Crawling to the finish line: why do endurance runners collapse? Implications for understanding of mechanisms underlying pacing and fatigue

Alan St Clair Gibson, J J De Koning, Kevin THOMPSON, William Roberts, Dominic Micklewright, John Raglin, Carl Foster

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    41 Citations (Scopus)


    Effective regulation of pace enables the majority of runners to complete competitive endurance events without mishap. However, some runners do experience exercise-induced collapse associated with postural hypotension, which in rare cases results from life-threatening conditions such as cardiac disorders, cerebral events, heat stroke and hyponatraemia. Despite the experience of either catastrophic system failure or extreme peripheral muscle fatigue, some runners persist in attempting to reach the finish line, and this often results in a sequence of dynamic changes in posture and gait that we have termed the 'Foster collapse positions'. The initial stage involves an unstable gait and the runner assumes the 'Early Foster' collapse position with hips slightly flexed and their head lowered. This unstable gait further degrades into a shuffle referred to as the 'Half Foster' collapse position characterized by hip flexion of approximately 90° with the trunk and head parallel to the ground. At this point, the muscles of postural support and the co-ordination of propulsion begin to be compromised. If the condition worsens, the runner will fall to the ground and assume the 'Full Foster' collapse position, which involves crawling forwards on knees and elbows towards the finish line, with their trunk angled such that the head is at a lower angle than the hips. Upon reaching the finish line, or sometimes before that, the runner may collapse and remain prone until recovering either with or without assistance or medical treatment. The Foster collapse positions are indicative of a final, likely primordial, protective mechanism designed to attenuate postural hypotension, cardiac 'pump' insufficiency or cerebral blood flow deficiency. Continuing to attempt to reach the finish line in this impaired state is also perhaps indicative of a high psychological drive or a variety of neurological and psychological pathologies such as diminished sensitivity to interoceptive feedback, unrealistic situational appraisal or extreme motivational drives. A better understanding of the physiological, neurological and psychological antecedents of the Foster collapse sequence remains an important issue with practical implications for runner safety and theoretical understanding of collapses during exercise.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)413-424
    Number of pages12
    JournalSports Medicine
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013


    Dive into the research topics of 'Crawling to the finish line: why do endurance runners collapse? Implications for understanding of mechanisms underlying pacing and fatigue'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this