Round-Up: Contradictory Articles on When to Foam Roll

Because… Monday.

Wait, it’s Tuesday.

Out of curiosity, I decided to research when I should be foam rolling. Before? After? Directly after? Hours later? There’s plenty of contradicting advice out there, and not many articles cite their sources. Where’s the data? Who took a group of runners and had them foam roll before or after or several hours after and then followed their rates of injury, recovery time, and performance? The expert being quoted, what studies have they read, or does their expertise consist of anecdotal evidence from clients enjoying a placebo effect because they want it to be working?

Time magazine did the best job of citing research studies in its article about foam rolling. If you have time for one article, it was the most informative and interesting.

But while reading a lot of articles that say slightly different things might seem like an exercise in frustration, it’s helpful to look for common themes. All these articles agreed that foam rolling can be beneficial, that good posture using the foam roller is important to prevent injury, that rolling too hard (think pain instead of discomfort) is not helpful, and that you shouldn’t roll out your lower back because you can cause injury.

And most articles admitted that there might be different benefits to rolling before or after your workout.

When you read just one article on a topic there’s a chance you’re reading an outlier and if you read five more articles the information in the first would contradict the general consensus. That’s fine if it’s a ground-breaking article that adds important new research to the body of information and is going to actually shift the consensus… it’s not so good if the article is written by an “expert” somewhere with a controversial opinion that isn’t based on a wealth of evidence.

I found the same thing when reading parenting books. Rather than feeling frustrated by the contradictions, I felt empowered by the amount of consensus I found.  The contradictions offered me flexibility in areas where positive outcomes had been demonstrated from a variety of different parenting techniques.

So when you have a question, like “when should I foam roll” maybe it’s not such a bad thing to read a variety of articles to get a feel for where there’s agreement vs. where people just aren’t sure and perhaps you should see what works best for you. (And what the definite NOs are so you can avoid injury.)

And if you read something “groundbreaking” make sure you check out the research behind it so you’re confident there’s ample evidence of the benefits and low risk of injury before you go out and ice your calves to the point of frost-bite or overhydrate on a run.

Happy truth-seeking!

Will with my orange foam roller in the background.

Foam Roll Before:

Foam Rolling? Do It Right By Avoiding These 10 Mistakes from Runner’s World

Should I Foam Roll Before or After a Workout? from Outside Online

Foam Roll At Bedtime:

The Right Time to Foam Roll from Men’s Health

Both or Either:

Should I Be Foam Rolling Before My Workout Instead of After? from Women’s Health

You Asked: Should I Use a Foam Roller? from Time Magazine

Articles About Foam Rolling That Tell You Everything Else You’re Doing Wrong But Not When to Do It:

5 Foam Rolling Mistakes to Avoid from Huffington Post

The 4 Mistakes You’re Making When Foam Rolling from Runners Connect

Long Run Drama

I stood in the kitchen decked out in my running gear wiping away tears and trying to explain why I was crying.

I was about to head outside for a long run, my longest run outdoors since 2016.

It needed to go well.

I’ve been bored on the treadmill. Inconsistent. Frustrated with the competition between my memory of me as a runner with the reality of me as a returning runner.

The only way I could get myself to put in three miles on the treadmill the other day was by playing games with myself to see how high I could get the built-in heart rate monitor. 198 BPM. Running at 8.1 mph on the treadmill for 55 seconds at 2% incline did the trick. I drowned out the voice reminding me that this was slower than Greg’s marathon pace. (Just kidding, I didn’t drown it out, I saved it for my next blog post.)

If you’re a cardiologist or other heart or fitness expert I’m curious to know whether this game is even a good idea.

So there I was, in the kitchen, feeling like this was a critical run because I needed outside to be the magical cure for my running rut. Greg, ever fantastic, carefully herded me out the door with the right combination of reassurance, empathy, and podcast recommendations. A tricky exercise, getting a nervous runner who is crying in your kitchen to leave for their run. I’ve never had to do it. He even mapped out two routes for me and talked pros and cons while carefully pretending he wasn’t aware that this was yet another procrastination tactic.

I chose the second route. (More scenic.)

I ended up listening to The Gun Show, a fascinating history of the NRA and how it essentially got taken over in a coup in the seventies to become the political monster it is today. It was fascinating. I already said that. I think anyone who lives in the United States should give it a listen. (And it’s not a hard political sell on anything, it’s just what it says, a history.)

There were moments when I wondered if I should be listening to the calm, dulcet tones of Rich Roll (a long run podcast staple of past years) but some of his episodes are more intriguing than others, and with a long-form style you need to surf for the ones that are most interesting to you. So Sean Rameswaram it was.

You’re wondering how the run went. (I hope.)

It was great.

It was slow, but it was STEADY. No long agonizing walking breaks of defeat. No cramping. No wardrobe failures.

By mile 6 my legs felt that overall fatigue I remember from so many long runs in the past, which made me feel like I was really doing it – I was getting back into half marathon training. This is what I remembered.

I ran 8 miles, putting me back on track to hit 6 or so 10+ mile runs to prepare for the Maine Coast Half Marathon in May. The last time I ran the Maine Coast Half it was an utter disaster because I’d been triathlon training and I thought I could wing it. One does not “wing” a half marathon. (Or at least I certainly don’t.)


Here I am. I got back outside, and I ran for 8 miles, and it was beautiful and not boring and then I came home and Greg had taken the kids grocery shopping, poured me a beer, and made lunch.

Nothing to cry about.

The struggle is real. That run doesn’t look like much on paper, especially compared to past years. But it broke through an emotional barrier I hadn’t realized existed until I stood in the kitchen surprised at myself for tearing up over an upcoming run.

If 8 twelve minute miles in a row are what it takes to get my confidence back, so be it.

Because with confidence, I can move forward.

After I have this beer.


5 miles with a heart rate monitor

Just ran my longest run in over a year! 5.2 miles.

Not nearly as quickly as I could have once, but it felt wonderful to slow down and run at a more maintainable pace so that I didn’t feel like cutting the run short a few miles in. I’ve done several 2 mile runs recently, in part because I was pairing them with another activity like yoga or strength training, and the way I felt towards the end of the two miles had me a little worried about ramping up my mileage for the Maine Coast Half Marathon in May.

So… I went for a run on a day when I didn’t do any serious training or yoga, and I slowed WAY down.

The way I got myself to slow down was by using a heart rate monitor and forcing myself to pause or reduce my pace when my heart rate got outside my target zone.

You can see that my heartrate was in the 160s just running 12 minute miles… a clear metric that I’m not in fantastic running shape. (No surprise there.)

What I love about using the heart rate monitor is that I’ll be able to track my improvement based on heart rate. Right now, staying in the high 150s to low 160s produces about a 12 minute mile. In a month, I’m sure that number will change. I look forward to it!

What I don’t love about using the heart rate monitor is that there’s no real consensus on what my target heart rate should be. calculates it as 102-158 based on my age.

A Runner’s World article suggested that one updated formula would put my target heart rate around 162-169 for tempo workouts and 120-129 for recovery runs. (Looks like my recovery runs would have to be recovery walks if I’m hitting tempo heart rate at 12 minutes per mile. (Remember when I ran that half marathon at 10:01 pace? 13.1 whole miles? I like reminding myself of that when I feel insecure about my running.)

The most accurate way to get your target heart rate is to go to a lab and hook yourself up to an oxygen machine and go all-out on a treadmill with increasing pace and incline.


Until then, I have a rough idea of where my heart rate should be, and targeting around 160 helped me run a full 5.2 miles instead of these 2 and 3 mile runs that were making me nervous about half marathon training.

Now I know to really slow down for my longer runs, and to keep going to Precision Running or doing my .25 mile intervals at a faster speed to help me drop these times down. This is better than my strategy of making every run .25 miles at a challenging pace and trying to get all the way up to 4 miles but quitting around 2 or 3 because it was simply too fast to run extended mileage.

It all goes back to the basics; include a tempo run, an interval run, and a longer run in your week if you’re training for something. I was doing every run like it was an interval workout because I thought I could run my tempo run at the same pace I used to when I was in half marathon shape… and I didn’t mentally connect that my tempo pace was now my interval pace, so my long run pace was now 12 minute miles.

Thanks to a session with the heart rate monitor, I’ve got that sorted out… which means I can get back to running.

Looking forward to reporting back in a month or so and seeing what 162 beats per minute gets me then!

Running Update – Base Building

I’m getting back into running!

It’s not easy.

Running has a tough entry curve. It takes a while to go from not running regularly to being able to run 3 miles without stopping, and the process of working up to that isn’t incredibly pleasant. I think that’s one reason so many non-runners have trouble understanding why people love running. When you first start, there’s not much to love about it. Legs burning, lungs feeling like they’re on fire, and that’s after only a couple minutes if you weren’t in good aerobic shape to start.

So here I am, with a memory of being able to run 13.1 miles at 10-minute pace, struggling to run half a mile at that speed without stopping.

Luckily for me, I have the memory of building up my running, too. I know that with patience and repeated efforts it’ll get easier and easier to breathe and I’ll run further and further comfortably.

I’m tackling the ascent with a run/rest strategy. I’ve been using the treadmill since, well, it’s January in New England. (Props to all of you out on the road.)

It helps me to decide going into the run what my rest intervals will be, to keep me from hitting “pause” too frequently and getting frustrated when the run takes forever. I’ve done .25 mile intervals with 45 seconds of rest, and .5 mile intervals with 60 seconds of rest, and then given myself speed as the variable I can change if needed (but keeping it until 11-minute pace).

Controlling too many variables in this early running stage could lead to failure, and once you’ve failed early in a workout, you’re stuck figuring out a new plan. By giving myself at least one variable that will be flexible, I can modify rather than fail if needed.

There are three variables I choose from going into a run. 

  1. Speed
  2. Distance
  3. Interval length

Sometimes my goal will be 1 and 2, so I’ll go in and do 3 miles at 10-minute pace with as many and as frequent breaks as I need.

Or I’ll pair 2 and 3 and say I’m going to do 3 miles of .5 mile increments and the speed is adjustable.

1 and 3 don’t really go together because then the variable would be the duration of the workout which conflicts with my goal to up my overall mileage and endurance.

At some point in my running I’ll get to the point where I can accurately pinpoint a reasonable goal that involves all three variables; for example I’ll know I should be able to run 3 miles at x pace without stopping and that’ll be my tempo run goal. But as I’m getting back in and building a base, it helps to give myself a built-in option for making the run easier. Giving myself one option means denying myself the other… so by saying I can rest whenever I want, I’m really saying “I’m going to put in 3 total miles at this speed, and that’s not negotiable”.

I do really well when I find my goals challenging but doable.

If you look at my screenshot of my goal progress from Garmin connect, you’ll see that I’m behind on my goal for the year, but I expected that as I work up to running 10 miles a week and then keep adding on for the half marathon training in May.

Hope your winter running is going well, and that you have a strategy you love for building your base back up after a break!


Needham New Year’s 5k Race Recap!

Greg and the boys showed up to surprise me and cheer me on! (I told them to stay home where it was warm, but the kids held signs up from the car while Greg got out and took this photo 🙂

Started out the year with the Needham New Year’s 5k! I ran it in 2013, 2014, and 2015 too and it’s such a great race. It’s put on by the Needham Running Club and they do a wonderful job.

Registration is at the Needham Y, so there are bathrooms and warm areas available to hang out in before the race, and the starting line is close to the building. The race is chip-timed by racewire with free finish-line photos uploaded the same day of the race.

There’s always plenty of street parking available, and they shut some of the roads down for safety. There’s a great police presence at intersections, and there are volunteers all over the place – they have someone at every turn and plenty of people answering questions, handing out water, and registering people same day. (Same day registration: $25. Advance: $20.)

So impressed by the people outside singing in the freezing temps!

They handed out hand-warmers, Needham New Year’s 5k race socks, and reusable water bottles for race swag, customized with your name if you registered by December 5th. I put the hand-warmers in the toebox of my shoes on top of my feet. It was amazing.

Despite freezing cold temperatures, 296 runners participated. It was a relatively flat course through residential areas and one main street with wide breakdown lanes and mostly stopped traffic.

I didn’t stay afterward, lured home by the promise of a hot shower and lunch. But they had free coffee and hot chocolate inside both before and after the race.

The Needham Running club has the most modest membership dues of any running club I’ve seen in the area ($15 per year) just enough to cover their race expenses, USATF fee, cones and orange vests for safety, etc. They have weekly runs on Saturday mornings with mileage options ranging from 4 all the way up to 20, and seem very welcoming of any pace or distance (they even have Couch to 5k info on their site.) Needham area runners should scroll to the bottom of their homepage to see their running routes around Needham for ideas.

This is my fourth time running the Needham New Year’s 5k, and my slowest, but I was impressed that I had a nice, steady run despite spending most of 2017 swimming and taking classes at the Equinox instead of running. I put in very few miles this year. In 2016, when I was also biking a lot and swimming a lot in preparation for Tri For a Cure, my mileage was down but I still completed the Chilly Half Marathon in November. In 2017 I dropped out of Tri For a Cure because of plantar fascia issues, and did very little running.

So I’m thrilled that I’ve resolved to run 500 miles this year, and that I was able to start out with a 5k. It might have been my slowest Needham New Year’s 5k yet, but I got up and braved a “feels like -6 degrees” temperature and ran the whole thing without having to walk.

That’s a win as far as I’m concerned!

Past Needham New Year’s 5k Times:

Needham New Year’s 5k – January 1st, 2018 – 33:20 (10:43 pace)

PR: Needham New Year’s 5k – January 1st, 2015 – 27:49 (8:58 pace)

Needham New Year’s Day 5k- January 1st, 2014 – 28:39 (9:13 pace)

Needham New Years Day 5k – January 2013 – 30:37 (9:51 pace)

I remember running that sub 28 minute 5k in 2015. That was the year I did the Run Less, Run Faster half marathon training plan. It definitely provided results. And so did taking a year off from running. 😉

Happy New Year, and HAPPY RUNNING!

(Or vinyasa-ing, or cycling, or swimming, or tabata-ing, or walking, or hiking, or tennis playing, or aqua-sporting, or whatever helps you happily live an active life!)