Why You Need Sports Massage in Your Race Prep and Recovery

 Photo: Sunchase Media for RUNGRL

Photo: Sunchase Media for RUNGRL

By Jasmine Nesi

I got a sports massage and it has changed my running game.

But first, let me take a few steps back. Running 20+ miles per week, plus poor stretching habits and a 9-to-5 desk job has resulted in incredibly tight hips. Okay, tight is an understatement. They’re really bad.

They haven’t caused me any pain, discomfort or injury up to this point *knock on wood*, but I’ve made a commitment to address my hips this year before they become a problem. I also hope improving my hip flexibility will also improve my running pace, form and confidence.

I’ve gotten relaxing, post-race massages for recovery, but I’ve never had a massage as a part of my race training. At the recommendation of a friend, I tried a sports massage three weeks before my most recent half marathon.

Sports massages are not the same as a what we think of in a typical “spa” massage. There are no essential oils or hot stones, and sports massages can actually be quite uncomfortable. This type of massage specifically works on muscle release and helps improve flexibility, increase the range of motion and reduce pain.

Halfway through, the therapist noted that after working on just one side, I was nearly a quarter of an inch taller.

During my session, my therapist, Eric at Deluca Massage & Bodywork in Washington, D.C., took an initial assessment of my body, noting tight hips, the relative muscle balance between legs, a slight favoring of the left side of my back and some very tight calves (thanks to having recently run more than 42 miles during The Speed Project). Next, he got to work. It was uncomfortable and that was intentional. He checked on my pain level often and it never rose above a “level 2”. Halfway through, the therapist noted that after working on just one side, I was nearly a quarter of an inch taller.

At the end of my 45-minute session, he gave me two exercises to complete every day so that the work he’d just done wouldn’t be in vain.

After walking off the initial discomfort over the next day, I felt my stride open up and I had a much wider range in motion. By my next run, I was pushing a pace I’d never seen on my watch before. I thought it might be a fluke, but my long run the following weekend felt just as speedy. I felt strong, too, which meant the most.

As you make a training plan for your next race, there are a few tips to consider if you’re interested in sports massage:

  • Do your research. Ask other athletes, physician, your running crew, GroupMe, etc.

  • Expect discomfort. It’s working out your problem areas.

  • Massages aren’t just for post-race recovery. But, if scheduling a pre-race massage, make sure that it’s at least 2-3 weeks out. One of the cardinal rules of distance running is no new things right before a race.

Needless to say, I’m an official sports massage advocate and will continue to use massages as a part of my race prep and recovery.