In our digital age, with hundreds of runs stored on your Garmin (all of which are searchable and dissectible in a dozen different ways), the good ol’ fashioned running journal – completed in pen and paper – may seem a little antiquated.
What good can a pen and paper do that the newest and slickest technology can’t?
You may be surprised…
My Pro-Journal Bias
I’ll admit right out the gate, I’m a bit biased.
I love great stationary and a pen that writes just so. I’ve been known to walk the aisles at Staples, checking out the new pens.
I journal regularly and have a fairly robust weekly review process for my (non-running) life where I consider my professional goals, my to-do lists and the progress I am making towards my goals, based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology, which I’ve modified to suit my needs and my temperament.
But for the longest time, my running didn’t interact with those habits.
I kept track of my runs with my Garmin or on Strava, but once I viewed the basic run stats, I rarely would consider that run again.
My Running and Running Journal Evolution
That started to change due to this very blog when I began doing weekly training recaps during marathon training seasons (most recently, the Skyline to the Sea Marathon).
Before these reviews, I viewed most runs as one-offs. I’d finish it and move on.
I didn’t see the patterns between my (occasionally not great) eating habits and feeling terrible on a run. Or how much better a run felt after a solid 8-hours of sleep. I would focus on one terrible run, which would lead me to become pessimistic about my training, but would ignore (or never even notice) the good runs.
Even though these recaps weren’t very detailed or in-depth, I was incorporating my runs into my usual weekly review process for the first time, considering my runs in the bigger picture.
The insights were immediate.
I started making connections and noticing trends.
The weeks when my runs weren’t that great were usually the same weeks I didn’t get that many non-running tasks done either. I could see how stresses in my life impacted my to-do list, my productivity, and my running.
And once I noticed those patterns, I could make changes.
I could do more of what was beneficial and remove or minimize the impact of the things causing problems.
Gathering Data Is Only Step One
With today’s running gear, it is so easy to gather reams of data on every one of your runs. Distance, pace, heart rates. Hell, my Garmin has data fields I don’t begin to understand.
But even if you review that data, it only tells you part of the story.
Every element of your life impacts your running: your diet, your sleep, your mindset, the non-running stresses all directly impact how you feel and how you run.
Having that raw data is only step one of the review process.
Combining Run Data and Everything Else
The largest impact in keeping a running journal happens when you take the next step, combining your run data with the information about what else is going on in your life.
This is where you’ll really start to see the patterns.
Notice the cause and effect.
Find the connections you’d never considered before.
I was listening to a recent episode of the Accidental Creative Podcast which discusses this exact topic: taking information, turning it into data, which creates knowledge, which then generates understanding, that drives change.
I won’t recap the entire podcast, but it’s worth a listen if you are interested in that kind of thing.
Where to Start
There is no right or wrong way to keep a running journal. There are fancy leather-bound versions available to purchase, but a good old-fashioned notebook or calendar works too. I designed printable journals that you can purchase on Etsy.
If you aren’t sure where to start, I’ve created a 4-week running journal to get you started. This journal contains space to document your goals, your training calendar, preview your week, track your runs, review your week, and review your training.
Start by gathering any information that comes to mind after a run. Not only the vital statistics of the run (distance and pace), but also how you felt or what you couldn’t stop thinking about as you ran.
The more you track, the more you’ll begin to notice.
Every few weeks, review all the runs in that period and see what patterns and trends you can discover.
I’m confident it won’t take you too long to find at one insight that has never occurred to you before as you consider your runs by the week or the month, not just the day.
Practice Your Handwriting!
This may be my pen bias showing, but I’d also recommend that you break out a pen and physically write in a running journal, at least when you first start out.
There is just something that happens when you actually physically write, when you externalize your thinking, that is a little bit magical.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve considered a journal prompt and considered what I was going say. After putting pen to paper to actually write my answer, I ALWAYS come up with at least one insight while writing that I never had when just imagining an answer.
I promise that paper and pen will get you to ideas and insights that you’d never considered and thoughts you’d never thought when using digital trackers or online journals.