Six weeks until the Sugarloaf Marathon and 15K! If you're training for either distance, this is when you're putting in your longest, toughest training runs. With endurance runners training for a peak performance, I'm busy in the office providing support to these athletes. If you're training for a marathon or another distance event, massage therapy is an amazing tool for keeping your race plan on track. As an LMT and a runner myself, I recommend planning your massages in four distinct phases.
1. Active Training. This is when runners build their mileage and put in the most time on the road. It's also when misalignments and fatigue can start to blossom into more serious pain and injury. Active training is the best time to use deep tissue massage to problem solve. You have enough time in your training plan to recover and adjust.
2. The Taper. in the 2-3 weeks before the event, marathoners cut back their mileage and let their bodies recover. It's incredible the way that a taper restores strength and speed to your legs. Because the taper is about rest and recovery, your massage plan should reflect that. Don't do any massage so vigorous that your body will need to recover from it: you're recovering from enough already. Let your massages help you to relax and restore your mental focus. Trust me, race day is almost more mental than physical.
3. Marathon Day. Enjoy your run! Most marathons have massage therapists at the finish line, offering 5-15 minute sessions. Don't get on a massage table until you have had time to drink, eat, cool-down and stretch first. When I work at a marathon finish, I won't massage a runner who also hasn't used the port-a-pottie first: if you're too dehydrated, massage will only make it worse.
The treatment you get immediately post-race should be a reasonably gentle check-in with your body. Chances are you're inflamed, but your adrenaline will mask the discomfort until later in the day. This is not the time for deep work or stretching beyond a comfortable range, even if you're limited in your movements. Get some help relaxing those tired legs, and use this short massage as a quick exploration of what you need to prioritize in Phase Four.
4. Race Recovery. If your training went well and if Mother Nature cooperated on race day, chances are that you'll feel better than you expected after your run. It's normal to be stiff and sore after so much exertion, but you should feel basically well in the days after your marathon. As the initial inflammation subsides, this is the time to start progressing deeper with the work again. Use your massages to return to normal range and function, but don't overdo it. As your recovery progresses, you can get deeper work with less physical resistance. Don't rush it--you just ran 26.2 miles! Training was a slow process, and recovery also takes time. But massage therapy will get you back on the road faster and training for the next one!