MASSAGE - THE BENEFITS
The first time I had a massage, I was 18 and a pro triathlete referred me to his massage therapist. I drove 45 minutes from my house to Lawrence, Kansas. It was an eye opener. I envisioned a nice relaxing massage and instead, I needed the equivalent of a stick between my teeth while he dug into my virgin muscles. He never bruised me, but I realized then the importance of massage. If my muscles hurt that much, then massage must help by opening up the taunt units and getting more blood flowing through the muscles; thus improving performance. Since that time, I regularly received massage once a week until I retired. I even drove up to Lawrence several times for this "good" pain. It is ironic to pay for pain in such a way! Since I have retired, massage is now a luxury rather than a necessity.
Each individual's response to a massage will vary, just as it varies with responses to training. There are also variables as to the type of massage. The deeper work you have done, the longer the recovery time. I look at a deep massage as a workout and allow ample recovery time following it. If you are paying someone for a massage, then get your money's worth. I am not saying massage should always be no pain, no gain, but if you get massage regularly, your body will learn to expect what a deep massage feels like. The more relaxed you are for a massage, the better the therapist can get to the nitty gritty. If you are tense throughout the massage, then the therapist can only work on the first layer of muscles. The goal is to not fight the therapist. The therapist's objective is to maneuver in such a way as to get as many muscles to release without the client constantly tightening up. For example, my massage therapist also massages horses. The first two to three times she massages a certain horse, the horse is hesitant. After those times, the horse then comes running to her when she arrives at the stable because she can't wait for the massage. Be like a horse!
Consistent deep breathes can help you relax during a massage. I also allow my mind to go somewhere else during a massage such as visualizing a race or relaxing on a mountainside and watching the sunset. At times, I will envision being a muscle and realizing the benefits of what is being done. Picture anything, which will get you relaxed, so you can maximize your massage time. Have the massage be the last "workout" of the day. If you are going to pay someone to break up your bound muscles, then give those muscles time to recover. By doing a hard training session after a massage, you are just binding those muscles back up again and being counterproductive. If you feel like you have to do something after a massage, then do light stretching, an easy 30 minute bike ride or water run for 20 minutes. Also, drink a lot of water to help flush out the toxins.
For race specific massages, if you have an A or B race, allow at least three days of recovery between massage and the race. Ideally, you want to have several massages with the same therapist leading up to the race to see how your body responds. First, massage before and after races serves different purposes. Too deep of a massage can damage your muscles. I know of some athletes who have been bruised severely after a massage. I don't think any bruising is appropriate with massage. So without regular massage, it is advisable to have an exploratory sports massage session a couple of weeks from your big race. This will enable any problems to be diagnosed and the therapist can recommend further sessions leading up to your race. If you have "knotted" muscles in, say, your calves, you might find a couple of deeper massage sessions useful to loosen your legs. If you have been traveling for a long time to get to your race destination, a light massage the day before your race would be useful. Some athletes with regular masseurs have a pre-race loosening/warming massage. A light post-race massage usually helps recovery. Make sure you eat well immediately following a race before waiting in line and getting a post race massage.
On an aside, training when your legs are a little sore from previous training sessions or a race is okay. If the muscles hurt to the touch, then complete rest with light massage, an easy 30-60 minute spin or a 20 minute water run will help loosen the muscles. Stretching lightly several times a day and doing some self massage will help blood flow. If after you have stretched and warmed up, your legs still really hurt, then rest with continued light massage and stretching would benefit most. Just as when someone has a cold, I am a firm believer to get the body to at least 80% recovered before training again. I would rather see the body fully recovered, then train when your body is suboptimal and recovery may take twice as long as well as the detrimental psychological aspect of not feeling like you are progressing.
If you can afford the time and money for a regular massage, then by all means get started. If either is not possible, there is no excuse for not getting a roller or t-bar and doing self massage. Also, doing massage trades with your spouse or family member is a great way for both people to receive benefits. Even if the trades are only ten minutes long.