How can you tell a serious athlete from a non-serious athlete? Easy. The serious athlete will, from time to time, get a massage.
And I’m not talking about the kind of massage you receive from your significant other, the kind where they knead your shoulders and say things like, “you’re really tense,” because they want to seem like they know what they’re doing.
I’m talking about a professional massage. Given by a professional masseuse.
And, having had my first professional massage last weekend, I feel I am highly qualified to describe the experience, so you can decide whether getting a professional massage is something you would like.
The Runner scheduled us for massages — both at the same time — to be had a few days after we got back from the NYC marathon — a treat to reward us for finishing our last big race of the year. It wasn’t until we got there that it occurred to me to wonder: would the masseuses be men or women?
As it turned out, there was one of each.
Which didn’t help me at all.
Here are the things I considered — all within the space of about four seconds — when confronted with the choice of which masseuse I wanted for myself.
- The woman masseuse is the pro; the man is the apprentice.
- For some vague — but probably very neanderthaloid and unenlightened — reason, I am icked out at the idea of getting a massage from a man.
- For a much more obvious but perhaps equally neanderthaloid reason, I don’t like the idea of another man handling my woman.
- I was aware of the intellectual inconsistency in my preferring to get a massage from a woman, but also not wanting another man anywhere near my wife. I explained this in my head as being justifiable because — being one — I knew that men are generally evil.
I explained all this to The Runner in a hushed, urgent whisper, as quickly as I could. She rolled her eyes, called me a dope, and said that since she had been here and had the pro masseuse (as opposed to the apprentice) give her a massage, that she would take the apprentice. I’d get the pro, so I’d get the full pro effect.
I Discover My Comfort Level
So the masseuse shows me into my room and says, “I’ll leave you to undress to your comfort level.” Which had me pondering what my comfort level might be. The truth is, I was completely comfortable remaining fully dressed, and knew for a fact that the less I was wearing, the less comfortable I’d be.
On the other hand, I didn’t want to miss out on the full massage experience.
So, I compromised and got entirely naked.
OK, I guess that’s not much of a compromise. But — and I don’t know if this is different than in most places — pretty much all of me (except the part being worked on at the moment) was always under a sheet, so I wasn’t quite as out there as I might have been. Which I expect was probably as much a relief for the masseuse as it was for me.
I Resolve to Not Cry Out
The Masseuse asked what we’d be concentrating on. I told her that my legs were still sore from the marathon, so I’d like her to concentrate on them.
As she got to work, she said, “Let me know if you’d like more or less pressure.” Which caused me to think two things:
- There was no way I was going to ask for more pressure, because I knew from hearing other people that massages can get pretty intense, and I did not want to ask for more pain than I was already destined for.
- There was no way I was going to ask for less pressure, because I didn’t want her to think I am a sissy.
I am happy to announce that as she worked on my legs, I did not cry out. Indeed, I did not even feel like I wanted to cry out. The pain was about at the level I expected and left me feeling good.
I do, however, feel a little bad about something. You see, as a conscientious, civic-minded, leg-shaving cyclist, I figured that my legs would be a pleasure for the masseuse to work on. And you know, they probably would have been.
If it weren’t for one little problem.
See, as we get further into the cold months, I grow increasingly neglectful of my shaving duties. Which is to say, I sometimes will go close to a week — instead of every other day, as in the peak cycling months — without shaving my legs.
They get prickly.
Which probably explains how, due to stubble-friction-induced heat, the masseuse’s hands caught fire.
A Startling Revelation, Or Two. Maybe.
I should probably point out that at one point, as I was laying facedown, the masseuse bent my legs back, at the knee. When she did this, she hit resistance right about the time my lower leg was at a 90-degree angle to my upper leg. Another ten degrees and my leg came to a halt. It would go no further without something giving way (as a side note, it may have been academically interesting to find out whether it would be bone, tendon, muscle or ligament that gave way first, but I’m glad we did not find out).
The masseuse let out an involuntary gasp: never, I believe had she witnessed a less-flexible leg.
That, kids, is what happens if you program your range of motion for more than a decade by riding a bike and never ever doing stretching exercises.
Alas, this was not the only revelation from the massage session. At least I think there might have been more. You know how I undressed to my “comfort level?” Well, as I laid on my back and the masseuse massaged my legs, the sheet covering my buttocks seemed to shift around a bit.
Perhaps more than a bit.
Perhaps, it must be said, more than I would have liked. And now than I think about it — seeing as I am a hairy, middle-aged man and stuff — more than the masseuse probably liked, too.
[Note to the masseuse: Sorry.]
Sadly, the leg massage gave way to a back massage. Which would have been just fine, if it had been less painful. Or — this is just a thought — not painful at all.
But it was not unpainful. Rather, the lack of an absence of pain was considerable.
And in short, it hurt.
Specifically, I’m pretty sure that as she worked her fingers beneath my right shoulder blade, the masseuse actually grabbed my right lung and flicked it. Just because she could.
And you know what? Having your lung flicked hurts.
Also, I’m very nearly certain that she broke off a piece of my labrum. And please bear in mind I don’t have all that much labrum to spare in the first place.
So I don’t feel even a little bit embarrassed that — well after the point where a lesser man might have divulged the whereabouts of the nuclear launch codes or whatever other secrets he might have thought he’d never reveal — I said, softly, “Uncle.”
To which she replied, “Stop holding your breath so much. Just breathe.”
And you know, I would have.
Except I’m pretty sure my exhalations would have come out as whimpers.