Massage therapy in the hottest place on earth.
Updated: Mar 12
If you thought starting a new business was tough, try keeping an ultra-athlete moving in Death Valley.
This is how I did it...
I have had the opportunity to apply my trade in many different settings. From a variety of sports clubs across the UK, to international events in Dubai and Barbados. Usually, I work in an environment where I am able to set up my own portable massage bed or use one that has been provided by the sports club I am visiting. Death Valley was something slightly different and it was an experience with a lot of firsts!
I traveled to Death Valley with a very limited supply of massage tools and equipment to help Rhys Jenkins, an ultramarathon runner. No treatment room, no massage bed and no prior experience of the extreme environment. Working out what equipment to take and to determine what would be helpful in Death Valley was in itself a big task.
After careful consideration I packed the following items: Mini foam roller Lacrosse ball Two rolls of ktape (sport tape) Eab tape Brown tape Sticky spray Songbird sports wax Theragun First aid kit And my own hands
4 days until Badwater 135 The first opportunity to test some techniques before Badwater 135 was in Big Bear. After Rhys and myself did a 6km run on the Skyline Trail in Big Bear to get over the jet lag and any stiffness from travelling, I followed up with a sports massage. This was a general massage on quads, feet, calfs, hamstrings and gluts. This was very basic, just to get the blood flowing as my only option for a massage table was a pretty soft bed. It managed to achieve the desired outcome as Rhys felt better immediately. It was good to get some treatment underway as we were leaving for Pahrump, Nevada, the next morning… another few hours travelling.
3 days until Badwater135 When we arrived at Pahrump preparations were now in full swing as this was our base until the race began. The Theragun was used all over Rhys’ legs and because we had been travelling and sleeping awkwardly, Rhys' neck and shoulders also needed attention. Massage therapy was applied with Mayofascial Release as well as Muscle Energy Technique (MET) on the traps (shoulders) and occipitalis (back of the head/neck). Treatment in this area worked well as it allowed Rhys to have a good night sleep and he felt so much better for it the following day.
2 days until Badwater135 As a precaution and extra help I ktaped Rhys's calf covering Achilles and heel of foot to help with the drainage and maximise recovery and healing prior to the big day. I used the Theragun all over his legs to continue to help prepare Rhys legs for the event. Treatment effectiveness at this stage was a bit unknown as the temperature and humidity was something I have never experienced let alone tried to prepare an athlete to run 135 miles.
1 day until Badwater135 On the last evening before the races began I preformed calf massage to help relax the muscle and I used mayofascial release techniques on his gastrocnemius, soleus and anterior tibiarlis.
During the race At mile 50 I started to massage his calf’s, with simple effluage technique for a few minutes in each leg. Theragun for quads, glut med (as he was experiencing pain on the outside of his knee) and calf’s, followed by a hand massage on calf’s. I preformed a longer calf massage at the bottom of Father Crowley (another location around mile 80) and once reaching the top of the climb Rhys received a calf massage every 4 miles until the last hill climb to Mount Whitney Portal. After running through the night we reached Lone Pine, where we attempted to ktape his calf’s. Even though sticky spray was used the tape didn’t stick well due to sweat, body salt and sun cream being all over the body, even after we tried to clean his legs thoroughly.
Post race Immediately after race I used the Theragun all over his legs on a low gently speed and pressure to help with the blood flow and drainage after 135 miles in 40 hours with no sleep. Once this had happened we all slept for three hours until the official Badwater Pizza Party and announcements started. Sleep was now crucial as Rhys had a 10 day turn around until he runs another ultra marathon in the UK. The day after the race Rhys receive a very gentle and light calf massage using only effluage techniques and a very slow recovery walk around Lone Pine with light stretches.
It was a challenge during the race to work in Death Valley in temperatures above 50 degrees. However during Rhys' previous attempts running in death valley he had always experienced cramps at different parts of the course and this time we managed to keep it at bay. With muscles tightening up we were able to help prevent any serious issues with no pain or injuries occurred. The only issue were blisters and the soles of the feet hurting which only played a part during the last ten miles. Rhys's mental attitude got him through to complete the race in an impressive time of 40 hours 37 mins. Great achievement for the first Welsh man ever to compete and complete this event, Badwater135.