Journaling for Endurance Athletes - Discover getting the most out of yourself

Posted by Daniel Fonyo on August 03, 2020  -  7 min read

The athlete’s guide to monitoring training using a training log

It’s often said that a plan is only as good as its execution. This is very true when it comes to applying a training plan to yourself. Every person is different, has different levels of fitness, and reacts differently to training stimuli. Trying to force yourself to stick to a cookie cutter training plan without taking your own body’s reaction into account can lead to anywhere from overtraining and injuries to undertraining and a lack of progress.

Instead, keeping a personal training log where you record how your mind, body, and workouts feel allows you to monitor if the training plan you’re following is working.

📓 The 5 minute daily training log

  1. Setting up your journal

Using a notebook or notes app, each day jott down the date and the workout of the day, whether it’s rest, stretching, an interval set, etc.

You can do this in the beginning of the day or after your workout, as long as you can accurately get down the workout specifics.

Monday 8/2/2020
- Rest
    15-30 min foam rolling and static stretch

Tuesday 8/3/2020
- Endurance/Tempo ride
    15 min warm up
    30 min Z2 steady
    40 min Z3 tempo
    30 min Z2 steady
    10-20 min cool down
  1. Analyzing your workout

After you’re done with the day’s workout(s), it’s time to analyze your performance.

Note: It’s best to do this immediately after your workout is completed while your effort is still fresh in your mind

First, give a grade for your workout.

A - means you felt like Superman and had plenty in reserve
B - means it was a good workout. You completed the task with no problem
C - means you did the workout but felt flat or off
D - means you could not finish the planned workout or had to reduce it
F - means you could not train that day due to fatigue or illness

Second, write down anything specific you experienced during the training.

- Slight hamstring discomfort in the middle of the tempo set
- Struggled a bit to get up to speed on the tempo

Your workout log then would look something like this:

Tuesday 8/3/2020
- Endurance/Tempo ride
    15 min warm up
    30 min Z2 steady
    40 min Z3 tempo
    30 min Z2 steady
    10-20 min cool down

  Grade: C
    - Slight hamstring discomfort in the middle of the tempo set
    - Struggled a bit to get up to speed on the tempo

🔍 Using your logs to monitor training and recovery

The goal of collecting your own personal training results and feedback is to monitor how your body is reacting against the training prescribed by the plan you’re following.

If you’ve ever asked these questions to yourself…

  • Will this training plan work to get me to my goal X?
  • Is this too advanced for me?
  • Can I skip the first 4 weeks?
  • Can I combine this plan with Y?

By reading through your logs and gauging if you’re successfully completing the workouts in a training plan, you can answer these!

Take a scan at the previous couple of weeks of your training and try to spot patterns. Here is the most important pattern to look out for that will highlight if the training you’re doing is moving you towards your goal.

If you have two or more C’s, or a C and D in a single week, something is not right. Read through your workouts and logs as the training load you’re attempting is either too high, you may be getting sick, or you’re not giving your body enough recovery to absorb the training.

As you push yourself to higher training loads, A grades will not be for every workout and that is ok, as long as you keep your C’s and below in check. When you do get the A, check your previous workouts to see what kind of training led to this superman feeling so you can improve and iterate your plan to have more days like that.

Here is what a recent 2 week training block in my logs looks like:

training log grades

📈 Improving your journal

We covered grading your workouts to gauge your body’s response to training, but let’s take it further. Unless you’re a professional, chances are you have other life factors such as a job or school that compete with your training time. To get a more accurate picture of why your training workouts get the grades they get, it’s important to take these life factors into account as well.

Here are 2 simple ways:

Monitoring recovery

As athletes, as we push our bodies further, we will sometimes go over the limit that we can handle and it’s important to recognize the signs to avoid damaging our bodies.

Aside from looking at the workout grades for these signs, we can make notes on how well our bodies are recovered each day.

Some metrics you can use are

Rating your sleep from Poor, Neutral, Great

Measuring your resting heart rate (and variability if you have the right monitor) to check for abnormally elevated numbers. Pick a day you’re well rested to establish a baseline

Following a workout’s warm up, objectively see how your body reacted. If you felt sluggish getting through the warm up, your body might be signalling that it hasn’t recovered yet so you can cool down and table the workout for the next day when you’re fresh

Monitoring nutrition

Simply put, what we eat and drink is what fuels our body. Eat the things your body rejects, and your training performance will reflect this.

As noted above, aside from grading your workouts and taking note of your body’s recovery level, keeping tabs on your nutrition can give an insight as to how and why you’re performing the way you are.

This doesn’t mean you have to meticulously record your macros of all your meals, but some quick notes on what you ate and drank during the day can go a long way.

Some common and helpful notes can be:

Eating something outside of your normal diet, i.e. going to some local fast food joint while out of town

Drinking alcohol or becoming dehydrated during a hot training day

Eating a bowl of cereal before the day’s workout

These nutrition monitoring notes can go a long way, along with your recovery logs, to give insight as to why you’re performing the way you are in your training.

Crush a workout with grade A? Take a look at what you ate before, what your recovery level was, and how you trained previously during the week and use the identified pattern to apply and iterate your next training block to incorporate this pattern!

Feeling off and getting grade C’s during the week? Look back on the days and weeks prior and check for patterns in your recovery levels and outliers in your nutrition notes. Chances are the answer for your poor performances are in there and you need to adjust your training plan’s prescribed volume and/or recovery.

📱 Want your own journal?

Hopefully you can see the immense benefit journaling brings for athletes.

Best of all, it’s simple, free, and doesn’t take much time!

If you want a free, ready-made, endurance athlete focused journaling template that incorporates all these techniques, I created one right here for you!

Note: You will need to create a free Airtable account to create a copy of the template for yourself. Airtable is just an easier and simpler version of Excel with an equally great mobile app, which is why I use it for my journal