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Drugs and recreational runners

by Editor
Wednesday 20th February 2013
Tags  Tim Heming   |   WADA

Tim Heming looks at how seemingly innocent supplements can endanger the lives of athletes and emphasises the need for proper advice and care

This should never have happened. Not in 2013

A keen amateur marathon runner trying to break a magical four-hour barrier takes a nutrition supplement during a the race that becomes "probably an important factor" in her death.

The drink wasn't illegal and it was marketed to the public as an energy booster, yet according to the coroner's report it went a considerable way to causing the cardiac arrest that ended Claire Squires' life at just 30 years of age.

Claire is not the first and won't be the last competitor to die during endurance sport and whilst no event where humans put added levels of exertion on their bodies is free from risk, equally there is little comparative data for the numbers having heart attacks on the couch.

The Squires' case hit the mainstream news agenda because of the depth of human spirit it evoked, escalating her fundraising for the Samaritans from a few hundred pounds to over £941,000 and still counting posthumously.

In the tributes that flowed it became clear Claire had already done much in her short life to raise money for charity, and smiles from those that knew her. That she continued to do so after her death, makes her loss all the more tragic.

However, the cruel reality is also that Squires was unwittingly racing on a performance enhancing drug.

Not a typical sports nutrition product such as a caffeine gel, but a banned PED; albeit legally-purchased but still a horrifying prospect to most recreational runners, and a point seemingly missed by most commentators.

At the time, the scoop of Jack3D she added to her drink bottle contained a substance known as 1,3-dimethylamylamine, methylhexanamine, geranium extract, or more commonly DMAA.

It was made illegal in April last year by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration due to the potential harm it causes, brought to a head by the death of several marines who were trying to improve their physical performance.

Yet it had long-since been on WADA's list as a banned substance, with 137 professional athletes caught out, including the 2012 Comrades Marathon winner, Ludwick Mamaboloone, and one test at London 2012, of 400 metre Syrian hurdler Ghfran Almouhamad.

A WADA spokesman confirmed it had always been prohibited "under section S6 of the List of Prohibited Substances and Methods, as a substance with similar chemical structure and biologic effect to the stimulants listed in that section."

Graham Arthur of UK Anti-Doping puts it more simply. He says: "DMAA is a banned substance 'in-competition' that frequently appears in over the counter and internet bought products but not clearly on the label."

The bitter irony is it is also incongruous as a running aid for the recreational jogger, stimulating the heart to beat faster, when after 3 hours 30 minutes of marathon running, with carb stores depleted and the body working overtime, burning fuel at an even faster rate would not be top of the wish-list.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency says it can also have a physiological effect on the body, narrowing the arteries.

Jack3D is not a runner's product. You could argue people would use it to increase metabolism and weight loss, but for most it appears a quick-fix for trying to strip fat faster while bulking up.

Do an internet search. Every result relates it to bodybuilding. If you are a runner, do you know of any endurance athlete that has taken it? I'd wager it's unlikely.

The hard lesson from this tragedy is not just to be clear with what is on the label but also to be advised from the right people.

It's particularly key for novice runners, attempting a first 5km to a debut marathon and worried about fuelling in the latter stages of the race.

The British climate drives a lot of us to gym treadmills but obtaining advice on supplements from the beefy fellow on the bench press, even if he's a personal trainer, may not be the best course of action.

For those concerned, the best tactic is to keep it simple. Stay hydrated and top up your carb stores with a sugary drink if you need to, but beware any miracle quick-fixes. Remember, one of the most rewarding aspects of endurance sport is that there are no short-cuts that's why it's an accomplishment to complete 26.2miles, and why you signed up in the first place.

Click here for Claire Squires Just Giving page


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