Why Every Runner Should Keep A Running Log

On May 11th, 2013, I ran my fastest half-marathon. I won the Whistlestop Half Marathon in Ashdown, Arkansas, with a time of 1:29:17.

A few weeks ago, I completed my latest half marathon. I ran 1:35:01, which was the fastest time I’ve run since 2013. After finishing the half, I started wondering what I did differently back in 2013 that had me run my personal best.

So I got on my computer and pulled up my training log from 2013. I looked back through the months leading up to my PB in May. I was able to see the different interval and tempo workouts I had used that led to my 1:29 half marathon.

I was then able to take some of these training principles and fold them into my current training to hopefully improve my time for upcoming races. Being able to look back with a training log, gives us the opportunity to improve.

In this article we will look at:

  • Why Running Logs are Useful and Important
  • The Benefits of Running Logs
  • What You Should Track in Your Running Log
  • What You Should Use to Keep Your Running Log
A person writing in a running log.

Why are running logs useful?

Running logs are a snapshot of what you were doing on a particular day, week, or year. They are a treasure trove of information that can lead to you being a faster, healthier runner.

With running logs you are able to:

  • Look at past training
  • Track mileage so you can safely increase training
  • Track workouts so you can see progress
  • Look back and pinpoint training and/or injuries for future reference

Whether you are an olympian trying to win a gold medal or a new runner trying to finish your first 5k, you should have a running log. Running logs allow you to track your runs and are important for several reasons.

Let’s take a look at the different benefits of running logs:

A cell phone resting on a pair of running shoes and headphones showing a completed run.

Benefits of Running Logs

#1: Allow you to track improvement

What was your pace on the workout you did last month?
What was the longest run you did before your last half marathon?
What pace did you run that tempo at?

If you have a running log, you could answer any of these questions at the turn of a page.

Being able to compare your current training to your past training allows you to see improvement. This is important for the mental aspect of training.

There have been times when I felt my training was not going well, but when I would look back at past running logs I would see that my paces in workouts were faster than they were a few months prior.

Having a running log allows you to track the improvements you are making as you progress in your training.

A person writing in a journal.

#2: Allow you to avoid injury or figure out how you became injured

In 2012, I decided I wanted to run my first 50-mile race. I was routinely doing 10-12 mile runs but decided to start increasing my long runs

Over the course of 6-8 weeks, I jumped to 15 miles, then 20, then a marathon on some trails by myself. Suddenly, it hurt to raise my right leg. My hip flexor was killing me and I had to take a month off.

At the time, I didn’t understand what happened. But when I looked back through my running log, I could see I had made a jump in my long run mileage too quickly which led to an overuse injury.

Your running log can help you plan your weekly mileage so that you build appropriately to avoid injury. You can leave comments on days about aches and pains. 

Seeing the same thing pop up several days in a row is an indication that you may have an injury forming and allow you to take it easy or do preventative work so it doesn’t get worse.

The best way to improve as a runner is to be consistent. Injuries prevent that. So having the ability to prevent injuries or learn from your past mistakes can help keep you healthy and running.

Woman looking at her running on her phone.

#3: Plan future training

To plan your future training, you have to know what you’ve done in your past training. Having a running log allows you to plan your training based on distances and paces that you’ve been running in the most recent training cycle.

Looking at what you’ve run for the past few months will allow you to plan your mileage so that it builds gradually. It will allow you to see what paces your should be aiming for in workouts. It will also let you plan down weeks or off days when you need them.

If you don’t have a running log to look back at, there’s a real chance your could increase your training too much which can lead to plateauing or injury.

What should you track with a running log?

In your running log, you should track what makes the most sense to you. The log is for you (or your coach) and therefore should include metrics that you would like to keep track of and review.

The 3 things that every training log should keep track of are distance, time, and pace.

A woman smiling holding up her phone, proud of her running log.

Distance/Time

Distance and time are the two most common ways of tracking your training. Most plans you find online or will be given by a coach will consist of works defined by one or the other.

Run 3 miles at an easy pace
Run for 20 mins at a moderate pace

Tracking distance or time will be important to ensure you are training properly for your race. For any race distance, you will want to gradually increase the distance or time you are running each week.

Tracking what you do each week allows you to ensure that you are increasing your training in an appropriate manner. Having big jumps in your training can lead to injury.

A close up of an app that says run.

Pace

It’s important to hit a variety of paces when running. You want to stress your aerobic and your anaerobic system. You need easy days and hard days.

The best way to keep track of this and make sure you are training correctly is by recording your pace.

If you have an anaerobic workout or hard day scheduled, you will want to make sure the pace is fast enough to stress your muscles and produce the desired effect.

If an easy day is scheduled, you want to make sure you are running at a pace that will allow your body to recover and be ready for the next hard effort.

One of the biggest mistakes new runners make is running their easy days too hard and their hard days too easy. Tracking your pace in your training log can help ensure each run is achieving its desired outcome

Things like mileage, time, and pace are the big 3 that make the most sense.

But what else can we track?

The beauty of a training log is that it’s yours to customize as you please. You can track metrics that are important to you and leave off things that you don’t feel necessary.

A gps watch.

Here are a few other things you might want to add to your running log:

Comments

  • Snow/ice on run. Slipped a few times. Pace lagged.
  • Wasn’t feeling well so I cut the workout short.
  • The trail had a lot of verticle gain and was somewhat technical.
  • 8×400 w/ 200 rec (90,95,91,91,91,87,89,92), 7×200 w/ 200 rec (41,43,41,41,43,43,40). Lower.

These are all comments pulled from my running log.

Comments can help you understand what happened on a particular day if you or a coach are looking back at your running log.

Why was your pace so slow? Maybe it was because you were running on steep trails which affected your pace.

Want data on how you are improving? Look back at splits from a previous workout and see how you did so you can compare how you are coming along.

A digital schedule on a tablet.

Workouts

As we mentioned in the comments section, recording workouts can be helpful to see how you are improving.

Noting specific workouts and splits from the workout can allow you or your coach to plan future workouts and monitor for improvement or overtraining.

If you ran a set of mile repeats last month at a 7:00 pace and then ran at a 6:45 pace this month, that’s evidence that you are improving.

Weather

Weather can have a significant effect on your run. Heat, wind, cold, snow, etc. can mean your pace is going to be slower than intended. It can be helpful to have that information in your running log, particularly on days when weather severely affects your training.

Shoe mileage

Most running shoes are designed to last between 300-and 500 miles. I like to keep track of the mileage on my shoes so I know when to replace them and get a new pair.

Running in worn shoes can contribute to injury so this is something you may want to consider having in your training log.

Why Every Runner Should Keep A Running Log 1

Cross-Training

If you are spending time on the bike, elliptical, or in the pool to supplement your running then it’s a good idea to keep track of this.

You can note the time or distance you did and the particular type of cross-training in your running log.

What should I use to keep a running log?

There are plenty of options for keeping a running log. None of them are inherently right or wrong. It depends on what works best for you.

Below is a variety of ways you can keep a running log. I’ve included some pros and cons for each.

Hardcopy

Having a hard copy of a running log is a great way to track training. These can be calendars, notebooks, or even premade logs that can be purchased from book stores or online.

The main downside to hard copy logs is that something could happen to them and there isn’t a backup.

I saw a recent story on Instagram where a pro ultra runner’s apartment caught on fire. He lost almost all of his belongings and one of the specific things he mentioned was years of running logs.

I would be devastated if I lost the logs of all the training I did!

An empty calendar with a pencil.

Calendar

A calendar can make a great training log. This could either be an actual calendar bought from a store or a month-by-month calendar printed from the internet. 

I’ve used this method myself in the past. You simply fill in each square with the mileage for the day. You can also make small notations such as workouts and races. The pros of a calendar are that it allows you to plan out days, weeks, and months in advance and compare them with your work or personal commitments.

The downside is that you don’t have much room for comments about your runs or workouts, which can be helpful to have when you are looking back.

Notebook

Notebooks are another way to keep your running log.

Notebooks are great because they are cheap and infinitely customizable. You can include whatever you are interested in tracking in your notebook.

You could dedicate each page to a day, week, or month of training. A notebook allows you plenty of space to include workouts, weather, comments, or anything else you want to remember.

The cons of notebooks are that you will have to figure out how you want to record the information. They can also be lost or destroyed relatively easily.

Why Every Runner Should Keep A Running Log 2

Store-bought

While I’ve never used them personally, I’ve had friends and teammates use store-bought training logs. These are pre-formatted logs that typically allow you to record a year of training.

Store-bought running logs are nice because they are set up and ready to go. All you have to do is fill in the information.

The cons of store-bought logs are that they are not customizable and like other hard copy logs, they can be lost or destroyed. They are also more expensive than the other hard copy options.

Digital

The main pro of digital over hard copy is that you should always have a backup of your logs. A spilled drink, dropped notebook, or fire isn’t going to claim your running log.

As someone who has coached clients digitally in the past, it’s also much easier for you and your coach to share information back and forth about how runs are going. Also, with the prevalence of computers and the internet, these methods are likely cheap and/or free for you to keep a running log.

The cons of digital logs are that you would need technology and/or internet access to use and update them. This could be problematic if you are traveling to remote areas.

Spreadsheet

I’ve kept my running log on an excel spreadsheet since 2011. It took me a bit to set it up and get the formulas how I wanted them. I also have to update it each year to reflect days shifting during the week.

However, other than some initial setup, an excel sheet is easy to plug in my distance and time and let the formula calculate pace for me. I also add comments to runs so I can go back later and see how they went.

Here is an example month from my log:

Why Every Runner Should Keep A Running Log 3

While a spreadsheet requires some knowledge of spreadsheet software and some initial time to set it up, it’s a quick way to input data from runs and easy to look back at after.

Calendar

A calendar can be done digitally, as well as physically. I’ve used sites with free templates for Word or Docs. I am then able to type in each block and save the calendar to update or refer to later.

When I coached runners, I would typically use a digital calendar to plan out their training blocks and then have them record information on the log as well.

Why Every Runner Should Keep A Running Log 4

App

Apps are the newest form of running logs and offer a lot of pros.

Apps like Strava, Training Peaks, and Garmin Connect, allow you to upload runs instantaneously and go back and look at data for the past weeks, months, or even years.

Apps can keep track of metrics you would have a hard time tracking on your own.

The downside to apps is that you typically need to either carry a smartphone or have a smartwatch/GPS device in order to record your runs and use the apps.

Furthermore, while a lot of apps are free for basic features, you have to pay a subscription to use more advanced features.

Strava

Strava may be one of the most popular training apps for runners and cyclists.

Having an account is free, but you must upgrade to a subscription to be able to access certain features.

I use the free version of Strava and think it is a great way to keep a digital running log.

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In order to record runs and get metrics, you will need a smartphone, smartwatch, or GPS watch.

Strava syncs with a lot of the GPS apps (more on those below), so uploading to the app is a breeze. You can use the app or website to edit runs and look back at your training. I’ve found that the free versions aren’t as helpful for planning future training though.

Training Peaks

Why Every Runner Should Keep A Running Log 8

Training Peaks is similar to Strava.

They are both free with paid upgrades and both can sync data from your GPS watch or app.

I’ve recently downloaded and played around with Training Peaks a bit on my own. Much like Strava, I think it can be used as a digital running log.

Garmin/Coros/Suunto/Etc.

If you have a GPS watch, it likely comes with an app that tracks your training for you.

I’m currently using a Coros GPS watch to track my runs. Coros has an app that allows you to upload your runs from your watch to the app and track miles, pace, fatigue, etc.

This can be a great digital running log. The benefit of these apps is that they upload without any work from you. There is nothing that you need to create and update.

The downside is that you have to purchase a GPS watch, which generally isn’t cheap, and they aren’t very customizable.

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Whether you are trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon or just run your first 5k, having a running log is crucial for improving and staying healthy.

Whether you pick a digital or hardcopy log, the important thing is to decide what you want to record and stick with it.

What’s your favorite way to keep a training log? Let us know in the comments! And if you are looking for some help training for your next big feat, check out our training plans!

A runner looking at his gps watch.
Adam Rabo

Adam Rabo

Adam Rabo has been running since junior high. He is a high school math teacher and has coached high school and college distance runners. He is currently training for Bolder Boulder, Leadville Marathon, Pikes Peak Marathon, and Kansas Rails to Trails 100 miler. He holds the current FKT for Historic Gold Camp Road.

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