Training

What I’ve Learned Going Through My Old Training Logs

Becky Wade shares five lessons on training, injury, recovery, and racing revealed from looking at trends in training logs.

For the last 15 years—starting in 2003, my first season of high school cross-country—I’ve kept a physical training log. The earliest versions just contain mileage totals and basic workout details, while my college years and beyond also include notes on ancillary activities, records of all bodywork and bloodwork, thorough race recaps, and as much elation and despair as you’d expect from a teen’s diary.

Lately, without any races to reflect on and learn from, I’ve been flipping through my big stack of logs in search of recurring trends, bypassed blind spots, things done well, and areas in need of improvement. While my current training log is never too far away, it’s been fun to take a bird’s-eye view on my evolution as a runner, almost every mile I’ve ever run at my fingertips. It’s also been constructive, and it’s an exercise that I expect to pay off whenever racing recommences.

Becky Wade logbooks

Photo: Becky Wade

Here are some of the patterns I’ve picked up on, with quotes pulled straight from my training log archive:

1) Some of my best races came shortly after a setback.

For the four days preceding my biggest breakthrough in college—a 32:40 10K, a 69-second PR—I barely ran at all. I remember feeling increasingly heavy legged and beat up the week leading up, and by the Sunday before my Friday race at Stanford, I sensed that I’d officially overdone it. When I showed up at practice in near tears on Monday, my coach told me I needed a few days off and that we’d play the race by ear. Four days later, unsure whether I’d even finish the race, I smashed my personal best. Now I’m much more confident backing off before races when I need to.

From the log:

April 2, 2012 (Monday, 4 days from Stanford 10,000m): 45’ waterjog. Very restless/worried about my legs. Jim worked on my calves a good while… Got aggressive/painful ART from Jonathan… Jogged 2 laps barefoot on grass 2 hours after treatment (super awkward/right calf hurt bad) to get the area moving.

2) Perfectionism does not pay off.

The seasons that I’m most obsessed with the details (proxy for perfectionism) usually do not end well.

Going into 2016, an Olympic year, I felt an enormous amount of pressure to get in the shape of my life and show that I belonged with America’s best. To do that, I assumed I needed to do everything perfectly: nail every workout, never miss a nighttime stretching session, eat as cleanly as possible, do every exercise my chiropractor had ever assigned.

By the time the Marathon Trials rolled around in mid-February, my legs were good but my mind was fried, and it only got worse through the summer track season. Since then, I’ve found that a slightly less intense approach works better for me, as does a target on growth rather than perfection.

From the log:

January 24, 2016: {Recap of week} Probably my best week of the cycle yet. I nailed 2 workouts + full stadiums + hills; I slept well and am back in a good nap schedule; and I’ve had to hold back on my recovery runs. I also did my 20’ stretching routine before bed every night.

Becky Wade August 2007 training log

From Becky Wade’s August 2007 training log. Photo: Becky Wade

3) I need regular days off from running.

How long I’ve gone without a day off seems to be a better indicator that I’m at risk of injury than weekly mileage.

Throughout most of college, I took every Thursday off from running. As I moved up to the marathon and started focusing more on mileage, that rest day occurred every two weeks, and then every three weeks, and for a while became a whenever-I-feel-like-I need-it situation.

Some runners can go full seasons without taking a day off, but my training logs indicate that I’m not one of them: almost every time I’ve gone a full month or more without a reset day (totally off or light cross-training), something pops up. It’s clear, looking at the gaps those maladies inevitably cause, that I benefit from a regularly scheduled day off, no matter how good and durable I’m feeling in the moment.

From the log:

January 1, 2017: Off— 1st day in over 7 weeks. My knees (R especially) have been bothering me, so today is a rest, ice cup, anti-inflame day.

*Lesson: Never go more than 3-4 weeks without a rest day!

4) I benefit from frequent racing.

One trend that runs through several of my past seasons is, small fitness gains aside, the more that I race the better I get. I am able to squeeze more out of myself as I go through a season of races.

Last summer is a perfect example. I kicked the season off with the Peachtree Road Race 10K on July 4th, where I struggled to run to my fitness, finishing 17th overall / 7th American. One month later, over the same distance, on another tough course, and in a comparable field, I jumped up a level to finish 7th overall / 2nd American at Beach to Beacon 10K. Two weeks later, at the Falmouth Road Race 7-miler, I moved up one more spot.

The upward trend continued over the next two races (another 10K and a half marathon), confirming that frequent racing does me good. If I don’t nail the first one out, good things still lie ahead.

From the log:

August 3, 2019 (Beach to Beacon 10K): 15 miles: 2 warm-up + strides; 10K in 33:04 (2nd USA!); 6 cool-down with Tish and Scott. Pumped! Big step up from ATL and a solid race on a very undulating course. Hung with chase pack of 4 for half, then ran most of 2nd half with Tish and finished strong. Legs felt good!

Becky Wade's August 2019 training log

From Becky Wade’s August 2019 training log. Photo: Becky Wade

5) Stubbornly sticking to the planned workouts leads to injury.

I’ve become way better at bailing on workouts and asking for a day off than I used to be.

During all of high school and college, I can probably count the number of times I scrapped a workout (either before or during) on one hand. I can also count the number of injuries I sustained during those years on all 20 digits, maybe. In the last few years, I’ve become much more flexible with my training and have sustained far fewer injuries as a result.

Traveling the world for a full year certainly had something to do with that shift. So although Plan A will always be my preference, I now understand that adjusting a workout here and there, and choosing to rest rather than rally, is actually a sign that I’m maturing, not getting soft.

From the log:

December 5, 2019: 16 miles on the Rec treadmill: 2 warm-up; started original workout [4 miles, 3 miles, 2 miles, 1 mile (1 mile jog)] but called Jim after just 2 miles—had been awake since 1:30 a.m. and was in a bad place mentally. He changed it to: 5×2’ on (1’ off), 10×30” hills (90” jog), 5×2’ on (1’ off); 2.5 cool-down. Tired but strong. Right move!