Making the most of the off season – a talk with Dr. Aleck Wong

‘Tis the season! This phrase is heard ringing throughout our lives day-in and day-out this time of year. And while everyone is bustling about with the busy-ness of juggling life and preparing for the holidays, runners and endurance athletes are also typically finding themselves in the midst of another kind of season – the off season. I think of it more as a “reboot season” – unplugging for a bit and starting back up again after sufficient rest. It’s a crucial time for a runner, truly. A rich opportunity to let go of the rigors of training and racing in order to reap the benefits of and learn from the prior cycle or to address issues that have lingered from it. It’s a time to recharge our batteries on all levels – physical, mental and emotional.

This season can be welcomed and embraced by any level of runner, but it also oftentimes leaves us feeling a little bit lost and anxious to get back to the rhythms of training and racing. I have been wondering lately – what is the BEST way to approach this in-between time, to prime our bodies and minds for goals we have ahead of us?

How do we make the most of our time off from training? As a coach and an athlete myself, I have a lot of ideas and opinions about this. But I wanted to ask someone whose expertise and opinions I have always valued, to get a little more insight into it and to pass that wisdom along to you.

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Roll With It

Every day during marathon training, I have to MAKE the time for a date with my foam roller.  A good 15-20 minutes with this guy every day makes a huge difference in my body.

When the mileage increases and the speed workouts are in full swing, my muscles get tight and beg for some massage.  I think that the colder weather also contributes to tighter muscles (I don’t know about you, but I feel my muscles naturally tense up the minute I step outside in the cold weather), and I need to give them some tender loving care to keep things loose and limber.  Since I can’t afford a regular rub down, it is up to me to take care of treating my muscles to some myofascial release.

I strongly believe that this should be a part of every runner’s training regimen.  It makes a big difference.

I keep my “torture devises” (as I am sometimes known to lovingly call them), right in my family room in a basket.  Every night after dinner while my husband and I are relaxing by the fire watching TV, I spend some time rolling out my muscles on the foam or rumble roller or massaging them with the “Tiger Tail” stick (  If I have a particularly tight and stubborn spot I may also take out a tennis ball and use that to target the area.

my torture devises

What are these things, you ask?  And why would I torture myself this way?

The foam roller is a large cylindrical piece of high density foam.  When you “roll” your muscles across the foam it serves to loosen your muscles and break up adhesions that have formed in the fascia.  (Wikipedia describes fascia as “a layer of connective tissues that surrounds muscles, groups of muscles, blood vessels, and nerves, binding those structures together in much the same manner as plastic wrap can be used to hold the contents of sandwiches together.”  I love this analogy.).  When we have tight muscles, the fascia becomes less like plastic wrap (which is soft and conforms to the contents it is holding) and more like a hard rubbery material.  So we need to massage it out to loosen things up and have it relaxed and pliable again.  The foam roller is perfect for this.  The rolling action pumps blood out of and then back into the area and sort of kneads the muscle (like a giant rolling pin) loosening things up.  A Tiger Tail is a stick with a layer of foam (similar to the foam on the foam roller) that spins on the stick that can be pressed and rolled over a muscle – it facilitates the same results as the large foam roller, but I find it is more helpful for smaller areas like the bottom of the feet, the Achilles tendon and the calf muscles.

I make the time to roll out my hamstrings, calves, quads, IT bands, bottoms of my feet, glutes and hips every night.  I roll over each muscle group about 5-10 times, depending on the tightness.  If I have an area that is especially tight I will spend more time there, sometimes using my rumble roller (which has tire tread-like things on it) or the tennis ball on those spots.

It can hurt and doesn’t always feel so good in the moment.  But like a good run, I never regret making the time to roll out my muscles and always feel better when I am done.

Coach Caitlyn (who leads the =PR= Distance Training Program) recently introduced me to a WONDERFUL web site called Athletes Training Athletes (you can find it HERE) that I simply cannot get enough of.  The site was created by Leigh Boyle, who is a physical therapist and triathlete from New Hampshire.  Leigh created this site as a “one stop resource” for endurance athletes to find all the information they need to help them work through or prevent overuse injuries.  If you are like me, you will love this site and find yourself reading it all the time.  Leigh has provided SO MUCH incredible information all in one spot, including excellent videos of foam rolling techniques for each muscle group area and kinesio-taping advice as well.  If you are an endurance athlete, you will want to bookmark this site in your web browser as I have.  It is amazing.

So … tell me, do you have a regular date with your foam roller?  How do you make the time for this important aspect of your training regime?