Ask a Running Coach: Fueling, Cross-training, and Foam Rolling

I posted the first edition of “Ask a Running Coach” a few weeks ago and today I am back with more common questions from runners. These topics include fueling on long runs, cross-training, and foam rolling.

Ask a Running Coach: Fueling on Long Runs, Cross-training, and Foam Rolling

When should I start fueling on long runs?

Assuming you are eating before your long run (which you should be!), there is no need to take fuel for runs less than 75-90 minutes. Your body doesn’t need a gel for energy on a quick 45-minute run, even if you are running hard.

Between 90 minutes and 2 hours, base your decision of how to fuel off your individual needs. This will likely vary run to run – you may find some days you need fuel on a 10 mile run and other days you do not. If you frequently bonk, take fuel at 30-45 minute intervals on runs of 90 minutes or longer. If your body is adapted to long distance running or you eat a larger snack or meal before your run, you may be able to run for up to 2 hours without extra fuel. If you are running a hard long run, you will likely need fuel sooner than an easy long run. Listen to your body and be willing to adjust from run to run.

What type of cross-training is best for runners?

There are two different types of cross-training: supplemental training (strength training, yoga, Pilates) and aerobic cross-training. I firmly believe that all runners should do some form of supplemental strength training, whether it’s core work, weight lifting, or regular yoga or Pilates. Strength and mobility training will reduce your risk of injury, improve your efficiency, and contribute to your overall health and well-being.

Aerobic cross-training is best done to supplement running, especially if you are injury-prone and run less than 5 days per week. There is no “best” type of aerobic cross-training. Some coaches advocate doing a type of cross-training that is most specific to the demands of running (elliptical, spinning), but in reality, any type of cross-training will improve your aerobic fitness. Activities such as swimming or rowing may actually make you a better runner by making you a better athlete.

Do what type of cross-training you most enjoy: swimming, cycling/spinning, elliptical, arc trainer, hiking, rowing, etc. If you are including hard running workouts, keep the intensity easy on your cross-training sessions. 

When should I foam roll?

The best time to foam roll is when you can fit it in.  If you can foam roll right after your run, that’s great. For many runners, that is not right after a run, especially if you run before work or on a lunch break. Foam rolling will still provide the same benefits later in the day. Spend some time foam rolling while watching TV in the evening or during a break in the day.

If you are sore after a hard workout the previous day, try foam rolling before your next run. Foam rolling can serve as part of a dynamic pre-run warm-up, as long as you are not too aggressive. Especially if you run first thing in the morning, a quick pre-run foam roll will loosen up tight muscles and improve the quality of your run

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If you are interested in working with me as your running coach, you can learn more about my coaching services and contact me here or email me at [email protected] – thank you!

What questions do you have for a running coach?
Are you diligent about foam rolling? (Running coach confession: not as much as I should be!)


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12 Responses

  1. I usually do a little foam rolling before I run which feels good since I run early in the morning! I used to be good about doing a little at night too but I haven’t been keeping up with that lately. Its definitely good to just fit it in whenever you can!

  2. I’m going to be experimenting with fueling for my half marathon in Nov. I typically don’t need fuel on my 10 mile runs but I’m going to try it and see if there’s a marked difference. I also couldn’t agree more with cross training (I get plenty!) and foam rolling (I need to do more!).

  3. Honestly, I mostly just foam roll when something hurts! I should be more proactive about it and foam roll more.

    I cross trained when I was injured and it really helped me come back strong as a runner. My race times were not as fast (they’re still not as fast), and I lost some speed and endurance, but not nearly as much as I could have. I feel like so many runners discount that, but I have friends who have run some fast times on 4-5 days of running rather than 6-7. Sometimes more miles isn’t always better, and sometimes people just enjoy activities like swimming, spin class, group fitness, etc. In the end you have to do what you love!

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