Author’s Note: This is the third installment in our new “Couch to Marathon” instructional series designed to help newbie marathoners make the most of their first race (first one is here, second is here). From training to racing information, we’ll cover the fundamentals that all beginner runners should know. If you have any additional questions, please find us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/marathonnation.
Training for a goal as big and as distant as a marathon is a real challenge. Not just for the actual work of training, but managing your mind, body and emotions across the time required to get ready. Everyone has a certain amount of respect, even fear, for the concept of running 26.2 miles. But not everyone is aware, when they submit that registration form, of the true commitment they are making.
Even Veterans Aren’t Immune
Once you’ve trained for and completed a marathon, you have a basic idea of what comprises a marathon “journey.” But even then, your perspective is twisted by the actual race itself. In other words, all that time you spent training has been wrapped into a single day. Looking back after the race, it’s really hard to discern what was good, bad or inconsequential to your performance.
Tracking — The Power of Daily Measurements
The best way to build a comprehensive picture of the sheer work your marathon requires is to track your training. You can be as detailed as you want; personal preference will dictate what’s important and your commitment will determine what you actually follow through on tracking. Whatever you do, track something. Once you start tracking your workouts and rest, you’ll not only be creating your personal roadmap to a marathon, you’ll be unlocking some serious hidden potential.
Track For Consistency
Getting into a routine with your tracking is the first step towards building a set of daily habits or rituals around your running. Once you begin logging your daily mileage, or your time spent running you will begin to build some momentum. You’ll see that you’ve run four of the six days this week, and that last week you ran five days, and that if you can put in an easy 5-miler this week that you’ll top last weeks totals…and so you head out to run. Or maybe you are building up to a bigger race later in the year, and want to kick off your training with a personal running challenge: 15 runs in 15 days, for example. Time to break out the training log!
Track For Motivation
Collecting information about your running can keep you inspired; and nothing is better than being inspired by your own actions! You might find out that you are three runs short of a personal best for a month; or that another 20 miles this month could put your annual total to 500 miles. You might look back at this time last year and see you entered a fun race; maybe you’ll head back to see if you can set a new personal best. The possibilities are endless!
Track to Maintain Your Running Health
Overuse injuries are one of the biggest issues that runners face, especially beginner runners. The problem is that most of us don’t know there’s an issue until it’s too late! A training log can show you just how much running you’ve really done, and that objective mindset will help you make the right decision about logging those extra miles. Or, if you have been the unfortunate recipient of an injury in the past, you can review the log to see exactly what you did up to that point…and avoid it in the future!
Track For Learning
One of the worst things a runner can do is make up their training plan. First timers can be forgiven, as they have minimal experience, but there are free training plans out there. But returning runners should base their next training cycle on what they’ve previously done in training…not their race performance. It’s relatively easy to say, after running a 4:15 marathon, that you want to break four hours next time. But while running more or running harder is an easy promise to make, your training log will show you just how hard your real training was — that is the data you want to make decisions off of!
Your Tracking Options
Convinced yet? I hope you are…and if so here are a few different options for you depending on your budget and technology preferences. If you have other suggestions, please put them in the comments below!
Hardcopy Version – The Journal
The best option of all, the hardcopy version of a training log will allow you to capture a lot of extra details of your running. You can insert pictures and notes, use color, and much more. This is a great option for the first timer, as so much of your early running is full of “firsts” and unique experiences that you’ll want to capture for posterity.
Super detailed and infinitely customizable.
Won’t do the math on your time and miles for you; not accessible unless you carry it around.
Digital Version – The Spreadsheet
The first step up from a hardcopy log is something very simple — a spreadsheet. I use a very basic template created in Microsoft Excel where I can upload my data daily — you can download your personal copy of this same spreadsheet here. I do this daily and then review the work either in weekly blocks (See the second tab in that spreadsheet) or by doing some more advanced chart views. You can learn more by registering to download this basic template and watching the instructional video here.
Easy number comparison and compilation, can be accessible if on the web.
Not visually exciting or dynamic, could be deleted or lost in computer crash.
Online Lite – Simple Websites
If managing your own digital log doesn’t sound that easy to you, then one of these online solutions might be the answer. They are simple and, more importantly, social. Tracking your data is easy and connects you with other folks who are doing the same thing.
Daily Mile (www.dailymile.com) – You can enter data, follow the math easily and share your progress with others.
Strava (www.strava.com) – Upload your training data to track performance overall, compete with others in your area for top times in GPS-identified segments.
Fun and easy to use.
Lacks detailed log option for more notes.
Online Detailed – Extensive Websites
If you are really into the data thing — you enjoy tracking everything, you read stock tickers for fun and count math as one of your more favorite subjects — you might want to check into a more robust tracking option. There are a few offerings out there, but few compare with the industry leader — Training Peaks (www.trainingpeaks.com). Not only can you track workouts, you can view them via playback (GPS files), track food and even purchase training plans.
Online and very robust.
Can scare the technophobe, does cost a monthly fee.