Make a Date with Your Diary

By Dr Matt Long. Posted: January 19, 2018

This week, we hear from Dr Matt Long, editorial contributor to Athletics Weekly magazine who gives his thoughts on the benefits of keeping a handwritten training log.

In this very Journal on January 5th, you will recall we heard from the editorial director at Men’s Running magazine- David Castle. In his excellent piece, David started with a thought-provoking quote from the French aristocratic poet, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who once famously declared that "A goal without a plan is just a wish."  In making the subtle but important distinction between ‘performance’ and ‘challenge’ based goals, David rightly asserted that “all good plans have to start somewhere”. It is my contention that this somewhere should be in the very kind of training diary advertised on the Iffley Road website. But why would you take the word of a recreational park runner like myself? Instead, let’s turn to a legend of our sport, whom in my capacity as an Editorial contributor to Athletics Weekly magazine, I had the privilege of interviewing back in 2012.*

Iffley Road Training Log

The Iffley Road training log

Dr Ron Hill

Whilst debates will forever rage about the greatest ever world record set in athletics, the man whom I am referring to above can surely lay uncontested claim to having ownership of the longest world record in running history. Between Sunday 20th December 1964 and Sunday 29th January 2017, he ran at least one mile per day, every single day, without fail. That 52 years and 19,032-day streak saw him run approximately six-and-a-half times around the globe- his name, of course, is Dr Ron Hill. His now legendary streak came under severe threat back in 1993 after a horrendous head-on car crash over Woodhead Pass into Yorkshire in which he broke his sternum. In stubbornly refusing to be bowed he was then subsequently dealt the unwelcome blow of needing bunion surgery. Incredibly, he still refused to yield, opting to use walking sticks to doggedly complete one mile in 23min 47sec the next day and then carrying on his streak in a plaster cast thanks to the medical intervention of a specially adapted shoe, covering a mile a day for six weeks!

When we spoke on the eve of the London Olympics, Ron Hill told me, “All my career, I was self-coached and the training diary is a way of monitoring yourself.” Perhaps you are guided by a Coach or Running Fitness Leader at a club or gym, but that being said many of you won’t be or will be at least semi-autonomous in your approach to running. So Ron’s message is that a training diary is an inherent part of becoming self -aware and cognisant of what you do. The man who famously became European marathon champion in Athens in 1969 elaborated that, “I started recording my training from 3rd September 1956. I used to keep a notebook which I had from Accrington Grammar school. To start off with I used to log my runs to and from work. I still record every step I run to this day. I must own one of the longest training diaries in history - perhaps the longest!”

Iffley Road Training Log

A spread from the Iffley Road training log

Pen and paper vs. digital

I sensed that Ron was possibly not a fan of the modern cult of recording training on Garmin and uploading it to Strava. “People obsess about the technology. Why try and impress people by sharing it in this way?” he asked with a degree of bemusement. He confessed that “I am always worried about losing stuff so wouldn’t want to store my records electronically in case they got wiped. Even when I go on holiday I record my runs on sheets of paper which I then insert into my training diary. I’m always concerned about losing my actual diary and wouldn’t take it away with me and risk it going missing.” So it’s worth us all reflecting that despite advancements in technology and mediated communication, the good old-fashioned hard copy training diary does indeed have its time-honoured merits. Ron continued that, “I used to record simple things like where and how far I’d run in the early days. I often didn’t record my times when running in those days but tended to add a note about the weather and what I was wearing. As time went on I realised how important it was to record how I felt while running”. It is this latter point which is paramount. A hard copy training diary can and will take you above and beyond the quantitative allure of a training diary underpinned by the numerical  for it is the subjective and qualitative which are equally important and which are in danger of being drowned in a sea of statistics.

Writing a diary

The man who held world records at 10 and 15 miles plus 25km at one point was adamant that a hard copy training diary gave him the opportunity not only to log but more importantly to self-reflect. He recalled that “I started keeping a training diary so I could look back and identify the reasons why I was running well or not so well. In particular, it forced me to reflect on my recovery and the fact that I needed more of it. It was in 1957 when I was running twice a day that my diary helped me to realise that I needed to take my recovery more seriously if I was going to keep improving”.

Questions for self-reflection:

  1. What is stopping me from keeping a training diary?
  2. How might I benefit from the acquisition of a hard copy training diary?
  3. In what ways might a hard copy training diary complement the data which I capture using technology like Garmin and Strava? Remember it’s not an either/ or.
  4. Why might I want to capture the subjective processes of running as well as statistical data about performance and outcomes in a hard copy training diary?
  5. When do I take time out not just to record my running in a hard copy training diary, but to actually self-reflect on my work periodically?

So to come full circle to David Castle’s quoting of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and his, “A goal without a plan is just a wish," we could add, “A goal without a plan is just a wish and a plan without a training diary is wishy-washy!”

*Long, M. (2012) Unstoppable Ron, Athletics Weekly, 20th September, p. 38-39.

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