The Value of Record Keeping

Whether for good or for bad, we runners seem to be obsessive record-keepers, logging miles, minutes, pace, race stats, etc.  Maybe it’s because I require validation that I’ve done enough, run fast enough or far enough, validation that I’m maintaining my fitness year in and year out.  I tell myself that I need to be careful not to add too many miles at a time (as if that’s ever been a concern) or to change my shoes frequently enough.  Maybe I’m even looking for validation that I haven’t peaked yet?

I’ve been using the same trusty running log for 13 years.  There are plenty of good reasons to keep nice thorough notes on your training.  Your notes might help you piece together a strategy for improving. Maybe you’re noticing that you run best an hour after you eat a banana or that it takes you 10 days to achieve the perfect taper!  My notes are far from being that thorough, and perhaps it is for this reason that I’ve so seldom consulted them.  I religiously record the number of minutes I run every day and when I start using a pair of new shoes. Aside from that, I rarely delve into the details, so I figured I wouldn’t have much to see if I pulled out my history of running logs, but I decided to check anyways.

What a treasure!  I nearly lost my mind when I realized what a jackpot I’d found in all my running logs.  All this time, they’ve been sitting in the spare bedroom, shoved into a drawer.  I had no intention of digging them up, yet I knew that I didn’t want to throw them away.  I’m so glad I opened them because they brought back YEARS of the fondest memories of running and friendships and my life.

I’d like to invite you to join me for a look back at one of my favorite running years and the first year that I ever kept a running log.

The year was 2003.

I was still working my way back into a regular running routine after recovering from a knee surgery in 2001 and after spending my first year and a half of college partying my face off.  (That didn’t leave a lot of time for running.) By reading my log, I was reminded of the hours I spent traipsing over to the aquatic center (which has now been replaced with a nicer, newer aquatic center), to run in the pool with my flotation vest.  (Yes, I was a nerd, but apparently I wasn’t terribly self-conscious about this at the time.)  I was reminded of the fact that as a college sophomore, my car had to be parked far enough away that running to get it was a complete workout in and of itself.  I went for runs on the track at Jesse Owens Stadium in the middle of winter when it was covered in snow and I probably wasn’t supposed to be there.  I ran with my best friends like Jeff and Pat who I rarely see now, and I miss the days when we might be able to easily meet up for a jog.  I ran what may have been my first 5k race in 28 minutes on St. Patrick’s Day with the same friend who watched me trip and fall on my face the year before during a run through the off-campus neighborhood near where we lived.  I ran a couple short runs and then fizzled out during a week in Panama City on spring break (for which I gave myself a free pass).  I skipped a workout to go home for the funeral of a high school friend.  I ran my second 5k in 25:44!  I ran with my dad over summer break and signed up for my first marathon for which he made me a detailed training plan.  I followed my plan RELIGIOUSLY.  I ran my third 5k in 23:56 – still one of my fastest races ever.  I finished my first ever 10 mile run on vacation in Hilton Head Island.  Then my first 12, 13, 15, 16, and 18 mile runs throughout the summer with a bottle of Gatorade in one hand, sometimes alone, sometimes with my dad who always kindly helped me carry my Gatorade. I ran before or after shifts as a waitress. I ran with a good high school friend who helped push me on those hot days during the summer.  I was doing girl push-ups back then.  I experienced burn-out and took an unplanned week off at my dad’s suggestion before resuming training.  It was worth it.  I did a 7 mile treadmill run – WTF??  I had FOUR different pairs of shoes.  I finished a marathon!!  A MARATHON!  Even now, fourteen years later, I feel humbled by the time I spent working towards that goal.  I took lots of time off afterwards.  I experienced irregular heart beats that led to anxiety, both of which eventually went away.  I worried for the first time about whether running wasn’t always good for me.  But I bounced back.

I ran 7,815 minutes in 2003, and I don’t believe I’ve run that much in a single year since.  I ramped my mileage back up after my long hiatus, and I embarked on a lifetime of running for various goals and reasons.  I ran for time, I ran for distance. I’ve had years where I ran more or ran less.

Since I’m lucky enough to have a few scribbles in my running journal that remind me of the friendships that were so important to me, body image concepts, races and goals and struggles, I am now able to reminisce and realize that 2003 was one of the most important years of my running life and maybe of my life in general.  I proved to myself that I could achieve things that were difficult, and I earned respect for myself in the process.  In that year, I learned what it really meant to identify as a runner.

In the years that followed, I would have so many more running adventures. I would make new running friends and find that it was a great way to bond with  people.  I would run through a breakup and a new relationship. I would start to train for a second marathon before realizing that my heart wasn’t in it and accepting that I would never do all the training I needed to do if I couldn’t find the motivation.  So I pursued other goals.  I ran 5ks and 5 mile races, I ran trails and roads and treadmills. I ran through hangovers. I learned new excuses I could use to skip runs (I sure did have a lots of “colds”). I ran through new kinds of knee pain and eventually had a second knee surgery.  I skipped class for long runs, and ran my first half marathon before falling head over heels in love with that distance the same year that I met my husband and he fell in love with the fact that I asked him if we could include a 12 mile run in our weekend plans.  I did track workouts, but not enough to make a difference.  I used running to make friends in dental school.  I participated as a member on a triathlon team, started a Turkey Trot tradition, and spent money I didn’t have on race entry fees.  I took breaks from recording my weight during phases when I wasn’t sure I wanted to see the number, and then I started again.  I set goals – some I met, some I didn’t.  I had an especially difficult year during which I barely made any comments aside from the number of minutes I ran.  I got my first age group award!  I tried yoga.  I rejected yoga.  I tried yoga again.  I’m embracing yoga.  I ran in the rain.  I ran in the bitter cold and the suffocating heat.  I have run in Washington, California, Arizona, Colorado, Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Louisiana.  I continued to run through hangovers.  Why do I continue to run through hangovers?!  I married a personal trainer but failed to find as much happiness in the weight room as I do on the road.  (Still trying.)  I visited the gym at an all-boys high school to do a weight workout.  I skipped workouts in favor of happy hour.  I finally combined the two by trying a running club!  I tried morning runs with my roommate.  I became complacent during an injury and just stopped logging my workouts.  I came back eventually.  I verbally berated myself and swore a lot.  Thanks to running, I reconnected with an old friend who’d I’d been close to and grown apart from.  I lost toenails and took pictures of gnarly blisters.  I tried Vibrams and barefoot running.  I ran on beaches, volcanos, mountains, sand dunes and deserts and up stairs.  I visited physical therapy for a “sports hernia.”  I team captained and ran my first overnight relay race!  I won a mug in a 4th of July race 🙂  I ran an alumni race for an all boys high school.  (They seemed fine with it…there were no K. Switzer moments.)  I got a dog that looked like he’d enjoy running with me, but he turned out to be way more into sprints than distance.  I tried morning runs, evening runs, lunchtime runs.  I’ve seen wild turkeys, and spent the night in a team van in the parking lot at Wild Turkey (the distillery).  I’ve lived a whole life through running.

Despite the countless places I’ve run and experiences I’ve had, reading my logs reminds me that there are countless more miles I want to run and places I want to explore on foot.  I’m so grateful for every last one of these experiences, and keeping my running logs was one of the best decisions I could have made.  I bet you thought I would say that record keeping was valuable because of all the data we could compile and learn about ourselves to become better runners.  So far, I’ve yet to do that.  But I do know that reading through my records just gave me a resurgence of excitement about running.  After sitting down with them for the past hour, I can’t wait to head out for my run and to come back home and write about it 🙂  That’s some pretty good added value if you ask me.

Happy running, friends.

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