My wife, son, and I lived in Utah before I moved to Minnesota. My son was too young to walk. We went to Great Basin National Park in Nevada. We hiked up the Glacier Trail while he drooled down my neck. We stood next to 3000 year old bristlecone pines with our one year old. We took pictures. A few weeks later, we climbed from Big Cottonwood Canyon to a high mountain lake. The name escapes me. But I remember my boy snoring in the child carrier and waking up to splash around in an absurdly gorgeous setting. Luckily, I had a 36-exposure roll of film in my camera. (Yes, film.) I kept advancing the film. When it went past 38 to 39, I cracked open the back of the camera. No film. No bristlecones. No mountain lake. No alpine son. I felt like somebody kicked me in my bathing suit area. Did those two hikes with my family exist? I remember them vividly. But without photos, they feel less real.
I recently went on a two month trip. I had spare time, so I worked out and ran a lot. I kept track of my mileage, like I have since I started high school. I installed an app on my smartphone to help log my runs. When I got home, I mashed buttons on the phone trying to upload the two months of sweat onto my computer when…poof. They disappeared. Did those workouts exist? I felt the same pain as I did without film. It’s silly. Any fitness I gained from exercising is still part of me. Why do I care so much?
I used to keep paper logs from 1983 until 1998. Sometimes I had a desk calendar. Other times I used a spiral notebook. I was unemployed in 1998 and bought some training log software. While I waited for job offers, I entered every single scribble on those logs into my software program. Now, in one big database, I have what may be my most important life’s work. Sorry, kids. No, I’m kidding. Kinda.
Now, I’ve lived longer in Duluth than any other place in my life. I can look at over ten years of the same races and draw conclusions. The analysis of my results is another story. A sad and mediocre story, but mine. The short version of what I learned is: Don’t be fat. (I could probably figure that out without crunching numbers.) But data reduction isn’t the main reason I care about missing log information.
I can hit a button and see the sum total of all the miles. I’m a slob compared to you aerobic freaks out there, but I’m still astounded at my overall number. In high school, I started a “virtual” run across America. I drew a map of America with a line from coast to coast, broke it into thirty 100 mile sections and started marking off three thousand miles. I still have the map with the unfinished task. For redemption, I totaled my logged miles for the first time the other night: 34,411.1 miles. I’d be on my second lap around the world, if I had a little map of the Earth. There were hundreds of days, even gaps of years, in my log when I logged nothing when I know I was running. I’m bummed I don’t have more miles, but that’s still not the reason I care so much about holes in my training log.
Despite evidence to the contrary, I tell people I’m a writer. I’m supposed to keep a journal or diary. I’ve tried over the years without success. But, in the background, I had my training log. Now I read “Hiked up Airline to Madison (Hot)” and I can remember that hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with my dad in 1983. My notes for an 85 mile training ride with my college cycling team: “Hard; 4 away in last 20 miles; fun.” It reminds me of my coach yelling out of the van window as we tested each other out east of Colorado Springs. “w/Shelley” on a run in Korea is the first mention of my future wife. I’m still with Shelley.
My training log is my memory. When pieces of it are missing, it feels like early onset dementia. That run, that hike, that ski never existed. If I can’t remember it, for me, it’s not there. Blank white space is no help. But even a few words take me back to another time and make me smile. Maybe your memory is better than mine. In my case, my training log is a record of my life. Lots of the best parts of my life.
While writing this story, I saw something about a hike in Utah. “With Sam and Shelley up from Big Cottonwood. Sundial, Monte Cristo, Dromedary, Sunrise, Twin Peaks. Pretty impressive day.” The title of the entry was “Lake Blanche.” Those two words led me to a topographic map on the internet. The contours of the land matched my memory of cresting a rise with my son on my back. The sun glinting off the mountain lake. No pictures, but my synapses still fire up that day for me. Thank you, training log.
Eric Chandler lives in Duluth, MN. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You’ll have to remind me how I met you unless I have it written down.
(This story first appeared in Silent Sports Magazine, July 2013.)