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Journaling the journey: why you should keep a running diary

There are many benefits to keeping a training journal rather than just a data log

Photo by: Roxanna Marion

The idea of tracking our running in a training log is not new concept, but putting pen to paper to journal your thoughts and feelings about the run may be even more beneficial than simple digital tracking. Many coaches encourage their clients to do this for the many benefits journaling provides. 

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Photo: YouTube/Tony Xie

Beyond the running data, such as time, distance, pace and heart rate (which your watch tracks automatically, assuming you use one), you could include how you felt emotionally during the run, any physical aches or pains or sleep issues you may be experiencing, your route, the weather, what you wore, as well as any successes or disappointments specific to that run – all things your running watch can’t tell you. Jane Armstrong, an Ottawa-based online running and multisport coach with more than 35 years’ experience, has kept a paper running journal throughout her athletic life. “Writing about my running in a positive manner is empowering,” she says, adding that the practice helps her get through tough times outside of running. Armstrong also asks her coaching clients to write down how they felt mentally and physically, because, as she says, “metrics alone don’t tell the full story.”

Just as journaling may reveal otherwise hidden sources of stress that may be impacting your performance, it also might signal subtle improvements. “It can be easy to overlook signs of progress or patterns in performance, when we are mainly focusing on metrics,” says Sarah Royer, a registered psychotherapist (qualifying) for the Sport Medicine Clinic at Ottawa’s Carleton University. In Royer’s view, “journaling can provide an opportunity to acknowledge successes, the places where we are feeling stuck, and be a grounding experience that reconnects us with our goals.”

Journaling may lead to emotional benefits such as greater self-awareness, which can, in turn, benefit your training. Documenting your feelings can help reduce stress and worry. Just like a good run, journaling can help clear your mind. 

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Kimberley Dawson, professor of sport psychology at Laurier University and owner of Mind2Achieve Consulting, says the journaling habit can help athletes train their for the mental side of running. She asks athletes to identify and record two key factors in their journal after each workout: “The first is two things that went really well – this could be a physical factor (e.g, a good kick) or mental strength (e.g., managing their fatigue or maintaining focus). This helps to train the brain to build confidence, rather than concentrating on the negative aspects of training, which the brain tends to do if not given a purposeful task. The second is to identify two specific things that they will continue to work on in the next training session. Again, these items can be physical (e.g., better pace) or mental (e.g., staying present in the session). Identifying these two elements contributes to deliberate and meaningful practice that is based on error correction from one session to the next.”

Reading through your past experiences provides a boost in memory, inspiration to keep going and focus to follow through with goals. Following your progress can give you a shot of pride in your accomplishments, and can be an amazing tool for motivation and self-confidence. 

Roxanna Marion lives in Ottawa with her husband and children and their awesome Jack Russell terrier, Chewie. She is a recreational runner and a believer in pursuing goals, no matter how big or small.