How putting pen to paper can help you run faster

The PGC1-Coaching group

Guest writer – Josh Schofield, 14:39 5,000m runner and Head Coach at PGC1-Coaching

“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

This quote is one that has resonated with me since I started my coaching journey in 2017. As a coach my job is to help my athletes prepare to the best degree possible to help them achieve their goals.

With the emergence of things like GPS watches, Heart Rate Monitors, TrainingPeaks Fitness Graphs, Stride Pods and Strava it’s easier than ever to get hold of reams and reams of data. More and more I see runners using the technology they have at hand to tell them how to train.

The data is only as good as the sample

By no means am I saying that athletes shouldn’t use data, I think what GPS watches give athletes is fantastic. Having a really clear view of what kind of training you are completing in numerical values is a fantastic resource. As a coach for some of my athletes, I have nearly five years’ worth of data I can look through to see peaks and trends in their training.

However, I do believe that the reliance runners now have on electronic data means that they don’t get the most out of their training. It’s so easy now to complete a run, give it a funny caption on Strava and park it.

The stats are there for if you need them at some point in the future, but this process does not help you mentally absorb the training you are completing and evaluate your day-to-day progress.

PCG1-Coaching athletes dominate

The power of the written word

Putting pen to paper is something that is completely undervalued in current times.

My first day of my undergraduate degree at Leeds Beckett University, Professor Jim McKenna told everyone with a laptop out taking notes to turn them off and get a pen out. I remember him saying that you will always absorb more by writing something down!

I really believe the reflective process of sitting down and writing how sessions feel by hand gives runners a much better understanding of the training they have completed. By dedicating that time to think, “How did that rep feel?” or, “How did my body respond to the training today?”, and most importantly writing it down, it helps you make a little check mark in your mind as to where you’re at.

This helps you dive back in time on a workout and think, “Yes – I remember that run on X day, this is how I felt, and this is why.” By leaving it all online, I don’t think you’re able to fully absorb what you’re doing.

Generally, and I am someone who was guilty of this within my own running – we tend to only look back once something has already gone wrong, whether that be not hitting our goals in a race, picking up an illness or injury, or going through a really tough patch in training. It’s often only once we get to this point that we start to look back through our training to see why.

However, completing a reflective running journal keeps you consistently up to date with this process of evaluation. This can help you spot things much quicker as you are thinking a little more deeply about what training you are completing.

I can already hear the questions in your head now as you read this – “Well, I can spot trends quite easily with things like pace, cadence, power and heart rate on my watch, so why do I need to write things down?”.

Running Coach Josh Schofield

How accurate, useful and relevant is your data?

Whilst your watch does record these numerical values, the numbers should only guide your evaluation of a training session or race. One of the biggest mistakes I made during my time as a runner was not cognitively evaluating how my training was feeling and getting too hung up on numbers.

Looking back, if I had taken more time to physically write down and evaluate the training I was completing, I would have had a much better understanding of my own performance.

You can also pick up on things in written form that you can’t with digital data – you can use the journal to write positive things about the run beyond the outcomes of a training session.

For example, you may have chosen a new route and captured some stunning views, had a great conversation with a friend, or perhaps the sunrise or sunset was particularly beautiful. Recording events like these, whilst they don’t add to your performance per-say, they do create memories that can stay with you even longer than a PB!

What’s more, writing down how you felt, mentally and physically, whether it’s rate of perceived exertion (RPE), coaching cues, or paying close attention to the development of tightness or a niggle, can be far more useful (and more accurate) when it comes to relevant evaluation of your adaptation and response to training than the numbers presented to you by your watch or app.

About PGC1-Coaching

PGC1-Coaching was founded in 2019 and was formed based on trying to translate good scientific practice into helping improve its athletes' running performance. PGC1-Coaching is made up of athletes trying to run their first marathon all the way up to trying to qualify for the commonwealth games. The principles behind the training at PGC1 fall down to a couple of key factors: being consistent with you what you do, structuring your training around your life in order to give you the best chance to achieve your goals and most importantly enjoying what you do! Under head coach Joshua Schofield’s guidance, PGC1-Coaching promotes a strong community environment across all of its athletes.