A few years back I was interested in finding out what happens at big races and how one gets selected to work these events. I did a series of interviews with some of the top names in the US in sports massage for runners. One thing was certain, a therapist must be good at what they do. I have always felt that athletes spend countless hours and years training to become world class, then I need to spend countless hours and years studying and perfecting my skills to be world class as well. What follows is my “behind the scenes” look into my experience at this event.
Through a series of events, I was invited to be part of the medical support team for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials for the Marathon, held in Los Angeles in February. The support team was comprised of massage therapists, physical therapists, and chiropractors. The Trials race was held on Saturday, and the room hours were open Thursday and Friday throughout the morning and afternoon, Saturday before the race and also after the race.
I live in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan and had to fly to Los Angeles on Wednesday. Living in Detroit has limited opportunities to work with high level runners, so if your goal is to work with these type of athletes, you need to go where they are, and that might mean having to volunteer to get experience in front of them. Out of the support team, a good portion of volunteers were from the Los Angeles area, and a few others had made the trip from afar. Yes, you read that correctly. Everyone was a volunteer for this event, paying their own way to provide free services to the runners in this race. From what I have gathered, many events provide therapists on staff who volunteer their time and money to be there for the runners. Every runner I spoke to about this was shocked, surprised, and at the same time very appreciative of the service we were providing them. For a great majority of the runners, they have limited funds for therapy, and certainly cannot fly their own therapists to races (something that does occur with the top runners and is one of my future goals). This free opportunity provides many runners with treatments to get their bodies ready for the race.
We were provided with a shuttle from the airport to our hotel, or in my case, an Air BnB apartment. The athlete hotel was already booked, and room rates were over $200 a night. With my flight costing $522, I was ok staying at some place less expensive, since I had planned on working morning to night while there anyways. I had never used Air BnB before but had known about it since a few close friends have used the services to rent and also rent out their place previously. I found a place for $50 a night about 1.5 miles from the hotel I would be working at. I figured that was a short walk I was capable of and booked the room. A few other rooms a few blocks closer were near $80 and would have cost me another extra $100 or so, and I went with the budget move. Upon arriving and catching a shuttle (which was actually Suburban), I was dropped off at the apartment.
Let the Work Begin!
Upon getting situated in my room I was renting, I made contact with Terrel Hale, who had been the therapist who allowed me to have this opportunity. He was staying a few blocks away at another hotel, so I made the short walk to see him before it was too late, and also for me to explore the area I’d be walking each day.
I was scheduled to work Thursday 10am -2pm. I arrived extra early, part from excitement, part from being on east coast time still. Around 10am runners started to come in. In the athlete reception area, there was a sign up board for 30 minute sessions on Thursday and 20 minute sessions on Friday. As athletes came in, they were directed to whoever was available at that time. As a courtesy to the runners, we did not want them waiting around. If they wanted to see a specific therapist, then they may have to wait. It was steady that morning, and I was able to see four runners in that time frame. One of the runners who came in to see me was a local runner from the Hansons-Brooks Team Dani Miller.
After my shift was over I went to help a few others who had previously contacted me to help them out but had landed after the room hours were available. The first night I finished around 10pm, and after walking about 6 miles that day, with my massage table on my back, courtesy of the Mobiloop strap, I had little energy left and called an Uber to take me the two miles back to the apartment. I crashed and had to wake up for an 8am-12pm shift on Friday.
On Friday I had seen three runners that morning, and then a few others after my shift. With the race the next day, the treatment should be light to just loosen them up. Aggressive treatment is needed only in extreme situations, and there were plenty for this race. A recurring theme with the runners that came was injuries that occurred in the last hard week of their training (usually 2-3 weeks prior). For many of these runners, their goal was to finish the race, as a few were deciding on not racing at all. I finished Friday evening again by calling an Uber back, but this time a bit earlier than the previous night. In the two days so far, it looked as if I walked nearly 13 miles with my massage table on my back through DTLA. I went to bed excited for race day, and couldn’t imagine what the racers must have felt.
Saturday was an 8am start time for me. I took my early morning wake up and walk across Downtown Los Angeles (DTLA for short) to the hotel, and made a special trip to cross the streets Hope and Olympic Blvd. The racers had to be at the start area early, which was about a half mile walk from the hotel we were working out of. Originally our group was scheduled to be at the start and finish line, but a day prior was told we would remain in the hotel before and after the race. The morning of race day was very slow. I saw one runner, which was great, because some therapists didn’t see anyone.
I went out to watch the race on the course with friends Neely and Dillon Gracey. The therapists were asked to be back at the hotel by the end of the race to handle anyone needing treatment post-race. The race was run in warmer than usual temperatures for a marathon, and it was not pretty. Many runners dropped out due to cramping and heat related issues. Most ran poor times as a result and the theme from reading many of the runner’s blogs is they just wanted to finish the race, regardless of the time.
Post race was pretty slow as well. A few runners came in much later than anticipated and in that time, I didn’t see anyone. A few runners that did come in needed some injury treatment as a result of the race.
Overall the energy was incredible. Having been a spectator in 2012 in Eugene for the Track and Field Olympic Trials, there is something spectacular about this environment. Observing the runners, they appeared to share this excitement. There is also a comradery associated with seeing people you don’t see often.
The experience was priceless. I am very glad to have been able to attend. I felt I did a great job meeting new people and networking. I wasn’t there for a vacation, but as an opportunity that may lead to more of these type events in the future. Well, the experience wasn’t quite priceless. All in all, I spent $1184 on the trip (Flight, airport parking, baggage fees = $747, apartment room rental =$247, Uber costs=$ 45, food = $84 for all the meals from the airport departure to the airport return). However, it was a great experience I won’t forget.
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