Keeping a cycling diary will help you develop a structured plan that is progressive and realistic. Charting cycling sessions and reflecting on previous outings will ensure that you are going in the right direction.
There are a number of details that can be included within a diary and, depending on the purpose of the record, these may vary in relation to depth and breadth of knowledge. Some of these will be retrospective, allowing you to chart your thoughts, feelings, moods and habits after your ride. Others will be planned in advance in order for you to have some structure and aims to your cycling sessions. Ideally the diary should be split into several key sections for each day.
These should include:
Resting heart rate: This will provide you with a good indicator of your general physical well-being. A heart rate that's more than eight-to-ten beats over your typical resting value is a sign that a rest day is needed.
General mood: Keeping a general record of your moods will give you a point of reference when related to your training detail, sleeping habits and resting heart rate... particularly when you note a consistent change in mood, which may indicate an increase in training load.
Training/racing detail: You can be as specific as you wish, but by logging some detail as to the nature of the ride, the type of terrain, average speed, weather during the session (wind speed and direction), any race information, your finish position and pictures, will give you an account for reflection and thought.
Ride thoughts and feelings: By setting aims and objectives for each session, you can ensure that every time you go out on the bike you have a purpose. However, sometimes we often don't achieve what we intend to. By keeping a log of your ride moods, thoughts and feelings, you'll be able to chart your psychological as well as your physical development. Consolidation after the ride also allows for solutions to be found, thus assisting you next time you go out.
Weekly amount: Whether this is a distance or a time, by recording such detail you'll be able to monitor steady improvements in the nature of your cycling session, comparing and contrasting with previous weeks, months or even years.
Further information that you may also like to record includes:
Sleep patterns: This refers to how many hours of sleep per night you're getting and how many times you wake in the night. Alternations in your patterns may be a sign that your training load is too high and you may need to reflect on the training plan that you have just completed.
Body mass: If you are attempting to reduce your body mass (reduction in body fat, not muscle) it may be advisable to monitor your body mass on a weekly basis to ensure loss occurs slowly and safely. Don't get into the habit of weighing yourself every day as this can be self destructive.
Nutritional intake: Whether you intend to lose weight or not, monitoring your nutritional intake throughout the day can be a valuable asset when it comes to evaluating your cycling progress. It's also a good idea to make a note of your nutritional strategies immediately before, during and after the session to evaluate their success.
There are many online sites that give you the opportunity to record your cycling experiences in a logical and structured format, also allowing for the integration with personalised training plans. Such facilities provide you with a valuable point of reference. Be warned, however, that these typically involve a charge and a contractual commitment. An alternative is to get a training software package. This can be bought from most top-end cycling or running shops, and offer the same level of detail, allowing for a more personal, internet-free facility. Finally, if you're the inventive type and feel that the expense is unjustified, you could always build your own on your computer. Spreadsheet packages, for example, allow for detailed programmes to be created, with comments and additional information easily inputted and amended.
My preference, however, is the good old pen and paper. Placing all my training details into a portable diary allows me to stick it in my training bag when I'm away, easily and quickly. It's certainly one of the most valuable training tools, and careful consideration and accurate notes will provide you with a resource for reflection, allowing for steady and worthwhile improvements.