Training logs and data nerds

I was updating my Excel workbook training log today in sight of my darling MM, thinking the habit nothing to be ashamed of. However, the growing level of suppressed-obnoxious-grin on his face, accompanied by several snickers and teasing comments about my general nerdiness made me consider the possibility that all runners/athletes don’t have a 33×23 Excel matrix (plus several other worksheets), a Strava account, and a paper log all devoted to recording their daily toil, and that many might find my methods…excessive.


My most recent training log update – the winter cross-training record now includes skiing and indoor circuits

However, there is an explanation behind my seemingly obsessive behavior. Each of my recording methods serves a unique purpose, with the three (Strava, BelieveIAm notebook, and Excel) acting as complements rather than as redundancies.

First, I record most moving activities and all running/biking/bike trainer workouts in Strava. I love the GPS tracking (phone app) – I enjoy looking back at old routes, and can view everything from elevation profiles to linked photos that I took at various locations on the route. Strava also provides pace/km, half mile, or mile in real time, and pace/mapped segment in post-processing, which is extremely helpful for getting splits and recording interval times on workouts in parks or on trails where no km or mile markers are set up. In addition, Strava does an excellent job of recording and summarizing swim, bike, and run stats, giving daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly summaries of mileage, pace, and elevation gain.

Unfortunately, Strava has a few features (or lack thereof) that are less helpful. First, to look at the comments/other info about an individual run you have to click on that run – scrolling through info about several runs quickly isn’t as easy as in a written log. Second, Strava is a bit hopeless for anything that isn’t a triathlon-based sporting activity. Circuits, skiing, hiking, power lifting, etc. can be labeled for each activity, but are all lumped in under ‘cross-training’ in the log and can’t be shown in the weekly or monthly totals in terms of time or mileage.

The inability to flip quickly through runs and compare past and current workouts in Strava inspired me to maintain my high-school/college habit of recording runs on paper and/or in an Excel worksheet. I recently became enamored of the BelieveIAm training log. It’s one of the prettiest training logs I’ve owned and is sturdily bound for workout review years later. Plus, it has awesome training tips from 2 brilliant professional runner gals so there’s some good reading and inspiration between my colorful workout scribbles. I record mileage and some pace info (especially for workouts/races) in this paper form for easy reference – for example, when comparing my progress in a particular workout between early and late season. In addition, I record subjective information, such as how I felt, any pains, and random information about the weather, fun stuff I saw on the run, current events, my emotions, or people I got to share my training adventures with.

In my paper log, I can tally time spent on multiple sports/activities, and can flip through quickly to compare training sessions. However, the training log is less ideal for showing the big picture – how is my mileage changing over time, are there repeated dips due to injury, how do my times doing my various activities change and correspond? Strava would be great for this if it had a few more features, but since it doesn’t I turn to my third training log method, the marvelous Excel workbook.

This third training record consists purely of numbers, labels, and dates. During college I actually did my entire training log in Excel, but I like to be able to doodle in the margins and such, to which paper is a bit better suited. Right now I have a row for each week which includes columns for time spent on each activity – running, bike/trainer, aerobic circuits, and nordic skiing. I then sum these all up in a single ‘training time’ column and plot the individual activities and the sum time on a scatter plot to allow a quick, visual evaluation of my weekly training time trends. I want to see steady numbers with only gradual increases – a sharp increase lets me know that I need to be cautious, as my enthusiasm can quickly lead to injury if not checked. I also add up the totals for each month, for comparison throughout the year. The personalization and visualization abilities of Excel are the main draws for me.

If an app would allow me to select which activities to include in the total time calculations, and would let me include them in training load plots over various intervals I’d gladly utilize those features. And if it’d let me weight things by heart rate data or elevation gain that would be sweeter still! I’m a bit too lazy to include that in my Excel recordings right now, though I’ve noticed that too many hilly runs or fast workouts without adequate base are just as likely to injure me as a rushed mileage schedule.

So, in spite of MM’s accusations, I don’t think I’m being overzealous in using three different media to record my training. Rather, I’m recording specific information in each, while accounting for each medium’s limitations. I don’t have to obsess over the data, but I can let my inner data geek have fun figuring out the most meaningful parameters to record and the most efficient methods for recording them. Plus, I really love making plots and this provides the perfect excuse (bahahaha!)

I’m always curious how others track their training, and hopefully some of my methods will come in handy for someone else – even if just to demonstrate how they are totally not obsessed because they only have *2* training logs 😉


2 thoughts on “Training logs and data nerds

  1. Yeah, I have to interject–that’s definitely *not* obsessive at all for a runner / athlete. It covers all your bases without being redundant. It’s very practical, in fact.

    I’ve bounced around several online workout trackers. I’ve had Garmin Connect for as long as I’ve had a Garmin watch (mid-2011), but only in the last year or so have its analytics caught up to where everyone else has been for some time. As a result, I’ve usually incorporated others as well.

    I was on Fitocracy for awhile, but the level of detail it required (what workout, how many sets, how many reps in each set, how much weight, etc) became tedious and I dropped that a few years back.

    I used DailyMile up until a few months ago. Just got frustrated with the seeming lack of interest its developers have to any kind of improvement or updates of any kind. None of its functionality has changed over the ~3 years I’ve been using it. As other technology has changed, using DailyMile has become increasingly annoying.

    Strava is pretty cool. It definitely puts runners as something of second-class citizens–most frustrating is its refusal to break up splits into anything but 1-mile increments (ever heard of speed work?!)–but other than that it’s a pleasure to use. Strava effectively replaced DailyMile for me, though I also use Garmin Connect for detailed workout information and long-term trend tracking.

    I don’t use a hand-written running journal–no particular reason other than that I couldn’t get into it, as I tend to put all the little nitty-gritty details on Garmin Connect anyway–so that leaves analytics. Rather than Excel (kudos to you; I don’t have the patience :P), I wrote a couple Python scripts awhile back to download the XML workout files off Garmin Connect so I could do some offline analytics. I’ve had to put off some of the detailed analytics for awhile, but the download script works beautifully (and others seems to want it, judging from the occasional submissions of fixes from random users!).

    So yeah: I use Garmin Connect for “journaling” and long-term tracking, Strava for socializing and short-term tracking, and my own scripts for other detailed analytics. Different tools than you, but effectively the same general strategy 🙂

    • Excellent, glad to have a vote for not obsessive/excessive! And I definitely agree about the lack of other split options in Strava – love using it for non-track workouts but having to do a new activity for each repeat if I want splits is aggravating. Sometimes measure course with Strava, then use stopwatch for splits but that seems inefficient :-/

      If I end up getting a Garmin watch I’ll have to check out your code! The horror of Excel plots hasn’t quite driven me to doing my analysis & plotting in Matlab or Python yet ha ha 😉

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