for the modification. If it’s a minor ache or pain or minor mental burnout, then maybe a few shorter runs instead of longer runs will be enough to nip it in the bud. Full-blown injuries or overtraining will require extended time off.

It’s not easy for some of us to admit it’s ok to be imperfect, but for the sake of our long term progress it is not only ok, it’s necessary to be imperfect runners sometimes.

Are you a current or recovering training log perfectionist?  How do you know when you need to be imperfect and deviate from your training plan?

 

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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4 comments

  1. The cardinal rule of running improvement fails to include one of the most important elements of the equation, i.e., REST. Add scheduled rest to the plan and most of the issues describe never rear their unattractive heads. And any plan without rest as an integral feature is probably a plan needing revision.

    1. Good point! I might need to work that into the calculation – I think I just had it as an assumption, but as we all know we can’t assume runners or training plans will include the necessary recovery measures!

  2. Great post – and I can definitely relate. When I first started writing for Salty Running I was actually really worried about the training log part because I am also a recovering training log perfectionist. But I vowed to myself I’d post every week, even if I’d had a crappy week and things didn’t look impressive or as good as what everyone else was posting. And I’ve done it, and actually it’s helped me recover further from being a training log perfectionist because guess what? Nothing bad has happened even though I’ve posted some pretty unimpressive training weeks! It’s fine, and everyone has them. 🙂

  3. I used to be a “training log” runner meaning that my running self worth came down to how well I executed to the plan. My race times were so so during this time period.

    It is when I learned to adjust and as a result had to adjust paces due to weather or how I felt is when my race times started coming down dramatically. Training at the right intensity and consistency over the long haul is the key to success.

    You brought up a lot of good points. I see to many people struggling to make sure they hit the paces in their plan when the weather is unfavorable or they are just off that day. As a result, they over reach and usually end up getting injured or burnt out. Or even worse, their training log looks really good, but their race times come nowhere close to what the training paces indicated.