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Can A Training Log Hurt Your Running?

Improvement isn’t about hitting a big workout, how many miles you can cram into a week or "competing" against others.

Improvement isn’t about hitting a big workout, how many miles you can cram into a week or “competing” against others. 

Whether it’s as traditional as pen and paper or one of the myriad of fancy online apps and websites, the benefits of keeping a training log are well-known by many experienced runners. Setting goals, tracking injuries, seeking motivation, analyzing numbers: the data provided by a well-kept training log can be extremely useful when implemented correctly.

However, is there a downside to keeping a detailed training log? Could it be possible that your meticulous and beloved log is actually the cause of your latest injury, bout of overtraining and poor race results?

In my experience an an athlete and coach, if you’re a veteran runner whose motivation is already quite high, it’s possible your training log is hindering your progression. For all their benefits, training logs can possess potential drawbacks, as well. Let’s take a look at how to keep a training log without letting it control your training.

RELATED: Looking Behind The Training Log

Train With Purpose

Have you ever added miles on to a warmup or cooldown to make sure you hit your mileage total for the week? Or, have you ever run through an injury because you couldn’t face not logging the workout or seeing your weekly mileage grow? You’re not alone!

Unfortunately, many experienced runners often let their training log and an obsession with the numbers in it control their training. Rather than listening to your body and making rational decisions about how you feel, training becomes more about adding up the numbers and watching the impressive workouts fill up the training log. To make long-term progress, however, and have more consistent, healthy, and productive training, it might be time to ditch the log and start listening to your body.

RELATED: Why You Should Keep A Workout Log

Remember, every run should have a purpose. Sometimes, not keeping a log helps you better align your training with the specific purpose of each workout.

  • When you’re exhausted and forcing yourself through a long workout, stop and consider whether the workout is accomplishing what it’s designed to do or whether you’re just trying to finish so you can log it.
  • If you’re shuffling through a recovery run and feeling sore or fatigued, don’t push the distance just so you can hit your miles for the week.
  • When you feel an injury coming on, don’t stress about the blank day in your training log and give your body the rest it needs. You won’t lose any fitness, but you might save yourself having to take a week off down the road due to a full-blown injury.

Avoid Compulsion

Keeping a detailed log can be a way to enable an already obsessive activity. Runners are a compulsive group by their very nature. Moreover, the drive to get faster and push the limits of your potential is often an intoxicating addiction. Most days, finding the motivation to get out the door isn’t a problem for an experienced runner. For newer runners, however, using a training log to help spark the desire to get out the door each day can be critical to their overall development.

Regardless of your experience level, it’s important to exercise caution when using a training log. Tracking your training can quickly become less about examining long-term trends and more about trivial training details. Focusing on trivial things such as streaks, hitting X amount of miles in a week, etc., can easily turn running from a fun activity to a stressful part of your life.

Becoming too caught up in the minutia of training can oftentimes be a detriment to race performance. It’s already too easy to get so nervous before a race that performance is inhibited. Adding the stress of a missed core session in the training log or being short a few miles for the week can ruin your race before it starts.

Competition and Rewards

Training log websites and mobile phone apps have made keeping a detailed log easier and a lot more fun. These fun features, however, can often exacerbate the potential downfalls of keeping a log.

Earning badges, collecting points, and competing with friends is a great way to stay motivated and a nice reward for training you already intend to do, but it can also magnify the desire to do certain workouts so that your log looks good, rather than focus on what’s the best way to get fitter and stay healthy. It can be tempting to extend your running streak to keep your “streaking runner” badge alive, or to add on miles to keep up with your virtual running partners.

There’s nothing wrong with using rewards and competition to help motivate you on those days when training is chore. However, be careful that your training log doesn’t become about impressing your friends. Focus on healthy, consistent training.

Keeping a training log isn’t a bad thing when it fulfills its intended use – analyzing historical trends of training data and providing feedback for how to improve your training and fitness. Examine the patterns of training that have led to injuries or analyze your key workouts and note how you felt before your best races. Don’t stress over not hitting a weekly mileage total or having a few blank days in your calendar. Improvement isn’t about hitting a big workout or how many miles you can cram into a week. It’s about logging month after month, of healthy, consistent training.

Keep these concepts and potential pitfalls in mind as you record and analyze your runs this year and remember to train for your body, not the log.