While getting a massage after finishing a marathon is a must (there’s no better way to recover and reward yourself for the major culmination of long runs, speed work and hours out in the elements!), don’t discount the edge massage can give you when it’s incorporated into your training routine.
“It’s easy to get injured and run through the pain because you think it’s normal,” explains Sarah Sanborn, a licensed massage therapist at The Spa at Chelsea Piers, situated within a state-of-the-art sports center at New York City’s Chelsea Piers. A qualified sports massage therapist can be an ongoing partner as you practice, helping to alleviate soreness and avoid injury.
Whether you’re about to run in a big race, are mid-way through training or are just starting out, every marathoner can benefit from massage. Just remember these few basic principals before running to the massage table.
Do Ask for Sports Massage
Whether you go to a spa or wellness center, call and ask for a therapist certified in sports massage, says Sanborn. “You can even ask if there’s a runner on staff so your therapist knows the lingo you’ll be using like ‘tempo run’ versus ‘speed workout,’” says Sanborn.
Don’t Wait Until You Feel Pain
Book your first massage as soon as you decide you’re going to run a marathon. That way your therapist can understand whether you’re dealing with any weakness or imbalance right from the start, says Sanborn.
After that, come up with a regular plan that works for you. “It’s a good idea to visit every week or two weeks, but know that you might only need 20 minutes of work on your calf one week,” she says. Because sports massage is so targeted, it won’t be a 90-minute session every time you go.
Do Share Your Running Schedule
Whether you’re visiting a therapist mid-training or after the race, explain where you are in your training. “Tell them when your last run was, what you did, and when your next will be,” says Gregory Serdahl, marathoner, licensed massage therapist and founder of Massage America in New York City.
The reason? All the repetitive motion from training builds up a supportive pattern of fascia tissue around your muscle compartments. Deep tissue massage disrupts this pattern—a good thing for alleviating mounting tension and working out potential strains—but it could slow you down if you’re planning to tax your muscles with a long run the very next day. A therapist will know what level of massage to give you based on your schedule.
Don’t Wait to Get a Massage Just Before or After a Race
Because sports massage is customized to you, the athlete, a pre-event massage can be given just before the race to increase circulation and stretch the muscles, or just after to help move lactic acid—the metabolic waste produced from muscle activity—through the lymphatic system, which cuts down on soreness. “I prefer to wait until the day after a race,” says Serdahl, “but it depends on the runner.”