The Obvious Technique for Getting Faster That Most Runners Are Too Lazy to Complete

Thoughtful woman writing in her kitchen

A few years ago I wrote post a while back about the power of tracking (anything!). Simple awareness of your behavior, even without a deliberate attempt to change, is often all you need in order to improve. Mind-blowing, really, and super-inspiring, especially at this time of year.

Today’s post from Doug Hay (whom you probably know as co-host of No Meat Athlete Radio and blogger at Rock Creek Runner), expands on this incredibly powerful concept in the context of running.

You say you’re serious about improving in 2015? Here’s where to start.

Runners are lazy.

That might seem like an odd thing to say about a group of people who run for pleasure (and not just because they’re being chased), but for the most part, it’s true. We’re lazy.

Runners are notorious for avoiding training routines, like foam rolling or core work, even though we know it will help prevent injuries and make us faster.

But I get it.

Foam rolling, strength routines, speed work, and other similar training techniques are painful and typically known to be the opposite of fun. Besides, after kicking ass for a 5-mile run, who wants to do more?

So even though those routines are important for proper training, I’m going to ignore the painful stuff for now. What I want to discuss today is one of the easiest techniques we runners can add to our routines that will help us get stronger, train smarter, and avoid season ending injuries. A technique that it isn’t painful, and doesn’t take much time. And believe it or not, it can even be fun.

But for some reason, almost nobody does it.

What I want to talk about today is tracking our workouts. Not just turning on the GPS, never to look at the data again (more on that later), but really tracking what we did and how we felt.

Why Tracking Matters

When my good high school friend, Jeff, got his first car, his father required that he take notes on everything about that Ford.

When he’d fill up the tank, Jeff would open up the glove compartment, pull out a notebook, and jot down everything from where he was buying gas to the car’s current mileage. Once a month, I’d catch him checking the tires’ air pressure and how the oil was holding up.

He knew all the stats on that car’s performance. He knew if it was running well or struggling through the winter.

At the time, I thought it was obsessive. But that’s because I didn’t fully understand his dad’s reasoning.

What I now understand is that with that information, Jeff knew exactly what helped the car run at peak performance, and saw warning signs if something was going wrong. When the car did have trouble, he could look back on when things started to turn sour, and report all that to the mechanic.

Now, I don’t track the stats on my car, and likely never will, but when it comes to running, Jeff’s father’s philosophy works perfectly.

The benefit of tracking running data is massive. By keeping a proper running log, we can see what is working and what isn’t, in real time. If something goes wrong and we get injured, it’s easy to look back and figure out what behaviors might have caused the issue, and how to avoid repeating that mistake.

If it’s a big race goal you’re training for, looking back on all the progress can be motivating and a powerful tool for when things get tough.

And when things go right on race day, it means you already have the entire playbook mapped out for next one.

Why Your iPhone or GPS Won’t Cut It

Over and over again, I see runners who no longer bother keeping any sort of actual records, because they think their GPS watches or phone apps do it for them. We turn them on before the run and off when we get home.

And voilà, our run is uploaded and tracked.

Unfortunately there are two marathon-sized problems with this:

  1. It’s only tracking what the watch can record (distance, pace, routes, etc.) and not how it actually felt.
  2. Because uploads happen at the magic of a button, we’re more likely not to look back on them ever again. That is, of course, until the end of the year, when we want to tweet out our total yearly mileage. #runningbrag anyone?

When all it takes is plugging in your watch to the computer, we don’t end up studying the information like we would if we were writing it out ourselves. And the information becomes useless.

9 Key Metrics to Log

In an upcoming section, I’m going to tell you to stop being a lazy runner and start keeping a training log. I’m even going to provide you with an easy tool to do it. But first it’s important to understand what to track and why it can be useful information.

SPOILER ALERT: It’s more than what your GPS tracks for you.

1) Type of workout: A 4-mile easy run is a lot different from a 4-mile run doing speed work on the track. To help differentiate the two on your tracking chart, note the type of workout first. Keep this simple to easily categorize. A few examples of types of workout include:

  • Easy Run
  • Long Run
  • Speed/Track Work
  • Hill Workout
  • Race

2) Daily Mileage: Your total daily mileage. This one’s a no-brainer.

3) Time/Pace: Track your overall time running, and break it out into pace.

4) Route: Always track where you ran. It allows you to review how hilly the course was, how frequently you’re running a particular route, and if certain characteristics of your regular routes might be contributing to an injury or improvements. Tracking your route also comes in handy when designing course specific training.

5) Terrain: Running on rocky trails or a paved bike path? Crowded city sidewalks or a gravel road? All these factors affect your pace and the benefit of that particular run. Take note of the terrain for reference in the future.

6) How you felt: I like to have a quick reference to how I felt during the run, and do it as simply as possible with just three options: bad, normal, great. That way you can quickly see if you’ve had several bad or great runs in a row, and make adjustments accordingly. It also serves as reference guide to how certain distances, paces, or routes affect your feeling about the run.

A helpful trick if you’re tracking on the computer is to use a color coded system for this, which makes deciphering how you felt even easier.

7) Effort: For this I recommend using a scale of 1 to 5. 1 being the a completely easy run and 5 being an all out effort.

8) Notes: A blank space for you to fill in any notes you have about the run. Important things to keep in mind are what you ate before, during, and immediately after, what shoes you were wearing, notes on weather, if you were running with anyone else or solo, your heart rate if you measured it, and anything else that has a major effect on the run itself.

9) Extras: I recommend you also track a few extras on a semi-regular basis, such as weight, diet, and what you’re training for at the moment. There’s no need to track these every single day, but they’re good to have as a reference in the future.

What to Do With All This Data

So you’ve taken my advice and started tracking your runs. Now what?

Just like my friend Jeff could do for this car, you too can now use the data you’ve tracked and put it to use in real time. At the end of each week, or at the very least each month, look back at your training log and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Where has my training been lacking? It’s easy to skip a workout here or a long run there without realizing that you’re doing it multiple times per week or repeatedly over several weeks.
  • Have I covered all the basic pillars of proper training?
    • Easy run
    • Speed work/tempo run
    • Long run
    • Strength/core training
    • Rest days
  • In what areas of my training am I seeing improvements? Look for patterns over the week or multiple weeks that indicate improvement in speed, endurance, or strength, and note which workouts are working for your training to use in future weeks.
  • In what areas of my training am I seeing weaknesses? If after 6 weeks, you aren’t improving on speed, for example, something isn’t working. Adjust your training to address that particular weakness.
  • Where am I now, and how should I move forward? Training plans are a constant work in progress. As you look back on the data, reassess where you are and how to properly move forward. It’s this lack of assessment that often leads to over-training and injury.

A (Totally Free) Training Log Tool

The web and your smart phones are full of fantastic tools for tracking runs. A couple of my favorites are Strava and Daily Mile.

While those tools are powerful, I find that the act of logging in to a site and posting a run publicly is often enough to hold me back from doing it in the first place.

So after speaking with Matt, I’ve decided to share with the No Meat Athlete family the training template that the runners I coach use to track their training plans. It’s simple, interactive, and tracks everything you need and nothing more.

Download that tool and receive more information on smart training here. (Just a heads up, the sign-up is hosted on my blog, so it will direct you away from No Meat Athlete.)

Quit Being a Lazy Runner!

Taking notes on 9 different things might feel like a lot of work, but when you actually sit down and do it, you’ll see that tracking each run only takes 2-3 minutes. Even the laziest of runners can justify two to three minutes of work if it means getting faster and preventing injuries.

And the best part? By creating a habit of tracking your runs, that same process will spill over into more than just workouts. Budgets, diet, meditation … just about anything you’re looking to improve can benefit from keeping a log or journal.

Start with running. This obvious technique is too easy and beneficial to keep avoiding.

About the Author: Doug Hay will teach you how to run further, faster, and more efficiently than you ever have before. Take the first step towards achieving your running goals with the Trail Runner’s Cheat Sheet, or download the free tracking tool mentioned above here.

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Comments

  1. Great advice. Most athlete at least LOG their workouts in some way, however, I have a feeling few actually USE their log to guide training, rest, daily habits, etc.

  2. I’ve used Strava and Daily Mile. I find RunningAHEAD to be far superior in most aspects.

  3. Great article! I ran my first marathon in 2013 and kept a diary, though I didn’t realise it at the time, it was helpful for all the reasons you outline in your article. Plus, I now have a ‘hold in my hands’ record of all my hard work – something tangible that evokes memories of training, not just the end point race day itself.
    Thanks again!

  4. I use Running2Win and it includes all of that — time, pace, mileage, a place for comments, cross training, injury, even weather! I love using my log and haven’t missed a day in the 2+ years I’ve used it.

  5. I just need some help if possible with this website I am on now no meat athlete I tried to download the free stuff like the tracker trail runner cheat
    Sheet and the 5k roadmap but it doesn’t work on my blackberry 8520 isn’t there another way I get this downloaded on my phone I am un ultra runner did my first comardes marathon this year next year will be my 2nd currently looking for a better time and batch seeding next year so curently I am training for a 42.2k race to qualify for comrades but like to improve?

  6. Great post! I love tracking my workouts on Training Peaks. I get this great feeling of accomplishment when I look over a few weeks and see all those workouts done! Likewise it highlights when I fall out of my training routine and need to double down.

  7. I LOVE THIS POST! I completely agree we are lazy!

  8. Great article. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Great post. Really it has the right information I need.

  10. One of the reasons I became fit (and a daily runner) was because of the tracking! A site I use is Smashrun (example profile: http://smashrun.com/tardis88). Love all the visuals and extra metrics there!

  11. For someone who does a lot of hill running, I find it essential to log my vert. It is arguably even more important than logging mileage if you are in really steep terrain.
    Great post!

Trackbacks

  1. […] 31) Pay attention to data*: I like to joke that if a run isn’t recording on your GPS, you didn’t actually run it. If you can’t tell, I like data, and I believe that tracking your training is very important. […]

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