Training journals and success: How planning and chronicling your workouts makes you a better athlete

By Christopher Cudworth

Click pic to enlarge. An outtake from my training journal leading into senior year at Luther College. I met the stated goals because I envisioned them first. Even the social components are important in the life of an athlete.

Click pic to enlarge. An outtake from my training journal leading into senior year at Luther College. I met the stated goals because I envisioned them first. Even the social components are important in the life of an athlete.

In ramping up for any athletic competition, planning and preparation are key. But so is recording how training leads to success.

These days with a host of digital options to record your workouts, the handwritten training journal might not be as popular or necessary as it once was. But I encourage you to consider it. There is something about seeing your workouts written in your own hand that makes it all so real, and so memorable. Even the social comments are an important part of the mix.

A training journal plays a number of roles in the life of an athlete. Even if you are being coached, the process of recording your workouts fixes them in your mind. You write it down, then you make it happen. There’s a certain control that comes from that. In endurance sports where control is not always possible, that bit of assurance can be quite valuable.

The reasons for successful training and racing are not always evident when you’re living the experience. Step back a few months or years and you can see the patterns for success emerge. Seeing your mileage patterns and times is excellent feedback on what you need to do to build endurance or speed.

Of course some of that feedback needs to be adjusted as the years add up. You’re not going to run the same workouts at 50 as you were able to do when you were 20. But you can do the same TYPES of workouts adjusted for pace and recovery. Many athletes are able to sustain high quality performance as they age because they learn how to manage their training efforts in context of their “body years.” Athletes in their 40s and 50s need to allow more time for rest and recovery than athletes in their 20s and 30.

Recording your workouts during rest periods is as important as those written down during peak efforts. Sure, it feels much more gratifying to write down “10K PR” than it does to write “6 miles easy. Felt sore.” But on any given day your efforts are relative.

My journal from 1978 records the anticipation felt at the start of the most important season of my career thus far. It reads: “This season we have 13 meets in 2 months and 1 week’s time.”

Already the foundations for success are being laid. “With over 2500 miles of training within a year’s time…350 miles this summer.” In truth I never trained too hard in the short period between the end of May and track nationals and the start of August when cross country training began. Usually the month of June was little more than soft jogging after 4 months of training for indoor and outdoor track.

July held a few longer runs in the heat. Then the ramp up began in August.

In this journal mileage jumps up quickly. I attended a college RA retreat at Bethel Horizons north of Governor Dodge State Park in Wisconsin. The hills and beauty were inspiring, and I shot from 33 miles to 80 in a fit of inspired running. Part of that mystique was that I’d fallen in love at first site with a green-eyed girl in the moonlight.

Love is good for runners. Having a record of it is precious.

That fall I’d move from 7th man to running in the top 3 most of the season. “My goal is to compete as 3rd man or above,” I wrote. “Track season indicated I am capable.” A journal helps you build confidence. Writing down your goals is key. It builds the commitment you need to endure the training.

“Staying healthy is the number one concern,” I wrote. “Stay fit comes second.”

YOU BEGIN TO BELIEVE IN YOURSELF BY FINISHING WHAT YOU HAVE STARTED is what I wrote at the top of one journal page.

YOU BEGIN TO BELIEVE IN YOURSELF BY FINISHING WHAT YOU HAVE STARTED is what I wrote at the top of one journal page.

I’d learned lessons the hard way, you see. The natural ups and downs you experience in endurance sports can put you at risk of colds or injuries. In fact that fall our entire team came up lame with sort achilles tendons from a speed workout on a cambered road. The whole season was at risk of coming apart 6 weeks into the competitive schedule. The Top 7 all took a trip to a doctor at the Mayo Clinic. This was before the age of good biomechanics understanding. But we all bought Brooks shoes with a camber to them and it worked. But my prediction about injuries was prescient.

Before the season I’d written. “13 meets. I can be ready for each one. This is my last cross country season. Eight years of getting ready. I can honestly say I’ve never been more prepared. Ready for once.”

That last statement was a loaded one. It shows the pressures I was willing (and needed) to put on myself. My first three seasons had produced mixed results in college. Freshman year I was All Conference in 9th place and competed at Nationals. Sophomore year was only slightly better. Junior year was a tragic attempt to work through depression brought on by a horrid summer job working in a paint factory where the fumes vexed my lungs and the verbal abuse was devastating. That season did not go well.

But the summer after that was revelatory. I cut off my long hair and got contact lenses. Had a little summer romance and put in some happy miles while working a no-brainer job as a janitor at a high rise. Circumstances really do make the man sometimes.

But the man also makes the circumstances. You need to remember that. A training journal is a great way to put your circumstances in perspective and to someday learn what it was that made you successful once before. So that you can be successful again.

It’s even more important for multi-sport athletes to keep a journal. As I’ve gravitated toward cycling the last 10 years, I wish I’d kept better records of my training. Because as a result of not doing so, my summer almost melted me a couple years ago when I overtrained. I wound up washed out and exhausted. Yet my response was to train even harder, putting in long miles on weekends and squeezing in quick hourlong rides during the week. I should have known that overtraining does nothing but kill your hopes.

Now that swimming is part of the mix, I’m picking up a training journal again. As I bent over the water the other day between 25 meter intervals, the method I’m using to build muscle strength in swimming, I could see the patterns of my breath on the bottom of the pool. The depth of that zen moment struck me. We’re all trying to reach deep within ourselves. It helps to record what’s happening on the surface, but also down to our very toes. A journal can help you do that. And remember. And learn. And succeed.

The discipline you learn from sports is transferable, of course. Keeping a journal for business purposes can be just as telling in terms of how you plan for success, and accomplish your goals.

We’re all running and riding through life in one way or another.

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About Christopher Cudworth

Christopher Cudworth is a content producer, writer and blogger with more than 25 years’ experience in B2B and B2C marketing, journalism, public relations and social media. Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @gofast and blogs at werunandride.com, therightkindofpride.com and at 3CCreativemarketing.com. Online portfolio: http://www.behance.net/christophercudworth
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