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Use a Training Log to Optimize Your Running

Two people wearing On apparel run past a brick wall

When it comes to your longevity and health as a runner, one of the best tools you can use is a training log. Simply put, it’s a way to track the aspects of your training that matter most to you. From your weekly mileage to your nutrition plan, your log is a personal resource to help you monitor training progress, work toward goals, and jog your memory about what worked for you and what didn’t. Your training log can be any type of format, digital or hand-written.

It’s easy these days to automatically upload data from a GPS running watch to a digital log, but the key is to supplement data with your own insights. Once you pick a tracking method and stick with it, you will have a unique resource at your fingertips to examine and improve your training.

How to use a training log to become a better runner:

A runner clicks through the screens on a Garmin Forerunner 645 Music GPS running watch

1. Get motivated. Start with a goal. Choose a race, put it on the calendar and start working toward it with a strategic training plan. A good training log gives you a place to plan ahead, log your progress and look back at prior training. Not everything will go according to your plan, but it is important to have one as a guide. Research shows that simply writing down your goals makes you more likely to pursue and accomplish them. Sharing them with others increases the likelihood of success, too, so create your plan with the help of a coach, a training group, a book or an online program.

Can social media make you a faster runner? Many runners gain motivation when they see other runners’ workouts and know that theirs will be seen as well. If you log workouts on a social network like Strava or Garmin Connect, other runners will see where you went and how fast. Use resources like these to get yourself out the door when the weather is bad or when you need extra incentive to get started.

2. Monitor progress. As you watch the distance add up in your log, you’ll build confidence and improve your memory of what you have accomplished. You’ll want to include information like completed distance, time, pace, and any weight training, cross-training or rest days. Keep a running tally of the miles or minutes for each week. This makes it easy to see training load at a glance. Aside from the hard data, the most important addition is to take notes. These can be simple statements about how you felt, including energy levels and any aches and pains. Your notes allow you to track your training load and make appropriate changes as needed.

3. Learn from patterns. As you take notes, see what patterns emerge in your training. Perhaps you find that you need an extra day to recovery between speed workouts and long runs, or that you always feel better if you eat a banana before your run. Play around with your training and keep good notes. You may be amazed by the insights that emerge when you pay attention.

4. Track tweaks and injuries. If your calves are tight after a tough speed workout, make a note. If your hip hurts after a long run, write it down. It may be the start of an injury—or not. Keeping notes will help you see when a problem emerged, what you did to manage it and whether your actions made a difference. Your notes will also help you communicate with a physical therapist or coach to figure out the right way to address the problem. Then you can use your notes to learn from the past if the pain returns.

5. Create clear benchmarks from races and tough workouts. Races are the days when you test your training. They give you official data on a measured course, which offers the strongest insight to your training progress. Take extra notes on and around race day. How difficult did the race feel? What did you eat that morning? Did you run your hardest or could you have dug a little deeper? When you prepare for your next race you can examine your prior approach and tweak your plan accordingly.

6. Manage your mindset. Many runners get nervous before racing. While nerves and stress can wreak havoc on performance, adrenaline will work to your advantage if you manage it well. I like to write in my log about how I feel mentally and physically leading up to a race in order to keep my perspective in check. If I feel sluggish on a pre-race warm-up but still pull off a strong effort, it’s a reminder that I always have more in the tank than I think. Instead of giving in to negativity before the race starts, I can remind myself, “This is how my body feels sometimes when I’m nervous. I am ready to have a great race today.”

Your log can also help you manage stress all throughout the year. Maybe you notice that stressful work weeks make you too tired to run at the end of the day. Use this insight to adjust your training schedule. You may have more success as a morning runner and increase productivity at work, too.

A group of runners cross a bridge during a race

7. Optimize rest and recovery. Many GPS watches will track your sleep duration and quality. This is useful data to include in your training log, with little extra effort. Rest and recovery are the foundation for better running, so monitor these and make them a priority.

All of these insights can be helpful, but let’s be real. You may not have time to track every single one of these things every day. There are plenty of hacks out there to help track your running without it feeling like an extra job.

8. If you’re low on time but want to see the data. Run with a GPS watch and upload runs into a program like Garmin Connect or Strava. These digital logs are easy and convenient to use. Automatically upload data on your pace, route, heart rate and other useful insights. The data, of course, will depend on your which GPS running watch you wear and its capabilities.

Many watches offer stats on your resting and active heart rate, daily steps, stress level and hours slept. If you keep your watch on at all times, you can get tons of information without having to do much work. Online programs allow you to edit your runs and add notes. Give your runs titles to make them memorable. Designate workouts and races to help them stand out in your log. Add any insights that may be useful in the future, and feel free to make your comments private if you don’t want them to be seen by others.

9. Write by hand. Good news: studies suggest that taking notes by hand has stronger links to memory than typing. When it comes to style, a weekly or monthly calendar layout will keep things organized and let you review training cycles at a glance. There are plenty of options out there to purchase, including this Nathan training log. The format allows you to start using it any time, so no pages are wasted if you begin mid-year or take a long break from training.

Whichever method you choose to document your training, pick a consistent format so your information is easy to find. Many runners like a combination of a digital log and a separate calendar or notebook for more detailed notes. Whatever you like, take good notes and have fun out there!


By Kate Schwartz. Schwartz has been running competitively for 20 years, and she currently runs with the Asheville Running Collective. She lives in Asheville, NC, with her husband, Alex, and their cat, Clementine.

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