I have only one regret following the sports massage I had this week: I wish I had gotten it sooner. Much sooner. In fact, I wish I had started subjecting myself to regular professional sports massages a couple of months ago, when I first embarked on this marathon training madness. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not an indulgence – a sports massage is a far cry (sometimes literally) from a touchy-feely spa type massage. There’s definitely quite a bit of pain involved, but I found the process also amazingly revealing. I became aware of tight spots in my body that I never realised were there. It turns out that there’s a pattern of tension running through almost every major muscle group on the dominant side of my body. It’s blatantly obvious now that it’s been pointed out to me, but before the massage, I really didn’t have a clue.
Yet my therapist remarked – jokingly, I hope! – that if I keep letting my right side do all the running, I’ll soon end up going around in circles. There was no panic about it, no “this is terrible and you’ll have to come back at least once a week for the rest of the year” nonsense. Quite on the contrary, the massage therapist’s approach was reassuringly realistic. She insisted that bodies aren’t perfect and symmetrical and that running close to 1000km in three months – as I have done lately – is bound to highlight and exacerbate the weaknesses and oddities that nature has inflicted upon me. “Let’s face it”, she said as she clawed into my hamstrings, “when you train for a marathon, you’re going to get niggles. The key is managing them.” I left the clinic not only with a completely kneaded and relaxed body, but also a plethora of trips, stretches and exercises to play around with in my free time.
Another nifty side effect of the sports massage is that I really felt like an athlete. That might sound a little odd given that I’m about to run a marathon, but most of the time I feel like a fluke, an imposter who tries to hang out with the big guys. Yet while the massage therapist was dropping her body weight into my back via her elbows, we discussed my training and recovery in detail (well alright, she discussed while I winced – still, it’s closer to a conversation about my running than I usually get, as most people retreat swiftly in the opposite direction as soon as I mention the “m” word).
I cannot recommend it enough – if you are a runner, or any athlete, I’d definitely suggest surrendering to a sports massage here and there. Even and especially when things are going apparently really well – as they are for me – a capable professional can still highlight things that can be improved and dealt with before they become problems. I’ll definitely surrender my muscles into Karen’s capable hands again, before running in the magical Scottish wilderness turns me into a human equivalent of the fabled Haggis, only capable of running around in circles.