Since then, those diaries have piled up on my office shelf. The spiral notebook gave way to crude weekly pages run off on a copy machine and collected in a 3-ring binder. In the last 20 years, I’ve adopted Joe Friel’s Cyclist’s Training Diary from VeloPress. These missals record anything pertinent: resting heart rate, body weight, mileage, training routes and the bike I rode, with component or equipment changes noted. Performance data is in there too, like times up local hills and race results.
I also included notes on important life events: Our son’s birth, deaths in the family, new bike purchases and how many eagles I saw on a ride. Daily triumphs make the pages, along with occasional disasters (the water heater sprung a leak) and how the weather was.
I know what you’re thinking: Anyone who would keep a training log every day for 40 years must have a serious psychological problem! But I assure you, I’m completely normal. In fact, it has always astounded me that every serious cyclist doesn’t keep a daily account of his or her training. It takes less than 5 minutes after a ride to jot down the pertinent details.
In short, keeping a detailed training history delivers numerous benefits across the spectrum of important aspects of road riding and personal fitness:
A training record. I can look back over each year’s training to see what worked and what didn’t. One interval session a week? Works great. Three interval sessions each week, plus a hard weekend ride? Terminal overtraining. Dieting while trying to gain power? Physiologically impossible, at least for me.
I also record all my weight training sessions. These records detail what I could squat, deadlift and clean over the years, along with pushups, dips and all the other exercises that came and went in my early attempts to gain strength useful for cycling and my present struggles to retain what strength I still have.
Position on the bike. What was my saddle height in 1984 when I was racing well? How does it compare to the same measurement now, allowing for changes in shoe sole thickness, pedal style and cleat fore and aft position?
Bikes and components. What bike was I racing in 1982? What gearing did I use on Mt. Evans in 1978? I had almost no saddle discomfort on a 2011 Kalispell-to-Albuquerque tour. What saddle did I use? All these important tweaks in position are recorded in detail – along with any injuries that resulted from my DIY bike fits.
A performance record. What was my best time up Coal Creek Hill? Up to Black Canyon National Park? In the Colorado state time trial? As the years go by it is fun, but humbling, to compete against my younger self. It’s sort of like a personal Strava arrangement.
A record of each day’s events. I log my training but also note significant details of life, in general. And although my wife doesn’t keep her own training log, I often make notes about her rides and runs; our hikes and tandem rides, too.
When did we replace the roof on the house? Where did we stay in Boise on the way to Seattle in 2002? When did we get our first tandem? How fast did Deb run in that 10K in 1979? All these seemingly insignificant details are in the training logs mixed in with ride mileage and weather reports. I can’t begin to count how often I refer to this record of our shared life.
Small details bring a long-ago ride into clear focus. In preparation for this article, I just read a short entry from 1977, and it’s like the ride happened yesterday.
I rode to Telluride and back, 130 miles, the longest ride I had ever done. It was a hot day, the ride included a steep climb over Dallas Divide and another grind up Keystone Hill. Bikes at the time had only one bottle cage (a Silca frame pump rode rakishly in front of the seat tube), and bottles were smaller than the 24- or 28-ounce ones now used. So I installed a handlebar-mounted bottle cage for the ride.
At the turnaround I drank a Coke, ate a turnover from Baked in Telluride and topped off the tiny bottles. That got me home, barely. Reading the diary entry, I can still smell the odors of hot sagebrush as I descended Dallas Divide into Ridgway.
Paper or plastic? I keep my training diaries in notebooks rather than on a computer. I have Luddite tendencies anyway, but after starting the diary in those pre-computer days, I saw no need to switch to electronic diaries. That decision has been justified as computer formats have come and gone but my trusty notebooks remain.
I hope to continue keeping a training log as long as I can keep exercising. My ultimate goal is to ride 100 miles on my 100th birthday in less than 10 hours – and then expire peacefully post-ride while filling in my last entry.
Then maybe some future exercise physiologist can eke a Ph.D. thesis out of the material. Or it may make better grist for a psychiatrist! (You be the judge.)
In any event, keeping track of my exercise and other significant events has been well worth the small amount of time each day needed to record my daily sweat and suffering.
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred’s full bio.