by Mark Nielsen

San Francisco is a runner’s paradise, attracting thousands of people hoping to achieve their personal bests. While some might argue that one 26.2-mile marathon is the same as the next, most marathoners would agree that it’s what happens in the first two hours after the race that makes the biggest difference in how their body feels.

That’s why the National Holistic Institute, a college of massage therapy with five campuses throughout California, sent 80 volunteer massage therapists to greet weary finishers at the 2008 Nike Women’s Marathon, held Oct. 19th.

Volunteers included students, instructors and graduates of NHI’s 720-hour massage therapy certification program. Over the course of three hours, they gave 10-minute massages to more than 1,600 runners. Some of the comments overheard include: “In my 16 marathons, this is the best massage I’ve ever had” and “Thank you … now I can walk home!”

According to NHI Faculty Coordinator Melissa Wheeler, a massage performed in the first two hours after strenuous activity can dramatically decrease recovery time. As little as 10 or 15 minutes can bring circulation to sore and fatigued muscles, thereby speeding up the removal of metabolic by-products and relieving the increased tone of the muscles.

For runners who crossed the finish line, the post-workout rubdown not only felt good but also helped speed the healing process. That’s because an effective massage helps decrease recovery time—what would have taken a day or two of “walking it off” can happen in half the time.

For NHI, volunteering at the 2008 Nike Women’s Marathon was a great way to educate athletes and sponsoring companies about the benefits of massage therapy. “And for our students, it was a wonderful opportunity for hands-on experience in an exciting setting,” added Wheeler.

Mark Nielsen is an instructor with the National Holistic Institute ( where he teaches sports massage and anatomy. He is a long-distance cycler and endurance athlete, having participated in multiple marathons and triathlons (including three IronMans).