Dear Diary: I am a cow

"Gosh, according to my journal it's been three weeks since I've done a decent fartlek workout. Better hop to it."

I was thinking I’d just had a bad day on the wall. Then I opened my climbing journal to record my workout and discovered that my last workout, a week earlier, had been “a bad day.” Likewise, the workout before that, during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, had been “somewhat aimless.” Aimless and anti-productive, I discovered upon further review: Had it really been nearly two months since I’d done a 5.9 climb? My journal said it had.

Thanks to my journal, I was able to fully appreciate just how much of a wimp I’d become.

In today’s The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer I have a story on how to get started exercising (an expanded version of that piece will run here tomorrow, with links). I cover a lot of ground — from the importance of mixing up your workouts to working out with a buddy — but one thing I neglected to mention was the importance of keeping a workout journal.

“A journal will give you a great base/foundation for the goals you want to strive for on your fitness quest,” according to Elite Conditioning of Vista, Calif. “Writing down what exercises you’re going to do for the day or week will give you a solid game plan to follow. You can always adjust your workout journal when you see fit, but just having something written down will help you greatly.”
Adds Nick SantaBarbara of The Training Standard, “One of the most important, if not the most important, reason for a journal is the knowledge of whether or not you are over training or under training.”

A workout journal goes one better than a log. Typically, a log is a concise statistical account of your workout: how far you ran, how much weight you lifted, how many reps you did. For instance, on Sunday I ran at Umstead State Park; my log entry for the workout might read: “Umstead B&B, 7.1m, 1:00:53, 8:28.” Translated: I ran at Umstead State Park on the bike & bridle trail, I ran 7.1 miles in 1 hour and 53 seconds for a per-mile pace of 8:28. My journal entry would likely include the same information, but it would also include observations about the run, such as, “Took nearly a half mile to fall into pace,” “Got a sidestitch 30 minutes in but straightened posture and worked through it,” and “8:28!? What a cow!” That additional information reminds me that I’m not a fast starter, that I’m prone to pesky sidestitches but know how to work through them, and that I’m lousy with analogies because a motivated cow can move pretty darn fast.

Statistics in themselves are helpful. They help mark progress (or not) and they remind me of what I still need to do, especially if I’m training for a specific event. For instance, if I’m seven weeks in to a 12-week training program for a half marathon, the above entry might remind me that I need to up my next long distance day by at least a mile, preferably two. And if I’m aiming to run the aforementioned half marathon in an hour and forty-five minutes or less, the pace might tell me I need to up my track workouts to bring that pace closer to 8 minutes. All good information.

But it’s the observations that, for me, make the difference. Reviewing my climbing journal, I see not just that the difficulty of the routes I’ve been climbing has plateaued (basic log information), I pick up on a recent negative vibe. In the fall, I was bubbly over doing the seemingly impossible and upping my game week after week. Lately, the tone of my journal is that of a a listless slacker who gets spooked easily, worries more about falling and has, increasingly, been climbing alone. My journal leads me to two conclusions:

Make more of an effort to climb with my Meetup group. The comradery encourages a friendly, supportive competition that makes me push myself. Also, if I fall my belay partner will catch me a lot faster than the autobelay, which has an alarming delay before it seems to realize, “Oh, dude is falling. Better catch him.” The autobelay is also reluctant to praise a good effort.

I need to take a class. And it just so happens my neighborhood gym, the Triangle Rock Club, offers a class called “Fight Gravity” that’s “Recommended for the 5.8-5.9 climber who is stuck at a plateau … .”

My journal hasn’t magically solved my problem, but it’s helped show me what I need to do to make going to the gym fun again. Thanks, journal.

Google around and you can find workout-specific journals with space to let you record stats and an area for workout reflections. They tend to be a little pricey. You can also buy a blank journal and create your own format, or you can do an online journal (yes, there are apps for that). It’s a matter of what works best for you.

Workout. Then write.

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