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Friday, November 07th, 2008

It is November already, and I am officially in transition mode. I competed in Ironman Hawaii a few weeks ago and I will share my race report, even though it wasn’t my finest day of ironman racing.

A Sorta Fine Day on the Mighty Queen K

In exercise physiology, there is what is known as the “central governor model“. Basically, the premise is that what we call fatigue is governed by our brain and not by things like pain or buildup of lactic acid. The brain is constantly monitoring a myriad of signals from the body, including things like muscle glycogen levels, body temperature and blood electrolytes. Long before we can “cook” our internals, the brain starts shutting down the body to prevent this from happening. The brain allows fewer muscle fibers to be recruited for motion (so we slow down). Emotionally, we begin to feel listless, with an overwhelming desire to cease moving.

My ironman race was a 12 hour study and verification of the central governor model. It was a hot and windy day. I started with a slow and easy swim in the ocean, trying to hold back, as I had not been swimming much this year. The 112 mile bike ride was brutal, with fierce winds whipping over the lava fields, pushing us to and fro (but mainly fro). I got somewhat depleted on calories and salt during it and spent a lot of time meditating my way through the difficult miles. The air was stifling and humid on Alii Drive for the first 10 miles of the run. All I wanted to do was stop running. I overcame this feeling and just kept going, taking in coke and Gatorade at all the aid stations and dumping ice cubes down my race shirt. I started to feel better between miles 10-17, once I left town and got on the Queen K highway. However, the temperatures were near 90 F at the Energy Lab, which totally drained any last reserves I had. I slowed down tremendously from miles 17 onwards. I started to get very sloshy from the lack of electrolyte and I began to borderline hallucinate at mile 23. For a while, I was convinced I was up in the Bridger Mountains of Montana, slogging up a ridge with my adventure racing team. But, no, there I was, running along the Queen K highway, with a tropical sun setting over the ocean to my right. Somehow, I got back to town and crossed the finish line, managing to not give into the desire to quit running and just walk.

Mind over matter only works to a certain extent. Being mentally tough can make the difference between keeping going at a slower speed or stopping entirely. However, if you get to a point where your body thinks it’s in danger, it does everything to shut you down!

I went to the medical tent after I finished and was immediately diagnosed with hyponatremia. My blood sodium levels were below normal, despite my efforts to stay on top of my electrolytes during the day. The combination of wind and heat had made it too difficult to stay on top of salt levels.

I had a solid result – don’t get me wrong. It was a tough day and I managed to push through. I passed many faster-looking men who seemed to also be suffering on that run course – and also had springy older women bound by me in a seemingly effortless fashion!

And, as always, the Big Island was absolutely spectacular. I enjoyed many papayas and passion fruit – hung out all day Thursday at the beach with a german triathlete who was staying at the hostel. I ran into Kathy and Fred – who’d crewed me during Ultraman last year. They rescued me from the mildew of the hostel and put me up for a couple days in their home. I saw so many people I knew from past races, and it was really nice to feel connected with the community. I got to watch Hawaiian dancers at the pre-race banquet, where I sat at a table full of energetic german soldiers. As we entered the water for the race start, we were treated to the sounds of Hawaiian drummers who were lined up at the shore in their traditional costumes. In the past, I might have tuned them out in the cloud of pre-race jitters – but this time, I was transfixed by their music and had a hard time getting myself into the water and up to the swim start. So, aside from the race, I got to experience a lot of wonderful things.

Fred and Kathy have offered to crew me again next year for Ultraman, and I am welcome to come stay at their house any time I go to the island. So, with this, I think my race plans for next year are unfolding.

I often ask myself – why do I do this? The only answer I have is this: it’s just who I am and how I’m wired. There is something very powerful about pushing yourself to the limits of your body. When a race goes well, it is such an intense high feeling. When a race doesn’t go well, though, the experience becomes more spiritual. So, either way, there is something to gain.

Mahalo for all your moral support. – Iona

A manufacturing engineer by trade, turned triathlete and adventure race competitor, Iona Mackenzie has built a reputation as one of the toughest competitors on the circuit. She has been dubbed the “Queen of the Machine,” for her machine like ability to overcome physical pain during races. Iona loves Human Touch massage chairs and attributes quick rejuvenation from adventure racing to the benefits of massage while using her Human Touch massage chair.

“Our bodies are the vessels which house our souls, hearts and minds. They are here for us to live through, not just to hang clothes on. Play hard, work solid, eat well – and REST. For me, that’s the quickest recipe to happiness.” – Iona MacKenzie