A running journal keeps you on track and charts progress

Credit: Nathan Bilow/Allsport
It's an inevitable question that comes up among runners. "How many miles a week are you doing?" The reply seems to slip out so easily from runners' mouths: "Forty miles last week," they'll answer with confidence, then flip the question right back. "How about you?"

For runners who can answer this question only by saying "I run until I'm tired" or who run according to the time on their watches, it's time to organize your running life with a journal. A running log is a great way to record mileage while observing your habits and your routine.

It's human nature to be competitive, not only against everyone else in the race, but even against ourselves. You can take your workout to the next level by recording how much you ran a certain week, month or year. You will be motivated to run faster and cover more distance by looking at your data. Over time, you will have a written chronicle noting your progress, and you will see an improvement in your running times and distances.

If you are computer-savvy and want to keep track of your miles by using your PC, you can download free running logs from a search for "running logs" on the Internet. Runner's World magazine offers a popular training log software program that prints charts to monitor performance for free with a subscription.

If you don't want to go the cyber route, use a notebook and jot down the days of the week on the side of the paper, then list your headings across the top. A suggestion is to include distance, time, route, how you felt, any aches or pains and the weather. Be sure to leave room to report on the little things in life that are important, too.

Include entries like "I wore the neon green running shorts that I bought off the clearance rack, and I don't know what I was thinking. Not worth the $12.99," or "Only three weeks until my first 10K and I'm NERVOUS," or "Ow, ow, ow! My knee hurt as I ran down Heartbreak Hill."

It will be fun (and surprisingly informative) to look back in a month, a year or even a few years down the road to see where in life you were at that point, running-wise and in other aspects.

Runner Kate Langstaff, a 27-year-old development associate, keeps a journal. She says her running log motivates her to feel good about the form of exercise that she has chosen and her accomplishments.

"I like to look back at the race times that I achieved, friends that I have run with and the horrible snowy or rainy weather that I have run through," she says. "Looking back at the journal triggers lots of good memories and motivates me to run more."

Mike Penttila, a 48-year-old engineer, has kept his running log for as long as he?s been a runner more than 20 years.

"I refer back to it quite often to see how long I've run with a certain pair of shoes, how long a particular loop is, the progress I make in improving my time on the loops that I run, my general impressions of my health that day and what the weather is like," Penttila says.

He also likes to add some personal touches, such as a birthday or spending time doing something "really neat or new" with Alec, his 2-year-old son.

Your log will become a part of your running life, so be creative and include as many or as few details as you want with the specifics that matter to you. You'll enjoy looking back and seeing something out of the ordinary in your log. Langstaff says she adds a personal touch by listing the number of runners she sees.

"I count them to keep my brain occupied," she says. "I sometimes write down the names of dogs or friends that run with me. I add running quotes, clips from running articles, magazine pictures and photos of me at races on the pages opposite from my writing."

Penttila uses his log to record all his exercise, not just running.

"I put in days I ride my bike, swim, walk the dogs or hike," he says. "My information consists of the date and time, what kind of activity, what equipment I used [for example, a different pair of running shoes or my mountain or road bike], mileage and time duration. Lately I've been using a heart-rate monitor, so I keep track of the time above the zone, below, in and the average. I also keep track of my resting heart rate and my weight.

"Many things contribute to a great run," he says, "and keeping track of certain data such as weather and general health helps you to understand conditions and replicate them."

The next time someone asks you how many miles you are doing, you'll know the exact number not only for your last week of running, but also for the months and, eventually, years before. You will have a record of an important part of your life, which can be a valuable tool in training for races, preventing or pinpointing the causes of injuries and determining what type of workout is most successful for you.

Anne K. Kymalainen is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer specializing in outdoor recreation.

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