The run this morning was decent, not amazing, and I felt pretty good about my progress afterward. I ran up a gradual hill climb after a 10 minute warmup, and did a 2min, 90 sec, 1 min and 3×15 second sprints up the hill.
My form was good, and my lungs burned in a satisfying way.

I spent the middle of the day at an indoor track meet to cheer on “Camp Loca,” which is what the athletes who stay at Judy’s B & B here in Albuquerque like to call ourselves. Time honored stuff. Tom Chamney (downstairs queen suite) won the 800m in 1:50 or so, Patrick Smyth was second in the 3k (downstairs twin) and Ben Bruce (also of OTC of course, and upstairs Queen with shared bath) was third. I had much more fun watching that meet than Millrose.

Then I read and relaxed until it was time for my 4:30 massage with Josie. I’ve been seeing her since I first started coming here in 2004 to train with Elva Dryer. Josie studied Chinese Medicine and Thai Massage, in addition to your standard massage stuff. But what makes her great isn’tMarks from Cupping her course of study. Its the way she applies the knowledge. Great massage therapists follow their instincts and have the confidence to take action, using a variety of techniques to loosen or realign the tissues. They go forward with gusto, and they aren’t afraid to go over the allotted time if it is going to make the difference.

She checks my pulses (both wrists) and examines my tongue when I arrive, and asks me how I’ve been feeling, sleeping, etc. I can see in her eyes that she has gathered useful information but I have no clue what it could be from my end. Then I’m onto the table and treatment begins.

Starting with the back to “loosen up her hands and get a feel for my tissues,” she works at a vigorous pace, creating heat through friction. After finding the tight spots with her fingers, she whips out my favorite tool: the cups. These are glass, round bottom jars lined up in a row on her shelf unit at arms reach.

The first time she cupped my back, I had no idea what was going on. She just said, “I want to cup your back a little. Is that ok?” What was I supposed to say? “No?” I said, “sure, do whatever you think will help.” My face was in the cradle, looking at the carpet, and I heard the swishing of liquid in a bottle, a bottle being set on a table, and then very rapidly, a clicking sound followed by something suctioned to my back like a vacuum cleaner hose. Then she moved the cup across my slick, lotioned back, pulling the tissues upward as she went along.

It is a very cool sensation. Generally with massage, everything is pressing in. Cupping, on the other hand, pulls the muscles and facia out. After that first appointment, my upper back, which had been tight for three years, felt like a sheet of blubber. On another trip, a strained soleus was healed after one cupping treatment, and I’ve been a fan ever since.

The magical mystery of the technique was later explained to me (turns out all I had to do was ask). You smear rubbing alcohol along the inside of the cup, light it on fire with a zippo lighter (the clicking noise) and while its flaming you seal off the cup against the skin. The lack of oxygen puts the fire out before it can burn you and it creates a natural vacuum. The reason its so effective is two fold.

The first way can be explained with the analogy of a guitar. If you press down on a guitar string, it moves 1/8 of an inch until it hits the fret board, barely stretching the string at all. But if you pluck the string and pull it away from the fret with your finger nail, you can get an extra inch of play. Push a muscle in and you hit bone, pull it away and you separate facia from muscle, and open up space in all the surrounding vessels.

The second part of the effectiveness of cupping lies in its effect on the blood. When you suction the tissue in one spot, it pulls all the blood to the surface, like a hickey. The blood comes up different colors based on how old or stagnant the blood was in the tissues. If something has been injured a while, it probably isn’t getting much fresh blood flow, and blood is what provides the nutrients required for healing. If you suck the stagnant blood up toward the surface, fresh blood rushes into the tissues below. Its like you unclogged the pipes.

I’m sure there are all sorts of other reasons cupping is interesting, but for me, that’s all I need to know. That, and that it works. The only bummer is that your body is covered with giant purple and red marks for two to three days. I have to avoid taking my shirt off when training, lest someone mistakenly arrest Jesse for domestic abuse.