What is your latest performance telling you?

Two women standing next to each other at a race.
Courtney achieves a lifetime goal to finish a marathon!

I saw her orange Newton sneakers first; then I looked up, and saw her face. I took a look at the clock – 1:50 and change and just yards to go.

She was going to do it!

All along, I had told Courtney, one of our athletes and my dear friend for many years, that she was going to crush her previous (and first) half-marathon time. And, now, just steps from the finish line, her hard work over several months was leading her to achieving her goal — and then some.

Her goal was to run at or slightly under 9 minute miles, for a 1:56 finish. As her coach, I knew she could achieve that and much more. I was thinking 1:52–not 1:56–sounded right.

I’m not sure she fully believed me until she crossed the finish line in 1:52:31–an 8:36/mile average–and a whopping 6 minute personal record (PR) over her first half-marathon finish last May.

Told you so 😉

How did I know?

Her training log told me so. I don’t have clairvoyance, but I can read the training tea leaves, or rather, the quantitative and qualitative information that Courtney leaves in her daily training log, hosted on Training Peaks.

Why Does a Training Log Matter?

A training log is a vital tool for coaching our athletes. It offers:

  • a snapshot of what the athlete has done and how s/he is performing, which helps us plan future training cycles
  • insight into progress, and suggestions for realistic goals and targets in upcoming races
  • information about when we might need to add more or less intensity, volume or recovery
  • accountability to the plan and the training process
  • information about other stresses in the athlete’s life that may affect training
  • an early warning of overreaching or overtraining
  • a mechanism for reflecting upon the reasons for a given performance in either training or racing

When carefully assessed and applied to the next training cycle, the data entered into a training log can help an athlete improve upon his/her limiters or weaknesses.

When this happens, we get faster. We go farther. We achieve goals that we once thought were dreams.

In Courtney’s case, she ran an average of 8:36min/mile for a half-marathon, thereby crushing her original goal of running a 1:56 marathon.

And, based on her performance at this race, which she dutifully logged into training peaks, we’ve also identified some limiters to help her get even faster. For example, we noticed in the data from her heart rate monitor, which also measures her pace, that her heart rate stayed relatively constant throughout the race, between 165-169 bpm, yet her pace slowed about 5-10 sec/mile in the final 3 miles or so. That indicates that she could have kept the gas on the pace a bit more, and/or she needed hydration.

In her qualitative comments, Courtney wrote, “I couldn’t be happier or more proud of myself. It was a great race. I smiled the whole time. I never once felt uncomfortable. Never pushed myself at all. My legs didn’t even hurt yesterday [day after the race].”

Using the Training Data to Adjust Training

Both the quantitative and qualitative information signal a few ways we can tweak the next training cycle to allow Courtney to push her limits even further at the next race.

For example, we will build strength and endurance so she can withstand the pain and fatigue that inevitably accompanies the late stages of any endurance race. We will introduce progressive tempo runs, which teaches both her body and her brain to finish strong. We’ll tweak her fueling and hydration plan to make sure she is properly fueled in those last miles. We will have her do some more challenging runs at threshold to teach her to push herself a bit past her comfort zone.

Whether it’s an entry about race performance, or the combination of entries of day-to-day training, a training log is an integral part of your success as an athlete. While we use Training Peaks with our athletes, there are many different options – including the low tech paper version :).

What Information Should Be Included in a Training Log

It doesn’t matter how you log the information, just that you log it. In terms of the type of information that might be useful, we recommend:

  • Include the basics: total time, distance, heart rate file, power file (if applicable for cycling), pace
  • Provide insight into your feeling: how you felt doing the workout generally, as well as any specific issues that arose during the workout, concerns or questions about training
  • Log your weight once a week.
  • Identify external life stressors: sleep patterns, work, family, etc.
  • Keep track of nutrition and hydration during the workout, as well as throughout the day. If any GI issues crop up, this can provide a useful tool for determining what fueling choices might be driving those problems. For long-course racers, this can provide useful information about whether your fueling plan will work on race day.

Review this information regularly for clues about what is and is not working in your training cycle. Include key benchmark workouts or races to measure progress from time to time. If you miss your targets, consult your log to determine why that might be so. If you hit your targets, consult the data from those workouts to find out how you can squeeze out even more potential. Use your training log to help you determine realistic goals for training and racing.

When you are faithful to logging your information in a training log, you’ll always know the answer to the question: What’s your latest performance telling you?

What is your latest performance telling you?
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