Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 26 Apr 2008 05:37:44 -0400

Personal Records

RUNNING COMMENTARY 725

(rerun from April 2003 RW)

The recorded story of my life started with a single line on a sheet of notebook paper. It read, "11/11 -- 2-mile road run, slow," and it launched an enduring habit.

The diary that I began writing on Veterans' Day 1959 continues today, more than 17,000 entries later. It's now less a running log than a writing journal, but it still begins with a single line about that day's run.

That line speaks mainly in numbers. The journal carries on in words, which started for me as notes about the running numbers and led to essays on often unrelated subjects. Drawing on a lifetime of personal record-keeping, I give you these tips for telling the story of your own running life.

1. KEEP IT SIMPLE. The easier it is to keep your record-book, the more likely you are to settle into this habit. Start by reducing the diary-type information to the few items that mean the most to you -- such as the length and time of your run, any unusual happenings while training, your weight, your pulse rate. Adopt a consistent format for quick comparisons of different days.

You can record the essentials of the training session in the time it takes to read this paragraph. Writing a journal entry takes longer but still not an excessive time span.

I dash off about one typed page each day. Average time spent writing: 20 minutes. I intentionally keep the time short because I don't want this to seem like a second job, and do want to look forward to more of the same the next day. I've yet to lose interest in this hobby.

2. KEEP IT PRACTICAL. Days of running leave behind random-looking footsteps on a day's page. You can't take much direction from them at first. But as the weeks, months and years add up, they form a trail that points two ways: where you have been and where you might go next.

Analyze the accumulating data over extended periods of time to judge your results. My practice is to take an accounting at the end of each month instead of weekly, where a single unusually long or fast day can skew the results.

Tallying by the month smoothes out these highs, along with temporarily lows that might have come from a brief illness or a business trip. Because months are so long and come in different lengths, I don't deal with total amounts of running but compute daily averages that can be compared from month to month to spot longterm trends.

3. KEEP IT PERSONAL. When words follow the numbers, think of them as a daily letter to yourself. Don't write with an audience in mind, because that will influence your style and content.

In the journal I race down the page without trying to make it perfect, leaving bad spelling and grammar uncorrected, and facts unchecked. This isn't the time to slow down and edit.

It also isn't the time for modesty or good manners. This is my page -- as the one you write is yours. We can write anything we want here -- honestly and personally without angering, shocking or boring anyone.

4. KEEP IT GOING. The longer the diary-journal continues, the greater its bulk and the higher its value. Store your personal records in a safe place, treating them as the precious volumes they will become in time.

You can open this ongoing book to any old page and bring a day back to life. You can call up a mental DVD and, from a few lines on the page, recreate all you did and felt that day. These recordings give substance and permanence to efforts that otherwise would be as fleeting as the moment and to experiences that would be as invisible as footprints on the dry pavement.

In my office stands a bookcase filled with dozens of binders, each representing a year's worth of experiences. On a nearby shelf rest all the books I've written and edited for publication.

If a fire broke out here and I had to choose between the two sets of books, it would be no contest. I'd haul out the diary/journals that tell the truest story of my life in the roughest of drafts.

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