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Why keeping a diary is so important to a runner's health

What sets running apart from many other physical activities is the way in which it can be measured. All runners want to see improvement, and whether it's distance and time or physical and emotional changes, there are precise ways of measuring progress. Veteran coach Richard Brown, who has mentored novices, Olympians, and world champions alike, says changes in results and physical signals occur in almost everyone who takes an honest, consistent approach to running.


As Brown points out in the third edition of his acclaimed book, Fitness Running, these changes don't come instantly—not overnight, not in a week, and not even in a month. They are long-term reactions as the body slowly adapts to the work asked of it. “Progress comes on its own schedule,” he says. “Along the way, you want to know that you're on the right track and keep an eye out for obstacles. You want to see where you're going and where you've been. This is where the runner's diary comes in.”


One of the reasons it's important to keep a running diary, according to Brown, is that running is a lifetime endeavor, like health and fitness. A season from now, a year from now, even a decade from now, runners can look back at how far they've progressed. Keeping a diary of their workouts allows them to capture two of the most beautiful elements of running—its measurability and its comparability. Distance, time, weight, and pulse are all quickly and easily measured, so by writing those things down today, runners will be able to compare the data accurately with what they achieve in the near and distant future and know exactly how far they have traveled.


Perhaps the most important reason to keep a diary is to monitor data regarding sickness and injury. The diary can help runners understand why an illness or injury might have occurred or alert them if they are at risk for one or the other. “Lack of sleep is the cause of many illnesses, as is overtraining,” Brown explains. “Watching your diary for early signs of sleeping too little or training too much can help you stay healthy.” He stresses that personal accounting can be as simple as a notation on a calendar or in a notebook or as sophisticated as one of the published diaries or computer applications available commercially for this purpose. “Where and how you keep your records do not matter,” he says. “Just be sure to keep records consistently and to cover the essentials.”


As for what runners should include in their diary entries, Brown recommends writing down the workouts for the week or underlining the workouts that were completed and making comments about them. At the very least, runners should record the total time it took to complete a workout and estimate the distance. Other factors could include pace per mile, terrain, weather conditions, and how you felt both physically and mentally; they should pay special attention to information regarding pain, discomfort, or injuries. Brown also believes runners should get in the habit of recording their resting pulse as they wake up each morning as well as their weight. While most runners expect some long-term weight loss or at least to maintain their weight and not to gain, a sudden drop of three pounds or more is not a good sign. It could signal that a runner has exceeded optimal training and a break is needed.


Running diaries can help runners do many important things, such as chart progress, develop and maintain effective training habits, understand how a problem may have developed, monitor rehabilitation, and reinforce commitment. “There is no right or wrong way to use a diary,” Brown concludes. “The important thing is to use one as you see fit.”


Fitness Running provides 13- to 26-week programs for runners striving to lose weight, improve health, or prepare for races ranging from short distances to the marathon. Coverage includes recommendations for female runners and the latest information on gear and gadgets, cross-training, stretching, and recovery.