It's no secret that becoming a World Champion in anything requires a lot of dedication and self-discipline within your craft, whether that's chess, running, or another competitive pursuit. As a 2x World Mountain Running Champion, I can say from experience that this is undoubtedly true. But dedication and self-discipline are really the "what" in the World Champion equation and I want to show you my "how".
Call me old fashioned, but I use a written training log and I believe that it has been integral to my success. My training log has carried me through not 1, but 2 world championship titles so I know that it works. I started using a written training log at about the same time that I started running in 2014. As a 19 year old newbie runner, my first ever "training log" consisted of a wall calendar hung on the door of my dorm room closet. My goal was to run 1 mile a day and then I'd draw a line through the day to signify it had been completed... Man we have come a long way since then! From the wall calendar I upgraded to an actual spiral bound booklet designed for logging training. Finally, in 2019, after several years of using these other training logs, I decided to create my own based on the following tenets:
Grayson's 3 Tenets of Success
Organization was my safety net- After spending 5 years as a student athlete, where I studied civil engineering, I knew that if I didn't stay organized and on top of all of my running and schoolwork I wouldn't survive. Having a daily planner for my schoolwork and appointments, and having a separate written training log, accomplished this goal (albeit in a bulky and cumbersome way).
My motivation and self-discipline comes from within- It is common for coaches to use Google sheets, Training Peaks, and other apps as a means of electronically disseminating training plans out to teams and individual athletes. My experience in college, and as a pro, has been no different. While this is an effective way for athletes to see what the training plan is, very often things don't go as planned and deviations from the set plan should be recorded. On top of that, I realized that for me to stay motivated, I had to find intrinsic motivation rooted in personal growth and introspection. "Were my reps this week not only faster, but feeling smoother than last week?". Writing down how my workouts unfolded, what I felt, what I thought, and any other personal notes from the session was a great way for me to build long lasting self-discipline and motivation at the same time.
Success and poor mental health cannot coexist- I have been open about my struggles with mental health because I think this is a conversation that everyone should have; especially in the context of athletics. I realized early on in college that if my heart and mind were not on board with what I was doing, then it didn't matter how fit I was; I would never reach a level that I would consider a "success". Racing takes a lot of mental and emotional energy and if you show up to the start line mentally or emotionally drained, then your physical fitness can only take you so far.
Knowing these 3 things, while lugging around a clunky planner AND a separate training log everywhere I went, led me to the very natural conclusion that I should make my own training log that combines these two books into one. Thus, the Training Log + Planner was born. There are certainly a lot of alternatives out there to a written training log. I am actually a huge fan of Strava and use that every day. I also use a Google sheet with my coach as our way of communicating my day to day training plan. However, there is something about the tactile experience of physically writing in a training log that you can't get from any online/public platform. My written training log gives me the space and platform to cultivate the 3 tenets of success that I identified early in my career, and that I still rely on to bring me success to this day.
In order to build the motivation necessary to be dedicated to my craft, I like to see consistency and quality sessions stack up, week over week, in my training. Apps make this super easy and with one click of a button, your entire workout is effortlessly uploaded from your watch to your online profile; you don't even have to think about it. But herein lies the issue: you don't have to think about it. Do you think that World Champions mindlessly upload their training into an app without thinking twice about it? I know that I don't and I'd be willing to bet that I'm not alone. A lot of key questions and data points are left out in this process of easy and mindless uploading. Questions like:
What was the weather like and did that influence your workout?
If you are a female athlete, where are you at in your cycle?
What was your perceived exertion compared to the measured heart rate?
What is the state of your mental health and self-talk before, during, and after this session?
A written training log gives you a judgement free zone where you can be introspective and honest with yourself while answering these questions. The experience of putting pen to paper in a private manner is a great way to avoid the comparison trap of social media and focus on yourself. I like to think of myself as a horse with blinders on where distractions and judgements have been removed so that I can focus on what makes ME the best athlete that I can be. It is NOT about how many segment KOM/QOM's I achieved, or if my workout qualifies as a certifiable Sexy Strava Workout, or even if it is a workout that my top competitors might be doing. Giving myself this space, and building my mental health based off of intrinsic feelings and thoughts, is the most sustainable way for me to get to the top level and stay there. Supporting your mental health and cultivating motivation through self-belief and self-confidence (without needing to flaunt that to the internet) is a champion's mindset.
In addition to cultivating good mental health habits and positive self talk/image/confidence, my written training log is also my best tool for goal setting. Setting a huge goal, like wanting to be the very best in the entire world at something, is intimidating. I would guess that for many people, the intimidation factor, and feeling of being overwhelmed by the goal itself, stops a lot of people from ever setting huge scary goals. Every January, in the judgement free zone of the "Goals" section of my training log, I like to sit down and write out my big scary goals for the year. In 2019, 2022, and 2023 this list of goals included "Win World Mountain Running Championships". I'll admit that even now, when I write these goals down, there is a lot of self-doubt tinged with self-judgement to work through. However, I know that if I can commit to nailing my 3 tenets of success, and focus on process oriented achievements, I can go anywhere I want to go.
By using the habit trackers and graphs to track trends in my training log, I am able to break huge scary goals down into bite sized chunks. It gives me daily, weekly, and monthly goals to shoot for. In addition to accomplishing the day's run, these process goals also might include things like: yoga 2x each week, lift 2x each week, sleep 8-9 hours each night, eat 20g of protein more each day. Setting achievable and process oriented goals, and tracking them in my training log, allows me to find success and motivation in the journey towards my bigger goal. It also helps me avoid burnout (its hard to get burned out when you feel like you are accomplishing goals every day!) and stay motivated throughout the season. This is one way I find joy in the process.
At the end of the day, it is the journey that matters, not the destination, and keeping track of the highs and lows in my training log helps me keep the long journey in perspective. If you have made it this far, thank you for letting me share a bit about how my mind works and how my training log has helped me accomplish some of my biggest and scariest goals. I fully believe in the power of a written training log as a tool for success and I hope that I have convinced you of that as well. Even if my training Training Log + Planner isn't your style, I hope that you can find some other form of written log that helps you enjoy the process of accomplishing your wildest dreams!