Handwritten Running Logs

Handwritten running logs are quickly becoming obsolete. With computer programs like Microsoft Word and Excel and online websites and platforms such as Strava and Running2Win, there are an increasing number of options available to runners of all levels. And, in this technological age where convenience and centralization are key, the handwritten log is losing out big time. Writing by hand takes more time. The information is not as readily available. The book is a physical item you have to bring with you and keep track of. But despite these drawbacks, I can honestly say I will keep a handwritten running log from now until the end of my running days.

I get a new running log for every season. I never make it through all the pages of any given log, but while the idea of having all these blank, wasted pages at the end of each log does annoy me slightly, having one season span two different logs would actually drive me crazy. The processes of selecting a new log is actually quite involved, as I am incredibly particular about what types of notebooks are adequate for the logging of runs and thoughts and such.

First and foremost, it MUST be a spiral notebook. I have nightmares of struggling to write in those horrendous black and white composition books they forced us all to buy in elementary school. I swear I had to put my entire body weight into keeping both sides flat long enough for me to scribble down my misspelled, grammatically incorrect thoughts. Second, it can’t be a full-sized notebook, it has to be a little notebook, preferably one with the same dimensions as my previous log and the log before that and so on. My log comes with me when I travel, so having it be compact and purse-friendly is essential. I also just think little notebooks are cute. Third, it has to be hardcover. I am not a flimsy person. My runs are not flimsy. To record the details of my training in a flimsy notebook, one susceptible to bending and fraying and all manners of decay would be simple unacceptable.

And finally, the lines of the notebook have to be within an acceptable range. If the lines are too small, I feel obligated to write a lot in order to avoid more of the aforementioned bothersome blank, wasted space. But if the lines are too big, I feel like a kindergartener writing on that paper with the absurdly large lines. It’s a very fine distinction, one that goes far beyond the categories of ‘college’ or ‘wide-rule’, and it takes a trained eye to know which is which. But even if a notebook does meet all of the above criteria, it still might not make the cut. It has to just feel right. I can’t quite put into words what exactly I mean by that statement, all I know is that I have picked up notebooks in the past with all of the right technical attributes, only to know instantly that it could never contain my innermost thoughts and training experiences.

Not going to lie, I have literally spent like 30 minutes in a Barnes and Nobles trying to decide which one to get. I’ll stare at them all for a while, pick them up and inspect them, maybe leave the store and come back later. It’s a long process indeed, and I fully acknowledge that carrying it out twice a year might classify me as slightly crazy, but for me, it’s an important part of beginning a fresh season.

When it comes to what ends up being written in said carefully selected running log, the process is again involved and a bit unconventional. I know for many people, a running log is simply a place to keep track of the numbers – miles, minutes, workout splits and all other sorts of training data – but for me it goes a lot further than that. To another person, I imagine my running log simply looks like a typical journal. The only readily discernible numbers appear at the top – the week and day of training I’m in, the date, and the number of miles I ran in total that day.

All other training data is embedded in the paragraph form entry I write every day. Every entry more or less starts with me stating how I generally felt that day, whether physically or mentally or both. Words like good, great, and flying are typically used on good days, whereas words such as awful, crap, and garbage might be used to describe a particularly bad day. If it was an easy run day, I might go on to talk about how those feeling changed throughout the course of the run; maybe my legs loosened up or the emotional stress I carried when I started faded away. If I did a workout that day, I will detail how it went from start to finish, from the warmup to the cool down. I’ll break the workout down by set and write in my splits for the individual reps. I’ll mention how I remembered feeling during each set, specifically highlighting moments where I felt either confident and relaxed or overwhelmed and tense.

I know to a lot of people it may seem absolutely crazy to record everything in such detail, but honestly it has been an integral part of my training over the last 4 years. Running is so much more than just numbers. I am so much more than my mileage and PR’s. To record only the bare bones data everyday would, in my eyes, be an admission that it’s OK for me to define and judge myself on those numbers alone.

Aside from going against my moral running compass, not keeping a detailed running log would also rob me of an essential tool I use in my training – learning from the past. Sometimes when I look back at a season that I largely consider a success, I romanticize my training in my head – everything came so easily, all my workouts went great, my progression was a perfectly linear, upward trend. When I read back through my training logs, though, I realize that was never the case. I remember how hard it was in the beginning, and how I struggled sometimes to reach new places in my training. I realize that, while the general trend is loosely upward, there were a number of plateaus and drop-offs along the way. I can remember times where I felt terrible all day but ended up having an incredible workout, or weeks where I had an off workout on Wednesday only to come back on Saturday and have an awesome race. Being able to take such an accurate glimpse into the past provides me with guidance and perspective as I continue along with my training. My running logs give me the strength and confidence to trust in myself and my training and the process and keep pushing forward.

I believe the most successful people in this sport are the ones who know themselves the best. They know their weaknesses and strengths. They know their body and how to listen to it. They understand, better than anyone in the world, what they need to focus on in their training.

A running log that contains my thoughts and feelings and tells my story allows me to better understand myself and be the best runner I can be.

And so with the fall 2016 season just around the corner, my task for this weekend is to go out and find the book that will become the next chapter of my story.