Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Burn Your Training Log: Write Your Story

Great, you started measuring your sweat rates and are running your long run impaled with a rectal thermometer that measures your core temperature. I’m very interested in hearing about the experience – just keep the data to yourself.    
Let’s be honest.  I don’t care about how many miles you ran today and what your heart rate was on the various gradients.  Yes, you can link me on Facebook to your uploaded data from your Garman 405 and I can see a Google map with all your biological stats interwoven with your route’s topography.  Exciting stuff!

But even as someone ‘really into’ what you’re doing, my eyes are glazing over.  I actually skimmed the whole thing.  OK, I’ll go a step further.  I probably ignored it.  So did all your friends and family.  They’d rather you spend the time telling about your day.  I promise.

Personally, I’m more interested in hearing about the thorn bush you fell into when you were in flight from a belligerent shih tzu.  I’m more interested in hearing about your reflections upon the park benches reflecting in the river you ran beside. 

I want to know why you were running.  Maybe you were running your intervals at suicide intensity.  Literally.  That break-up you’re working your way through has been damaging and you thought if you ran hard enough your heart might explode.  Take me there in your Tweets, status updates, and blog entrees.  Don't give me time splits.

Now, this is coming from a data junky.  For a whole year I recorded my heart rate and time split for every mile I ran.  Sweat rates, calories consumed, watts powered, laps swam:  you name it, I wrote it down.  

What did it result in?  I’ve got a couple large computer files of stupid ass numbers.  Really, that’s all I have.  Yes, times and heart rates lowered while performance increased.  Whoop-ti-freakin'-do.

But is this the narrative of my life?  I hope not.

Now I write about how Death Cab For Cuties’ What Sara Said can move you to tears as you hit the two-hour mark in Jockey Hollow during a Morristown autumn.  Now I record how my fatigue after a high volume workout made me put my hot cup of coffee into the refrigerator and take a gallon of milk to my office desk.  Now I document the stranger I met on a trail who looked like what Emerson would look like if he wore short shorts and compression socks; or the collection of bucks I nearly crashed into at 50mph on a blind corner on a cycling descent where I was out too late because of a flat.

Now I write about my methodical deductions regarding as to if I prefer diet Pepsi or diet Coke or why I insist on using the phrase ‘soft drink’ to denote soda.  I just note the setting such an internal dialogue.  It was actually dominating my mind in 2003 during the 4 hours I was approaching Aberdeen, South Dakota while riding from Oregon to NJ.  I wrote it all down in a post card in some crazy strange laundry mat with the worst off yellow colored machines.  

My point is that our energy is on the wrong aspect of recording our training.  If you are a busy athlete managing a job, family, chores, and basic life necessities on top of training, you don’t have time to write down methodical data after all your training.

Lance Armstrong has a nice GPS system on his bike that shoots all his vital stats of his ride to his coach Chris Carmichael.  I’m pretty sure you don’t have that luxury.

So just keep a diary instead and focus on the things that make you love training.  The numbers will work their way in, I promise. 

The narrative of your journey is the essence of it.  Every step of ‘now’ trumps the anxiety producing ‘what if’ or ‘when’. 

Take it from someone who’s been there.  I have a drawer full of awards of top finishes in triathlon and running.  I never open it.  I surely don’t go back and read my notebooks of data.  You think certain friends' pictures of their trip to Disney World is boring?  Imagine what you are doing in your discourse about the graphical representation of your lowering resting heart rate over a three month period.

I’m not paid enough to make winning my life.  I’m not paid at all for racing, actually.  And if you are reading this, neither are you, most likely.  You’ve just fallen into the trap, maybe, that getting faster is a validation of becoming. 

Instead now I’m opting to live my life through my training.  I’m not training to invent my life.  I promise you, if you don’t get your head straight, crossing that finish line in Kona might be your most hollow victory to date.  It will just be another number in your notebook and another thing checked off on your way to the next unfulfilling conquest.  Another life dampening been there, done that.

The essence of every finish line should be in each and every nowness of training and racing.   

Destroy the duality of who you are and who you should be.  Make a oneness of who you are and what you are doing.  Continually find yourself where you happen to be.

I’m trying this.  And, as a consequence I just might be getting faster and my fitness improving.  But I’m not focusing on that.  That’s ancillary to my focus.

When you lay off the science are you risking burnout and injury?  Are you jeopardizing peak performance?

I’m sure you are.  Frankly, I’ve forsaken peak performance for peak living.  The burnout makes for a better plot!  Maybe I’ll finally breakthrough what was unbreakable.  Maybe I’ll just break.  I’ll take that.  Or maybe, I’ll just keep doing my think with ear-to-ear grin. 

And this doesn’t mean you need a philosophical justification for your running or racing.  Just keep doing what you are doing and loving it.  Your justification is irrelevant.  What is relevant is your story that I hope to hear sans heart rates and rectal thermometer readouts. 

Don’t be afraid of losing or slowing down.  You just might catch your breath enough to capture a glimpse of who the hell it is that is actually pushing forward at breakneck speed, leaving life in the wake of a distorted landscape.  You’re so much more than numbers.  Your friends and family know that.  Do you?  Better catch on before you alienate them even more.

This is coming from a man whose senior thesis in college was:  The Quantitative Self:  Its Relevance to a New Ethics.

I burned my training logs, so to speak.  And I’m becoming more than an unopened drawer of finishing medals that will have stories to tell, now that I’m ready to listen.


  1. kind of just kicked me where it hurts...but maybe I needed that. A great reminder that fitness is not an end to itself, but a process in this journey. I LOVE to do my workouts with people and that why I love to workout. The measurements are just means, not ends to the fitness cause. Nice work and thinks for the reminder. Keep on truckin'! Love the blog!

  2. Thanks Jim! Love your podcast. Tuned in this week. Great stuff. You are well on your way in your fitness journey. I see sub 3hrs in your future!

  3. Well said. I've spent the past 6 months trying to wrap my head around the CTS approach and it's just getting on my nerves. I've gotten to the point where I know that if I continue to challenge myself with every ride I'll keep improving on endurance, speed and overall performance. I felt like I was losing sight of what cycling represents --- it's supposed to be the FUN part of my life. Let me put it this way: I don't need an expensive meter to tell me that this week's jam through the Great Swamp was better than last week's. You just know.

  4. I couldn't agree more! I did Daily Mile for a couple weeks, and stopped after I realized that I'd become boring. Because truly, unless you're Ryan Hall or Kara Goucher, no one cares about your mile splits. But what we "regular" runners have over the pros is our personal stories—how we fit it all in, what made us get started, what it's like going from being able to run two miles at a time to a full marathon (in which case stats might be OK). Thanks for a great post—looking forward to reading more!

  5. Wow, Jockey Hollow in a Morristown autumn...haven't seen one of those in years and forgot how much I missed them running high school cross country! Living in Oregon now and doing runs along the Springwater corridor in Portland, but I miss the smell of those autumn leaves...Thanks for the flashback.