Quest for Pie

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It’s Throwback Thursday. Every Thursday we release a column from one of our magazine issues. Today’s article comes from Dave Dunham and originally appeared in the May/June 2013 issue, #14. Enjoy!

Quest for Pie

a defense of the training log

by Dave Dunham

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I’m not sure why I showed up at the Billerica Middle School track on a cold November day in 1978, but it was a turning point in my life.  The Thanksgiving “Pie Race” was my first attempt at any kind of organized running.  I completed the mile long cross-country race in 5:28 finishing in fourth place with my big winter coat flapping in the wind as I tried to keep it buttoned.  I was very disappointed about not finishing in the top three and earning a homemade apple pie.  The High School coach, Mike Granfield, said “See you on Monday for practice.”  I replied with something witty like “huh?” and he said, “You’re going to run on the indoor track team.”  I couldn’t come up with a good argument.

I showed up on the first day of practice and was handed a photocopied bunch of pages from a Runners World training log.  Mike told us how important tracking your running was and it sounded good to me.  At this point you might expect me to say, “And I never looked back,” but nothing could be further from the truth!  The best part of maintaining a log is being able to look back.

 Day’s turn to minutes and minutes to memories – John Mellencamp

Memory is a funny thing; somehow the years just roll by, become a jumble of half-remembered stories.  A training log helps separate myth from fact.  After running over 20 Mt Washington Road Races I can attest that they have sadly blended into a mish-mash of tales.  Any time I want to relive a race or check out a fact (How hot was it in 1994?), my reliable training log is there to offer the answer.  The training log is (hopefully) your never quite finished autobiography.  This is your personal history and even if you post it on your blog or anywhere else on the internet you should never worry about what anyone says or thinks.  Never apologize for ANYTHING in your training log.

ten percent rule dunham 10.13.14So what should you put in your training log?  The more information you put in the better.  You never know what info will be relevant to you in 10 or 20 years.  A few years ago I decided to run in every town in Massachusetts.  I went back through my training logs and was able to check off 50 or 60 towns.  It also gave me an excuse to go back through every single entry I made and double-check how much I ran on any given day.  The obvious stuff to put in your log would be things like date, distance, time.   Including things like any cross training you did, the weather during your run, what route you took, are all pieces of information you might want down the road.  You might find that some form of shorthand is useful, I use terms like “wu” for warm-up and “wd” for warm-down (I never cool-down because I have never cooled-up).  The big problem with shorthand is that sometimes I can’t remember to what or whom I was referring.  Who was “Joe” that I ran with for 8 miles on 23 June 1986?

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it – George Santayana

All of this information can help you by giving you a starting point.  By putting it down on paper you’ve made a commitment to yourself and are now accountable to yourself.  There is nothing that looks as bad as a donut on the calendar (especially if it should be a long run!). Having this history in front of you will help with planning.  We all should have goals, but you need the data to figure out where you are and what may or may not work for you to prepare a quality training plan.  Goals give a purpose to every run and running with a purpose helps you get out the door on days when you might not feel your best.

In theory you should be able to figure out what works for you and what helps you avoid injuries.  Of course what worked for you a couple of years ago may not work now.  Flexibility is important, and I don’t mean stretching.  Take what you’ve learned with a grain of salt, always be willing to experiment, and change things up.  That’ll also keep it fresh and interesting.  Back in 1997 I wrote in my training log “foot hurts,” “foot really hurts,” “foot killing me” for about 6 months.  It turned out to be a stress fracture that I eventually completely fractured and I now have a screw in my foot holding the navicular together.  Would I change anything based on writing in my log?  Nah, but I hope that I’ll listen a little more closely and pay attention to what I’m putting down on paper.

Some other things that you should include in the log include:

  • Time of day – at least some training should be done at the same time you plan on racing.
  • How you felt – I don’t use any elaborate scale but it is a good idea to not just say “felt good” or “felt lousy.”  I try to be a little more specific like “felt crappy, head-cold coming” or more importantly “right plantar fascia sore, loosened up after 2 miles.”
  • Shoe mileage – I’ve seen some recommendations that you track your shoe mileage in your log.  That seems like a reasonable idea but I think a better idea is to keep at least three pair of shoes in rotation.
  • Finally I’d include a route description, training partners, and anything else you can think of that should be noted.

There are three kinds of lies.  Lies, damn lies, and statistics – Mark Twain

Once you’ve got your information down you can start looking back and even compiling statistics.  Your plan versus actual or goal versus reality will help you keep your eye on the prize.  Staying focused and being accountable will help you reach that next target.  Goals will give purpose to every run.  Hopefully a good outcome will build your confidence.  If you know you’ve done the work, you’ll have that needed confidence to succeed.  You may find patterns in your training, like how quickly you recover from long runs, workouts, and races.  This info will go a long way to keeping you out there putting in the miles.  Again this will be important when you are figuring out your training for your next big race.  You may find it useful to track your races separately from your training.  I put them in the back of my training log for quick reference but also put them into a spreadsheet in order to do quick calculations.  I can very quickly pull up past results at the same race or look at how I raced leading up to a fast 5k or pretty much anything I want to find.  The hard part is being consistent in logging the data, but it pays huge dividends in the end.

In a way I’m kind of glad I didn’t finish in the top three in that first race over 30 years ago.  I’m still hungry to this day and you’ll find me out there on the roads, trails, and mountains in search of that ever elusive pie.  Hopefully you’ll be out there too training hard, racing hard, and just as importantly logging those miles.

Dave Dunham is not only a numbers guy but also Level Renner’s #1 statistician. 


If you would like to read more from our May/June 2013 issue, click here.


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