How to Track and Log Your Outside Runs

Runner Outdoors
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Runners have plenty of tools at their disposal for measuring outdoor runs. These tools are important for logging your distance, your pace, and other key factors for the training runs you complete. Even if you're not training for a race, this data can be helpful.

If you keep some form of training log, periodically reviewing this data can help you to determine a predicted finish time for an upcoming race, or set pace goals for future runs.

It can also help you to identify and overcome running challenges. For example, if you struggle to maintain your typical pace in warm weather you might want to review your running gear or hydration strategies to see if there is a way to minimize the impact of heat on your performance.

Lastly, looking through your training log can also boost motivation. Runners often go through periods when they feel less motivated or even out of shape. Reviewing your log can help to remind you of your substantial commitment to the sport and the accomplishments that you already have under your belt.

Storing data from your runs, including pace, distance and related factors (weather, food intake, mood, etc) can help you to review and modify your training plan. It can also help you to boost motivation by showing you how much you have accomplished in your running journey.

How to Track Your Runs

There is no shortage of options for tracking and recording run data. You may find that you prefer one method all the time. Or, you may choose a particular measuring method depending on where you're running.

Smartphone Apps

Using a smartphone app is of the most popular methods for tracking your pace, distance, elevation and other factors when you run. There are countless apps available and many of them are free. Some apps charge a fee but allow limited use of the app services for free. Others may allow you a short trial period for free.

Popular apps include Runmeter, Runkeeper, Strava, Nike Run Club, MapMyRun, and Couch to 5K.

MapMyRun has a good distance tracking app that's fairly accurate. You can also use it to plot and measure your route before you head out the door. The app and website provide saved routes from other runners in your area. This allows you to browse through various distances and courses to find some new routes.

Strava is used by many athletes who are multisport athletes. The app records both pace (for runners) and speed (for cyclists) And Runkeeper is a running app that gets high marks from runners for measuring pace and distance.

You can use these running apps purely for measuring run data, or you can take advantage of some other popular features. Many apps offer calorie counting, audio updates, and training programs.

If you're worried about how you'll carry your phone, you can check out different products to carry your phone on the run.

GPS Watch

If you run outside frequently, you may want to invest in a running watch with GPS. Popular brands include Garmin, Polar, and Fitbit. When buying a watch, however, not all GPS watches work the same.

If the running watch you prefer says that is has "connected GPS" that means that you'll need to carry your phone on your run to get on-the-go data (like pace and distance). The Fitbit Versa is an example of a watch with connected GPS.

Other watches have built-in GPS. These watches may be slightly bulkier than watches without the feature. Built-in GPS does not require you to carry a phone to get data on the go. Fitbit Ionic, Polar M430, and Garmin Forerunner models are watches that have built-in GPS.

Most of these watches are fairly pricey (usually $150 to over $500). When choosing one of these watches, keep other features in mind as well. For example, Fitbit Ionic and Versa allow you to download apps like Pandora or a music library so you can listen to music with Bluetooth headphones.

On the less expensive end are GPS connected devices such as Fitbit's Versa Lite and Charge 3. On the more expensive end are watches like the Garmin Forerunner 945 that offer high-tech training and technical features for runners and triathletes and also music features.

Race Performance

If you prefer a lower-tech approach to tracking your pace and performance, you can simply track and log your race times. If you're running a certified race course, you know that you'll be completing the exact distance of the race. Based on your time and your distance, you can calculate pace.

Also, many times, your pace (and possibly even your splits) are listed with your race results online.

In addition, most race courses have mile markers. So you can take mile splits throughout the race. If it's a local race, you can run the course in the future on your own and be certain of the distance.

Track Times

Many runners do some training on an indoor or outdoor track. If you sometimes run on a track (at your local high school, for instance), it's easy to measure your distance. Most tracks are 400 meters (about 1/4 mile). That means that four laps would be about a mile.

However, keep in mind that running on a track is different than running on the road. Especially if the track is indoors. You don't experience variations in pavement, hills, or wind resistance when running on an indoor track. So, if you are tracking your pace to determine your predicted race finish time, you may need to make adjustments to allow for these differences.

Car

Although it seems "old-school" now (with all the GPS technologies available), you can always drive a route in your car and measure the mileage using your car's odometer.

Driving in your car may not give you an exact mileage—especially if you ran on a path or sidewalk and not on the road—but it is an easy way to see how far you ran. Then using your finish time and distance, you can calculate your pace.

How to Log Your Runs

Knowing your pace and distance is helpful. But these metrics are more helpful if you log them and use the numbers to modify your training. There are different ways to log all of your important running information.

Websites

Most smartphone apps also have websites. When data is collected on your app, it is also stored on the website. Once your account is set up, you can log into the website and view your run metrics. You can also view your run history and all of the metrics for recent runs.

Most GPS watches also have websites. For example, Fitbit provides users with a dashboard that includes exercise (running and other workouts) along with other data including weight, food intake, sleep stats, and other numbers. Polar provides a calendar view with specific run data and information about intensity and recommendations for recovery.

Of course, you can view the data on your smartphone too. But many times, viewing the data on a larger screen makes it easier to manage.

Paper Log

For many people, using a paper log is the most efficient way to log their running data. You don't need a wifi connection, a phone, or a computer to log or view your information.

To set up your log, follow a few steps.

  1. You can use a spiral notebook or another paper journal. You can also get a running-specific journal such as the Complete Runner's Day-by-Day Log.
  2. Set up your charts to easily input your data. Make sure you have columns for date, distance, duration, and course. You can have another column for other notes, such as mood, weather, temperature, and how you felt.
  3. If you want to track what you're eating, set up a separate column for food, and keep notes on what you ate, what time, and approximately how many calories.
  4. Create separate entries for your race results. Be sure to include the race name, date, distance, pace, your overall place, and your age group place. If you took splits during the race, make sure you record those, too.

You can also use a combination of computer-based and manual logging. Use computer software such as Microsoft Word or Excel to create simple charts to track your progress.

Once you start keeping a training log, make sure you check back periodically to review your progress. You'll learn how you reached your goals or understand why you may not be improving as much as you'd like. If you're tracking your foods, you'll be able to see what works best for your performance.

A Word From Verywell

If you're using a GPS smartphone app or watch, sometimes the weather or tall building can interfere so you may not get the exact measurement. But that's alright because it can be beneficial to do some of your runs based on overall time, not distance.

And there is no need to obsess over results from a single run. The purpose of keeping a running log is to view your overall progress, make changes if necessary, and review your accomplishments.

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