Why Doctors Say Crawling Across the Finish Line Isn't a Great Idea

Elite runner's body gave out at mile 23 of the Austin Marathon.

February 16, 2015, 12:10 PM

— -- A marathoner crawled across the finish line this weekend after her body gave out, and while the grit and determination may be admirable, doctors said they worry that other runners may be inspired to do the same instead of listening to their bodies to stop.

Elite runner Hyvon Ngetich was leading the pack 23 miles into the Austin Marathon this weekend, but then her body just couldn't go any further. Ngetich found herself on all fours, but she refused to accept a wheelchair and crawled the final few miles to the finish line, she told local TV station KHOU.

Somehow, she still came in third place.

"You ran the bravest race and crawled the bravest crawl I have ever seen in my life," race director John Conley told her afterwards. "You have earned much honor."

When asked why she didn't quit, Ngetich, a native of Kenya, said, "Running, always you have to keep going, going."

But Dr. Laura Goldberg, a sports medicine specialist at Cleveland Clinic and medical director of the Cleveland Marathon, said sometimes runners just need to stop.

"For the non-elite crowd, there should never be a reason why runner a should crawl to the finish," Goldberg said. "I get nervous about hearing this story, how it translates through the general population."

She said dehydration, overheating and muscle cramping could have all led Ngetich to crawl to the finish line, but non-elite runners shouldn't follow her example no matter how miraculous her perseverance.

Here's what to look for:

-Your mental status has changed. While it's normal for runners' thinking to change slightly during a marathon due to exhaustion, if you forget where you are or why you're running, stop, Goldberg said. This can be a sign of overheating, an electrolyte problem, dehydration or something else, said Dr. Carl "Chip" Lavie, a cardiologist at the Ochsner Center in New Orleans.

-You've stopped sweating or you have chills. This means your body isn't able to regulate its temperature properly. "Sweat is a way to let off heat," Goldberg said.

-Cramping is all over. Runners are used to cramps, but if it's a body-wide feeling, don't push through it, she said.

-Your heart is racing faster than usual. This can be a sign your heart is in trouble, and you could pass out even if you're an elite runner, Lavie said.

-You're experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath or feeling faint. Again, your heart is telling you it's in trouble, and you should stop, he said.

Though distance runners are used to pushing through pain, Lavie said they should recognize when it's time to stop.

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