The power of the pen (or the keyboard)

I have discovered something about myself and I suspect I am not alone – I need to write things down to really get my head around them. If I don’t I tend to imagine things are better (or occasionally worse) than they really are and that is not a good platform from which to progress. This weekend I have had a few moments where I realised that I may have been deluding myself and if I want to make changes I have to see the reality and then work from there. Time to start making lists.

Training diary

It might surprise you to know that I have never successfully kept a training diary. I have started many times, but I can never work out whether paper or electronic is better and if electronic wins, whether it should be on my laptop or online. This means that I don’t have an accurate record of the training I have done which I think is pretty poor.

So I have decided to give DailyMile a go. I like the simple user interface and there is a nice iPhone app that I can use to add runs to my total. It is also really easy to see how much running I have done. You can see my profile here if you like!

And that was my first surprise. Last week (week commencing 22 October) I ran 40 miles. Had you asked me, I would have guessed at more like 50 miles (possibly even more!) I knew that I had taken two days off because of work commitments and had a planned rest day, so I missed two days – maybe 20 miles in total. But seeing the stats in all their (in)glory really made me take note. I am not the 70 mile per week runner that I imagine I am.

If you want to know where you are in your training, you must keep a record. Whether that is an excel spreadsheet on your computer or an online service like the one I am using (there are dozens of them!) or a folder with sheets of paper in it, you cannot progress until you know what you are already doing. Please join me and start – today – recording what you are doing.

Food diary

The realisation that I am not running as much as I thought I am, then made me think about food. I love food and I love eating. In fact I would say that I might be rather addicted to it. But I probably eat like a 70 mile per week runner and as we have established, I am not that.

The problem here is the casual availability of food. I remember coming back from a three week trek in the Peruvian Andes with Mrs. F. and remarking on how lean I looked and felt. A combination of low-level exercise for hours on end trekking every day and a relative scarcity of food (you’d be surprised at how few fast-food places and convenience stores there are at 5000m in the Andes!) meant that I felt better than ever.

But back here, there is always a well-stocked kitchen and innumerable opportunities to buy more food just around the corner. So I eat. And I don’t record what I eat. I think that it is highly unlikely that I stick to the recommended guidelines for calorie intake – I’m a 70 mile per week runner after all! – and I have no idea at all what my food intake breaks down in terms of fat – carbs – protein. It’s probably far too much sugar in cakes and biscuits and processed carbs (like pasta and bread).

So I am going to start keeping a food diary. That, I’ve decided, will be a notebook which I will try to carry wherever I go. I will also use a note taking app on my iPhone to record anything I eat when I don’t have my note book. There are two reasons for choosing paper in this case – (1) I have yet to find an app that does what I want and (2) I am rather shy about how much I eat (a legacy from my chunkier days!) so I don’t want to go public just yet. But I’m sure I’ll share what I discover along the way.

I think that knowing what I eat will be very useful when it comes to working out where I can improve. I also suspect that forcing myself to write down what I eat will lead me away from temptation, thus improving my diet at the same time as recording it. We will see I suppose.

Running plan

This is an area where I am not so bad and it is a joint exercise, so I have help. It is essential that all runners sketch out their plans for the running at least six months and ideally more like 18 months in advance. This is a classic case of needing to know where you are going so you can work out how to get there. For many runners, especially those just starting out, it is enough that they just run from time to time and maybe enter races that their friends are running.

But as soon as you start to really challenge yourself, a plan is required. Time slips past inexorably and if you want to break a time barrier in a marathon or half-marathon or do a triathlon or Ironman or tackle an ultramarathon, you need to put the date for that endeavor in the diary and work backwards to today, plotting your training and races all the way: you need to factor in family holidays, work trips, friends stag weekends and you have to make sure you book the races you want to do well in advance before they fill up and you are left wondering what to do now! Having a plan will also allow you to adapt when unexpected things come up – if you know where you are going, you can always plot another route.

As I mentioned, my running plan is a joint effort with my coach, Nick Anderson from RunningWithUs. We sit and discuss what the next challenge is going to be and work out the steps to get to that, including any races I really want to do and other commitments I have. If you are not doing that, I suggest you get started now and one place to get some resources that could help you plan is the RunLounge where you can sign up for training programmes tailored to your race date and distance.

The future is bright… or at least mapped

So there you have it. I think that what can be measured can be managed, whether that is your progress towards a running goal or your diet. I am going to focus on measuring three things and I will report back on how I get on.

But please let me know – what do you measure? How do you measure it? And what benefits have you seen as you have measured your progress… I’d really like to know!

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About simon

I run marathons. Everything else is a result of that.

5 Responses to “The power of the pen (or the keyboard)”

  1. Richard Lyle October 29, 2012 at 10:10 am #

    My training logs are on RunKeeper where I’ve logged all my runs almost since the very beginning and now on Fetch which is where I keep my training plans. I also log my runs on the Garmin Connect site from which I export them to RunKeeper.

    It’s a bit of a faff but I need backups in case records get lost from one site or another. The thing is though that I record all this information and then don’t really do anything with it. Fetch allows all sorts of analysis but I tend to train a bit, race a bit, train too much, race too much and then spend a few weeks on the injury bench. Somewhere in all those data are the signs which will help me train and race well without hurting myself. I just don’t know how to look for it.

    Well, it’s there and in the way I feel when I’m running. Basically, if I’m training well and racing hard then I’m about to get an injury.

  2. Jim October 29, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

    The best website to track your diet is livestrong.com myplate. You can track using iPhone, iPad and your computer and it all syncs. For tracking my runs I use garminconnect.

    I have two marathons next year one in June the other in October. Which training program have you used in the past that was a breakthrough program?

  3. Jane October 30, 2012 at 10:34 pm #

    Hi Simon – interesting reflections. I track my training on the plans my coach sends me and when I track a Food Diary, which I don’t do all the time, I use the tracker on http://www.nutracheck.co.uk because the database is very practical and easy to use.

    Jim – I made a real breakthrough in my marathon training a few years ago using the FIRST training programme from the Furman Institute

    http://www2.furman.edu/SITES/FIRST/Pages/rlrf.aspx

  4. Jim November 1, 2012 at 1:05 pm #

    Thanks Jane!

  5. HJ McQuarrie November 12, 2012 at 10:11 am #

    Really interesting post, Simon. I have become a real advocate of logging activity over the last year and now keep a rather religious food training log and keep a food diary every few months. Like you say, until I kept an accurate training log I was able to fib to myself that I was running 20+ miles a week in half marathon training. The effect of these little fibs was the firm belief that my inability to meet my running goals was genetic/physical disposition/etc etc. I convinced myself couldn’t improve. But when I started keeping the training log in a last ditch attempt to get faster the truth was there too see: I couldn’t run my goal times because I wasn’t logging the training miles. Similarly, I have been the same weight and size since I was 18 and had convinced myself that I was already at my ‘ideal’ weight. One month of honestly logging my diet and I realised the impact of those Double Deckers and Kerry Gold butter.

    This year, thanks to a training log and occasional food diaries (a fortnight diary from time to time, just to double check I haven’t fallen back into old habits – read: Double Deckers) I have lost over half a stone and knocked 4 mins off my 10K time. Runners all seem to be a bit obsessive, but our obsessions aren’t always entirely rational. We obsessively follow training plans without establishing the reality of our current training load. We embark on spangly new low-carb-high-protein diets without figuring out what our bodies are currently being fed. We criticise our bodies and our sporting abilities unnecessarily and inaccurately all too often.

    In answer to your questions, I use http://www.trainingpeaks.com for my food diary as it can give you pretty good macronutrient information. It’s not the most attractive of websites, but it works. My training log is a google spreadsheet that calculates my weekly mileage and average pace of each run. Feel free to steal: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0ArZ8E-uCgMmidFhTOWhUYTg5T0laRmdJTTE5RGd3MXc

    Can’t wait to read about what races your diaries help you to smash!
    Hannah

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