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Is This the Most Dangerous Thing Ever Done at a Marathon?

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Hyvon Ngetich has given whole new meaning to finishing a race even if you have to crawl across the finish line. The 29-year-old Kenyan runner literally crossed the finish line on her hands and knees after her body gave out at mile 26 of the 2015 Austin Marathon this past weekend. (A runner's worst nightmare! Check out The Top 10 Fears Marathoners Experience.)

Ngetich was leading most of the race and predicted to win the female category, but with just two-tenths of a mile left, she began to wobble, stagger, and eventually fell down. Being on the ground unable to get up was apparently not an indicator of defeat for Ngetich, though. She crawled the last 400 meters, bloodying her knees and elbows—but finished the race. And placed third, at that, coming in only three seconds behind the second place finisher Hannah Steffan.

As soon as she crossed the finish line, Ngetich was immediately rushed to a medical tent, where the staff reported that she was suffering from incredibly low blood sugar. (Avoid the same fate by stocking up on 12 Tasty Alternatives to Energy Gels.)

We think anyone who can convince their body and mind to run 26.2 miles is impressive, so Ngetich’s determination to finish the race no matter what is commendable. But was it actually the healthiest decision?

“No, it was not a smart decision at all,” says the Running Doc Lewis Maharam, M.D., a spokesperson for the American College of Sports Medicine and past medical director for many marathons across the world. “The medical team didn’t know what was wrong with her when she collapsed. It could’ve been heat stroke, low blood sugar, hyponatremia, severe dehydration, a cardiac issue—some of which you can die from.” In fact, what she was suffering from (low blood sugar) can lead to permanent brain damage and even a coma.

Ngetich said afterward that she doesn’t remember the last two miles of the race, which means she didn’t have the mental capacity to refuse medical care—something the medical team should’ve been aware of and jumped in to assess if she was in a state to finish the race, Maharam says. (10 Unexpected Truths About Running a Marathon)

“In running, you have to keep going,” Ngetich said in a post-race interview. This idea of finishing the race no matter what is what the Austin marathon race director John Conley and runners around the world have commended her for. And while Maharam recognizes and sympathizes with this mentality, he also warns that the line of “no matter what” should be drawn at a risk to your own health.

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