The very first entry I made in an official logbook was this note in the little yellow Notes app on an iPhone 4:
Execution Log 2013
Week from 05/13/13 to 05/19/13
MON: 11 miles @ 8 min. rhythm, 5×60 accelerations, 10 minutes of base
I know because I saved that little note, along with years of training logs since then, in a Google Doc on my computer. For anyone who is not a runner, it may seem strange, even excessive, to save a training diary. But, lately, I have found these precautions necessary. Why? After almost eight years of using an online third-party website called Athleticore, I encountered this error message.
Created by competitive triathlete Nick Frank in 2004, Athleticore is now a fairly antiquated virtual platform for running clubs and individuals to track their training, workouts, and schedules. Over the years, most of its users have since moved to more modern platforms. Luckily, after a good deal of hunting on the LetsRun forums (you can check out the full thread here) those of us who stayed on Athleticore were able to contact Nick. He replied that we would all have a chance to get our logs back before the site officially closed in April. Huge sigh of relief.
I trained in log limbo for about two months, trying to figure out where to log my next runs and testing several different apps and websites to see which one I liked best. Despite the inherent risk of putting data on the internet, I prefer to use an online journal, and have since found one that works for me. (One big difference is that, unlike Athleticore, it has an optional mobile app that gives me another level of backup.) Still, I had some time to consider whether we really should entrust our data to third-party sites that could close their doors? Or is the safer option still something physical?
Online or on paper
The irony of it all is that in deciding how to track everything from the start, I actually chose an online option for fear of losing or damaging a laptop. If you travel a lot and your workout log will spend a decent amount of time in places other than on a safe shelf, this is something to consider. And while current research shows that consciously slowing down and putting pen to paper can be very beneficial in the long run, I prefer typing quickly on a keyboard. The best training diary will vary from runner to runner; it really depends on your personal preferences and what aspects are most important to you.
The options above have dedicated fields to track your effort level, mileage, preferred routes, PRs, and more. Some even offer additional workout tips and pace conversion tables. Of course, a monthly appointment planner, marble composition book, or spiral-bound journal will do just as well if you want something simpler. You can even find ones that are tear and weather resistant.
Private or social?
While digital sites like Strava are great as a social network for sharing what you’re up to, I wasn’t interested in giving or receiving kudos or earning segments. Athleticore had a squad-based format that felt more private. Sure, there was a leaderboard, but I could easily overlook that, unlike a timeline of updates you’d see immediately upon logging in. Knowing my past tendency to get stuck in training comparison traps, I wanted my run journal to remain a place where I kept my mileage to myself. Most of the time it’s just a quick note of time and distance. Other times it was an intimate, even therapeutic space to discuss mid-run ideas and how I felt, or who I ran with and where we then had coffee.
Simple or Complex?
I appreciate the simplicity in a running log – that’s part of the reason I stuck with Athleticore despite its sometimes glitchy interface. It worked well enough for me, and for stubborn Athlecore enthusiasts like me who didn’t even want an auto-upload feature. The websites below are free and easy to use, but they also have space to add more details about how you felt and the specifics of your workout. Even the simplest options here will let you keep tabs on your PRs, run history, favorite routes, past injuries, and current issues.
The training logs above have specific fields for noting things like what you wore in different weather conditions and which pre-race snacks digested well (or which didn’t). You choose how much information you want to fill in for each run. My only major requirement was for the site to have the ability to track the mileage of my shoes, and all of these options do that automatically.
No matter what, keep a backup
At best, if a newspaper stops or changes its functionality for something you don’t like, you can simply transfer your data to another platform. At worst, you could lose years of information while running. So what’s the best way to keep your diary safe? If you are using a GPS watch, all of your actual GPS files may be backed up by the manufacturer’s site or app. (Garmin Connect, for example.) This gives you the digital side of things like distance, time, and maybe even elevation gain and heart rate.
If you do a lot of journaling with each entry, it’s not realistic to print and file everything. To save your writings and race reports, consult the services offered by the digital training diary that interests you. Most sites have a ‘bulk download’ or ‘export’ feature, use it! The safest option is to keep a second version of your journal that only you (not a third-party website) can access. Whether it’s an old-fashioned Excel spreadsheet, an exported file saved on your computer, or a plain paper journal, just make sure that you are those who control it.