The marathon is an event that produces heroes. This week, 29-year-old Hyvon Ngetich of Kenya is being celebrated for her heroic finish at the 2015 Austin Marathon. Ngetich was leading the women’s race, dropping mile splits between 6:25 and 6:30 right up until mile 23.
But just after that, 2 1/2 hours into the arduous 26.2 mile race, her body gave out. Ngetich stopped, walked, and eventually crawled to the finish line of the Austin Marathon. Her body was done, but her spirit was not. She ended up finishing 3rd, with a time of 3:04:02. But that’s not what people will remember.
People who witnessed Hyvon Ngetich finish the Austin Marathon will remember how uncomfortable they felt seeing a young woman crawling on bloody knees in front of thousands to reach the finish line. They will remember the wild look in her eyes and the spittle hanging from her mouth. They will never forget what true grit looks like.
Her effort to finish illustrates just how much prize money means to Kenyan runners. In a depressed economy, major marathon wins can boost the quality of life for whole communities. Unfortunately, Kenyan runners are left with as little as 15% of their earnings by the time taxes and fees are taken out.
But, please don’t do what she did. It’s a really bad idea to risk your life to finish a race. Doctors will tell you that you should listen to your body and stop running if you are dizzy, confused, have sudden chills on a hot day, feel an erratic heartbeat, or suffer severe cramping that prohibits normal movement.
Take a lesson from the example set by Bill Rodgers, 4-time winner of the NYC Marathon, and 4-time winner of the Boston Marathon. He stepped off the Boston Marathon course in 1973 and again in 1977 when he knew he was headed for trouble. Rodgers knew the risk of injury was simply too great and practiced self-preservation.
The dramatic finish of Hyvon Ngetich will inspire some people. But, her performance makes me nervous. Far from enviable, it’s something runners train hard to avoid. Please stay safe and run smart.