Tracking your progress: GPS Watches, Apps & Training Log


Tracking your runs and keeping a running log to record our training helps track our progress, monitor our health, stay motivated and reach our goals. When training for a race over a prescribed amount of time you should highly consider tracking what you ACTUALLY ran, versus SCHEDULED runs. This will help you monitor your training and progress.  Many “devices” and online tracking systems are also pushing your tracking into new levels such as Social Sharing and Virtual Training Partners.

This article discusses both the Tracking and the Logging aspect of monitoring your training. You will see that there are many different options and solutions.  There is no “Best One”, but there may be a “Best One for You”.  It just may take some time to figure out which one that is.

Tracking vs Logging

There are two components to monitoring your progress, tracking your runs and logging your progress.  

  • Tracking - Distance, Time, Pace, Mapping (GPS), Heart Rate.  
  • Logging  - Recording what you Tracked, training, notes, etc.

At the bare bones minimum, you’ll need at least 1) a stopwatch and 2) know how far you’re running. You can then get into Mapping (GPS), Heart Rate Tracking, Interval Timing, etc. Many of these components are now fully integrated thanks to Smartphone Apps and Web enabled GPS watches and systems.

Every once in awhile you’ll encounter a true “minimalist” who does none of this - they just go out and run a prescribed number of miles. They’re not common, but you’ll see them around ;)

So where do you go from here . . .

GPS Watches & Smartphone Apps

With the popularity, drops in prices and access, GPS watches and GPS Tracking Apps for smartphones are becoming more common and easy to integrate into your “gear”. Most GPS watches include a way to download the data and record it into a log for you.  Most if not all Smartphone Apps already record your runs into some sort of log - many of which you can also access online via the web.

Online Tracking Systems

There are also a bunch of online systems, many of which also integrate with your tracking device (Watch or APP).  Some of these also bring a Social element into them allowing for posting your workouts online, tweeting your goals, and even joining virtual clubs and groups to share and train with.

GPS Watches

Smartphone Apps

These systems both have Apps to track runs and online components to record/log your workouts and other aspects of your training.

Online Logs and/or Tracking

These both track runs and offers a logging component

Heart Rate Monitor (HRM)

Getting a watch that has an integrated Heart Rate Monitor feature is another level of tracking and logging that will help you with your training. Some coaches and training programs focus strictly on Heart Rate training. Advanced training programs will use HR data more closely, but it can also be used for general, everyday training. Using your HR is actually a more accurate method of determining the optimum pace for specific runs (especially in the lower/slower runs such as Recovery Jogs and Easy Runs (Most run those too fast))

HRMs can also alert you to side issues like getting sick or over training - by measuring your heart rate as you wake up in the morning as pointed out here:

I find HRM training adds another set of useful data and some of it is simply pretty cool to have. For instance:

  • Shows your HR vs “perceived effort” to better match the two.  After time, especially years, you get pretty good at gauging what an “Easy” run feels like vs. a “Tempo” run, and a HRM is way of confirming it.
  • Shows HR during specific areas of a run, such as an Uphill, or downhill.  
  • Confirms if you are sick or overtired - by showing you that your HRM is way too high compared to where it should be.
  • For you data freaks (I’m kind of one ;) there are some cool factors to seeing your HR logged over the course of a run or race.

Here is a good resource on getting reviews and more information on HRMs:

Battery Life on GPS Watches & Apps

Unlike regular watches, any device that uses a GPS function uses a lot of battery life. This is due to the active (powered) antenna system that GPS requires. Most GPS watches will last in the 4-15hr range - ensure you pick one out that suites your training.

Further, smartphone apps that use GPS suck the battery life out of your Phone faster than any other app that I know of.  My Runkeeper would suck about 50-60% of battery life from a 90min run on my old iPhone 3GS.  I now have a iPhone 5 but haven’t done much testing yet.

Regardless of device, ensure you charge it before heading out on long runs (>60min)


As you can see above, there are MANY different options on how to track your actual runs.  That covers half the battle - the other half is to Record or Log your training and progress.

Logging Your Training / Tracking your Progress

There are many different ways to track and record your workouts.

  • By Hand, the old fashioned way. You’ll at least need a watch.
  • On Computer, spreadsheets anyone?
  • GPS Watch, distance, time, pace (and at times, more - HR, etc.)
  • Smartphone App - The all-in-one training partner (music, tracking, log, etc.)

What to Record in Your Log

You can record as much or as little as you like. The more detailed your entries the more useful information you'll have to help your running, but also the more time and discipline it will take.  You should also record your Cross Training Days, and even your Off days, which you’ll find as “Optional” information below.

Minimum Log Information

Below is what I would classify as the minimum amount of information you’ll want to record in your Training Log.

  • Date
  • Location
  • Distance/Time
  • Type of Run/Workout: Recovery, Easy, Tempo, Yoga, Gym, Off/Nothing, Etc.

This minimum amount of information will allow you to gauge your overall training by time/mileage compared to your plan.

Optional Log Information

Below is optional, but good to have if you wish to take the time.  These are in order of importance, IMO (your mileage may vary)

  • Comments (Quick notes on the run)
  • Heart Rate (Avg, Max)
  • Time of day run
  • Total weekly mileage
  • Weather
  • Injuries (new, old/recurring, etc.)
  • What you ate, when (Pre, During, Post)
  • Fluid intake (Pre, During, Post)
  • Who you ran with
  • Body weight
  • Shoes (Which ones, Miles)
  • Race results
  • How you felt, Motivation Levels

Other Information, further Optional

Below is even further information that may be beneficial if you’re really going to monitor your progress and overall well-being during your training.

  • Rest days
  • Morning Pulse Reading
  • Stretching sessions: when, what & how long
  • Warm ups & Cool down
  • Injury prevention
  • Schedule upcoming races
  • Goals
  • Lifestyle notes
  • General well being
  • Other sports played

Keeping a running and training log reminds us to pay attention to our body's aches and pains. It can help us take rest days and not feel guilty. We can learn from both our mistakes and achievements.  A running log can become a sort of “diary” as well to remember training, racing and the overall experience.