Benefits of Tracking the Miles

I grew up watching my dad, a runner, track his miles. He always took the time to note how far he ran, the day’s temperature, wind direction, and a few other details about his run. It seemed only natural, then, when I started running (and later riding) to keep a mileage log.

Tracking the Miles with a Mileage Log

I recently read a few pieces about the limitations of tracking miles (Bicycle Bug recently penned a good one), and I agree that ultimately the overall ride experience is most important. It can also be toxic when counting miles morphs into an obsessive pursuit.

Overall, though, I like tabulating the miles I ride and run. My mileage logs have also taught me a thing or two, which is something I did not expect when I first began jotting down my workouts.

I keep my mileage log simple, possibly too simple for many people. I use one of those small paper datebook calendars. Yes, it’s old school. I prefer to keep track of these things on paper.

In the space provided for each day, I jot down my ride or run with a brief summary, e.g., “ride to work plus trip to Whole Foods and back - 11 miles.” I will also write down those times where I find my energy to be low or if a ride or run went exceptionally well. Other than that, it’s basic mileage and route. If my activity for the day included a workout at the gym, I’ll also note that.

For a year or so, I tried Daily Mile, but it didn’t work for me. I liked the social networking side of it, but disliked storing my information on-line. It also brought out this unhealthy competitive side of me where I started pressuring myself to chase miles so that I would show up on leaderboards.  I retreated from that and went back to my paper-based ways.

(c) Bill Beck

Even by tracking the most basic data, I’ve been surprised by the patterns that have emerged from it over time and seeing how it correlates with how I’m feeling.

For example, I’ve noticed that my riding typically trails off in September. Both September of this year and last year I felt burnt out from cycling. A review of my logs from 2012 and 2011 showed that April through August are usually my biggest months for cycling. The higher miles and greater focus on cycling during those months probably contribute to my September burnout.

During September of this year I also felt exceptionally tired. It seemed like I was getting enough sleep each night so what was up? In looking at my mileage, I realized that my running miles are up and trips to the gym more frequent this year. Those two activities, in addition to the bicycling, have probably built up some fatigue in me.

Mileage logs also help with figuring out how to train. I disregarded my running base when increasing my mileage earlier this year, and now I’m dealing with knee pain which I believe was caused by my doing too much too fast too soon after our big months of bike riding. Mileage log fail? No, the mileage log clearly shows where I went awry.

As I reflect more on my mileage, I realize I’m not tracking enough information regarding my strength workouts. I have a sense of my progress (or decline) in this area but would like to know more about it on paper. Tracking my strength workouts better would also help me combat plateaus and figure out if I’m missing any muscle groups.

I’m having fun supplementing my cycling and running with weights, but would like to be a little more strategic about what I’m doing when I’m at the gym. If you have any suggestions for a good and easy way to track weight workouts, please let me know in the comments or send me a note.

Running! (c) Aaron Schwartzbard

For some people, mileage logs might not be viewed as a good use of time, and I agree that it is not critical to have numbers support how your feeling, physically or otherwise. If you’re tired, you’re tired. If your knee hurts, a mileage log won’t change that. However, mileage logs have helped me understand why I might be feeling a particular way and have also been useful in shaping my future physical activities.

I like seeing how my rides and runs fit into all of the competing priorities of any particular year. Watching how my activity levels ebb and flow over time and why is fascinating. As long as I continue to glean these kinds of additional insights, I will probably continue to use one.

What did I miss? Other good reasons for keeping a log and/or other information that might be helpful to track?

12 responses to “Benefits of Tracking the Miles

  1. I do the same weight routine every week, so there is no reason to track it. My training partner, a knowlegable former personal trainer, views “muscle confusion” as nonsense.

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  2. You do the important part of recording miles — going back to look at and interpret it. I have a full log of almost every mile and heartbeat for the last 7 years via my Polar heart monitor. But the only time I ever look at it is if somebody asks me how many miles I rode the previous year.

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  3. I have kept a training diary for over 30 years. I not down notes about what happened in my life. These make for interesting retrospective moments. They also help immensely when I draft my family’s annual Christmas letter.

    Traing logs are incredibly helpful in diagnosing injury problems and recovery.

    While it may seem crazy, I keep track of which bike I use for each ride. This helps diagnose sources of mechanical problems. Back in my marathoning days I kept track of mileage by shoes and would rotate my shoe choice. The kept the midsoles of shoes from prematurely deteriorating. Also I learned that at 600 miles it was time to get a new pair of shoes, even if my current ones looked good on the outside. Your knees will thank you

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    • The shoes and bike ridden are a good idea. My father did track his shoe miles, too. Unlike you, I’m pretty sure my logs do not contain enough info for a Christmas letter. At least, not one that would be of interest to anyone.

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  4. I still have notebooks from my competitive rowing days 30 years ago that track every aspect of my workouts, along with periodic journal entries on my mental state – it’s entertaining to go back and read what I was going through when training at that level. Today I just track my bike miles on a spreadsheet and graph to compare year to year. I still find it interesting. For really intense tracking, graphing, and analysis; there is a book: “Serious Training for Endurance Athletes”, that takes the whole thing to a new level.

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    • I don’t know that book. I have also transferred my stuff to a spreadsheet to compare. That was pretty easy to do, actually, and I found it really helpful.

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  5. Hubz keeps a very detailed paper log, complete with minutes spent working out (vs miles) and food that he ate.
    I use dailymile – I am a sucker for the colored graphs, though it is tempting to get in more miles just to see them. Not always a bad thing …

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    • Yeah, the Daily Mile graphs ARE cool. And regarding Food!! That is the one thing I’m really bad about, on a variety of levels. It’s always on my to-do list, but to keep a food diary… that is a level of honesty I’ve not yet reached with myself. !!!

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  6. My cycling logs date back to 1989. The first ones were just stats, what I ate, stuff like that, but they eventually evolved and became more elaborate, documenting incidents on rides, who was there, who did what, etc. That proved to be the lasting advantage of keeping up with writing them, as I regularly use the information for current projects (posts), such as histories of local group rides and what not.

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    • That’s cool. I can see the value in that as well. I don’t usually do that in my logs, but I do like having the history of rides. That is why I like doing ride reports, and now that I’ve been riding long enough to do some courses more than once, it’s interesting to compare them over time.

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  7. Pingback: Looking Ahead Without a Spreadsheet | chasing mailboxes d.c.

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