Wednesday, 11 May 2011


It was with a heavy heart and heavier legs that I booked a sports massage this week.  I know all the benefits and am well aware that a serious and responsible runner would include massages into their training and recovery schedule, but I generally try to avoid the process, mostly because it’s extremely bloody painful. As I will now explain.

There was no avoiding it this time. I logged almost 40 miles last week, up from just 12 the week before. Four of them were barefoot and I also snuck in a game of touch rugby. I was wrecked.

I shuffle into the physio’s reception trying to look like I do this all the time. After checking in I sit down and flick through the magazines (astonished to find a 4-page feature in Men’s Health devoted to practical advice for adulterers, notable extract: ‘a pay-as-you-go phone is the philanderer’s number one tool’ – what the hell!?) and studied the impressive collection of certificates that adorned the walls. Time ticks away, eventually passing my appointment as the physio is still with another client. Oh no! Perhaps my therapist enjoys their work so much that they regularly work unpaid overtime just to punish athletes even more! What if I’m here all night!? I’ve made a terrible mistake!

The physio emerges from a back room some 10 minutes later – she’s small, blonde, in her thirties. Cheerful and smiley.  I’m relieved – I had envisioned a hefty male, Viking in stature and sworn enemy of muscles and the muscled. We do the usual forms and the medical history. All is going well as she directs me to a pleasant treatment room full of towels and a comfy-looking massage table. This will be ok after all.

Then she asks why I need a sports massage. I start to explain: ‘Well, I’m a runner...’ but I tail off as the mood in the room changes. She sees a lot of runners, she tells me. At her request, I list my recent running achievements and future plans (though I don’t mention Barefoot Dave’s Great North Run for fear of being told off). She looks mildly impressed for a moment, but I think this is a cover as she is already eyeing up my legs, wondering whether she should use maximum or ultimate force to demolish them most effectively...

Before long I am at her mercy, face in the hole and legs awaiting their punishment. First the calves and Achilles’ tendons: the pain is excruciating. She keeps me chatting, as she probably knows that trying to answer her chirpy questions prevents me from chewing my own face off in agony. Involuntary cries of pain punctuate my conversation, but she seems unfazed by my mournful noises as the demolition of my lower legs continues.

Next the back of my thighs, and she’s using every ounce of her surprisingly vast strength to rearrange my muscles. At one point she almost pushes me off the table, such is her determination to fit her entire forearm into my leg. ‘Just relax’ she tells me. This is difficult – I’m here because my legs haven’t been relaxed for months, and what’s more I can’t help but notice that she is abusing my legs with an intensity and determination that can’t be bought (yes it can: £33 for 30 minutes). As I focus on relaxing the muscle I can feel it threatening to spasm. She spots this immediately and pounces on it, manipulating the muscles around my knee and making me wonder if I really need my knees after all. Surely amputation would hurt less?

I turn over to lie on my back, feeling for the first time the vast impact of the treatment. My muscles are fizzing and seem somewhat unreliable and unfamiliar. She’s relentless, now taking the front of my thigh to pieces with more of that superhuman strength. I’m doing everything I can to manage the pain but occasional squeaks of discomfort are still escaping unchecked. The physio remains steadfast in her abuse – she notices my pitiful exclamations but doesn’t recognise them as a reason to stop, if anything she increases the pressure on the toughest areas.

I silently resolve to give up running in favour of obesity.

Finally we’re finished. She suggests a baffling schedule of appointments designed to consolidate today’s onslaught, then prepare me for San Francisco. I agree to most of them as I try to remember how to walk and remove what’s left of myself from her reception. Back at home my legs feel like they’ve exploded, and my thighs in particular seem to be a different shape.

Today my legs feel new and I’ve been for a fast run and a great swim.  No pain, no gain.

Happy running.


2011 to date - miles: 439.31, parkruns: 5, races: 2, miles biked: 17.85, metres swum: 675

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