Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ironman Championships 2013 : Extreme racing in Kona

Once again, it is Ironman World Championships time in Kona and the athletes and their entourages have taken over the highways, roads, and pier in Kona practicing for the big race on Saturday.  We marvel at the extreme and dangerous workouts of the Ironman athletes in Hawaii’s hot, tropical sun.  They bicycle for a hundred miles next to fast moving traffic on a highway carved into a lava field with 100 degree temperatures and winds up to 45 miles a hour. 

Observing the athletes pushing themselves so hard has interested us in the recent controversy over whether being an Ironman is good for your health or not.  Until recently, it has been considered an undisputed fact that an Ironman-type training was good for your health.

Last year a cardiac specialist, Dr. John M, wrote in his blog that it was not healthy for the middle-aged heart to run in Ironman competitions and doing so causes inflammation, coronary calcium, and atrial fibrillation. His blog got a lot of comments from athletes with strong opinions about their Ironman status and extreme workouts and other blogs agreeing with the increased risk of sudden cardiac death (SCD) and scarring in the heart from training and competing in marathons and events like the Ironman.

In June of this year Mayo Clinic Proceedings published a study on marathon runners that reported that 12% of apparently healthy marathon runners showed signs of heart damage called Phidippides cardiomyopathy (named after an ancient Greek messenger who died after a long run) related to their extreme conditioning. The study found that repeated, long distance racing can cause premature aging of the heart, stiffening of the heart muscles, and coronary artery calcification.

It makes a lot of sense to us that the Ironman competition is not healthy.  The athletes in Kona look and act injured for days after completing the Ironman race and after observing the event over the past years, the participants act more like the event is a challenge they are trying to survive rather than something they are doing for good health.

Most studies state that daily exercise for 30 minutes to an hour is best for health and this seems about right to us. We feel really good after we walk and swim for 45 minutes to an hour. Any more than that and we are really sore the next day and the times we have exercised for many hours has often resulted in injuries that prevented us from exercising for days.

Though we find it inspiring to watch the world’s top endurance athletes compete in harsh conditions in Kona, unlike previous years we are more than satisfied with our 45 minute workouts after reading about the health risks of extreme exercise regimes. 

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