To improve your running, here’s what you need to do: Hone in on some specific workouts, make slow-but-steady progress and focus on recovery as much as you focus on the run itself. But another crucial piece of the get-fast puzzle lies in tracking your training and, ultimately, your progress. It’s not just about the run itself; it also involves knowing how you’re fueling and recovering, and what’s happening outside of training time with work, family and friends.
To maximize your running this year, consider adding a journaling practice to your routine. Track these five areas using apps on your smartphone or simply an old-school notebook and pencil.
1. MILEAGE AND TIME
Why track: This is the most basic metric for your running that you’ll be recording, and it’s the most important. If your goal is to get faster or go longer, you have to go harder and go farther. Keep it as simple as “3/1/17: 4 miles, 38 minutes.”
How: An app like MapMyRun will log your mileage, time and pace for you, and you can get route ideas as well as distances, too. You can also sync it to a heart rate monitor. Using a GPS and taking a look at the clock before you go and when you return will cover distance and time, too. And for the pad-and-pencil folks, if you’re extra old-school, a simple sports watch and a route you know will do the trick.
Bonus: Average heart rate, or any heart rate data from the run. This is great whether this is synced to an app or pulled from a heart rate monitor or fitness tracker — any kind of data, even imperfect, is going to be helpful for spotting trends.
2. FOOD AND NUTRITION
Why track: While you don’t have to log every calorie every single day (unless you just love data), it is helpful to check in for a few days every month to make sure you’re getting enough calories (or to make sure you’re not getting too many) — and to see whether you’re eating enough healthy stuff. It’s really easy to slip into unhealthy habits, but keeping tabs on how many chips you eat in a week might be enough to put you back on track.
How: MyFitnessPal is the simplest nutrition app out there, with million of foods in the database, options to add custom meals and the ability to skim through recent eats and saved favorites. As an added bonus, it syncs with MapMyRun, so you’ll have a fantastic snapshot of your activity levels versus what you’re eating. Try not to delay tracking until the end of the day, as you’ll be more likely to forget a handful of almonds or that second doughnut. Be honest about portion sizes for a more accurate picture of your eating habits. It’s not fun to weigh your food day in and day out, but spending a week actually measuring out your snack can demonstrate how close to normal servings you are and help you eat smarter in the future.
Bonus: Hydration. MyFitnessPal tracks hydration as well so you can keep track of how much water you consume in a day — you’ll likely be surprised at how little you’re drinking.
3. DURATION AND QUALITY OF SLEEP
Why track: Even people who feel like they get enough sleep might not be getting as much — or as much high-quality sleep — as they think. You want to make sure you’re getting enough zzz’s to aid recovery and make you ready and energized for your daily training. You might realize you’re not getting enough sleep on nights that you do a run before bed or that you wake up feeling better when you know you have a morning run session awaiting you.
How: The UA Record app and the Under Armour Band work together to log your sleep, and give you a 14-Day Sleep Score. This doesn’t necessarily have to become an everyday exercise: Just check in every few weeks and during stressful times to ensure you’re getting enough sleep, or use the data to adjust your training plan if you’re exhausted.
Bonus: Morning heart rate. The Band can track your heart rate when you first wake up. Again, patterns will emerge, and this information may be helpful to a coach or doctor.
4. HEART RATE VARIABILITY
Why track: Heart rate variability, or the time between heartbeats, is a great metric for showing how recovered or under-recovered you are. Coaches love it because it gives them a quick snapshot of an athlete’s overall well-being, and it offers science-based suggestions on how hard your workout should be. (Beware: Most of the time, it urges you to go out and crush your intervals.)
How: The UA Record app the Under Armour Band again work together so you can measure your heart rate right when you wake up in the morning for the most consistent patterns. Just make sure you do it in the same position (sitting or lying down). Try to keep your breathing as steady and calm as possible while you’re doing it. The Band also tracks your heart rate as you sleep.
Bonus: Add a mantra or meditation. Because measuring heart rate forces you to breathe steadily and quietly for a few minutes, this is a great time to slip in a few mantras or meditations instead of going over your to-do list in your head.
5. HOW YOU FEEL
Why track: Patterns emerge over time, and most coaches will prompt you to tell them how you felt on a run, not just how you did on a run. Having a few notes to look back through might be illuminating if you find yourself in a slump. You might realize you had the most fun running when you were meeting your run club twice a week or that every time you had a late run after dinner, you had stomach issues.
How: Log this either in the title or the notes section of your workout in MapMyRun. Or, if you prefer a paper method, just get a weekly planner, and, each day, jot down a quick workout synopsis (example: 5 miles/45 minutes) at the top, then write a couple of sentences about how you felt during, whether there were any problems or highlights — such as running with friends or exploring a new route.
Bonus: Stretching. This brings to mind Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity trick: Marking a red X on the calendar for each day he writes a joke so that he doesn’t want to break his streak by leaving a day blank. Do the same thing with your stretching and mobility work. Every day you take a few minutes to practice your mobility, make a note. It’ll keep you adding in those few stretches after your run, and you’ll feel more accomplished.
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RUN