When Andy Ma, MD, was having back pain from riding his bike, the third-year family medicine physician resident at Kaiser Permanente Sacramento, wasn’t going to let it stop him from joining the recent IRONMAN California race.
New to cycling, he just bought his bike in March for IRONMAN. He turned to the Endurance Lab of Kaiser Permanente Sports Medicine Center in Sacramento and received a game-changing 3-D bike fitting.
“Once I got the fitting, my posture improved, and I was able to train longer without aches and pain,” Dr. Ma said, who wasn’t sure about his bike settings. “It was really a game changer, so valuable to get that expertise. Googling only got me so far. I just enjoyed the training more because I was more comfortable.”
Dr. Ma was among more than a dozen Kaiser Permanente employee and physician athletes from Sacramento and elsewhere who swam, biked, and ran from dawn to dusk to hear the iconic “You are an Ironman” phrase as they crossed the finish line near the State Capitol.
An IRONMAN is a 140.6-mile triathlon starting with a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride, and topped off by a marathon, a 26.2-mile run. All three are done back-to-back. A top athlete finishes in 8 hours, and many can take 12 hours or more to complete it.
Caring for the athletes
This is the second year that KP is the lead sponsor and medical provider of the Ironman California, caring for any of the 3,000 athletes needing medical attention during the Oct. 22 race.
More than 150 Kaiser Permanente physicians, nurses, techs, and volunteers were on hand at several medical tents throughout the course. The clinicians treated athletes for various injuries, including dehydration, hypothermia-like symptoms, cuts, scrapes, road-rash, and more. Adding to the challenge: A large storm hit the area on race day.
“This race once again showcased Kaiser Permanente’s ability to provide world-class sports medicine care, not only to our local community but to elite athletes from all around the world,” said Jay Robinson, PsyD, senior vice president and Area Manager, Sacramento and South Sacramento. “We are incredibly proud of the job our medical team did in keeping the IRONMAN athletes safe while enduring terrible weather and adverse conditions.”
Over the coming months, Kaiser Permanente will play the same role at other major athletic events in Northern California. For years, Kaiser Permanente has been a title sponsor and medical provider for the San Francisco Half Marathon in February and the Napa Valley Marathon and Half Marathon in March.
How the Sports Medicine Center enhances performance
Carter Todd, RN, nurse manager in Roseville, said he’s never done an endurance race close to an Ironman, only a short triathlon. He sought out the Sports Medicine Center for a “base metabolic assessment” to learn how to keep up his stamina.
The support paid off, and the heart rate monitor he learned to use at the center helped him know when he was pushing his limits.
Then there was the moment, what athletes call hitting “the wall” halfway through the marathon.
“I vividly remember the second downpour of rain starting on mile 13 of the marathon. My hamstring went into a full cramp. I didn’t know if I had another 2.5 hours left in me,” Todd recalled. “The support of the other athletes powered me through that moment.”
The race wasn’t easy for Dr. Ma, either. During a downpour, he questioned whether he was going to complete all three sports. With about an hour left of cycling and the windchill, he was shivering.
Dr. Ma finished the cycling wet. He didn’t have a change of clothes and started to become hypothermic. He found a towel, ate, drank, and 30 minutes later worked up the energy to start the 26.2-mile run. He didn’t give up when the rain returned at mile 19.
“Because of the weather and the conditions, finishing was more rewarding,” Dr. Ma said. “It was a really great experience with all my friends, family, and colleagues surrounding me and supporting me.”
And he would do it again. “I want to beat my time!”
View a video about how Todd, Dr. Ma, and An Leong, a Kaiser Permanente physical therapist in Roseville, trained and used the Sports Medicine Center to reach their goals.