Runners Needing Assistance to Finish a Race- Wednesday’s Weekly Discussion- UPDATED!

I want to try something new on Wednesdays.  There are a lot of things constantly happening in the running world.  I want to try and open up a thoughtful discussion on a variety of topics.  Some will be general and some will be based on current events in the running world.  Please join the conversation below! Let’s also, please be respectful of differing opinions.  

This weeks weekly discussion topic- Runners getting assistance to finish a race.

It seems like there is an increasing number of stories on runners who are struggling to finish a race, often times unable to stand on their own two feet.  In swoops another runner to save the day, and help that runner complete the distance.  This isn’t completely new to the running world.  However, with the increase in technology and how quickly an image can go viral on social media, we see it being shared pretty much every major race now.

As this continues to happen, there is an increase in discussion on whether the running world should support this behavior.  A variety of reasons that people believe it should be celebrated.  Others feel like this goes against the rules and that those runners should be disqualified or not receive a finisher medal.

To be honest, I have mixed feelings.  I can really see both sides.  I am not sure I have a strong opinion either way.  My biggest concern is always going to be safety for all involved.

Here is a summary of some of the discussions happening around the web


  • This is an awesome representation of our running community.  Runners are selflessly sacrificing goal times to aid other runners.  Not to mention, those runners helping are tired too.  How awesome is the running community!
  • It’s an example of sportsmanship at its best, it should be celebrated.
  • Acts like these, help build our sport.  We need more!
  • It doesn’t affect the results, so who cares
  • The people who care, are usually elitist jerks (non my opinion, but have read it in multiple locations)


  • Rules are rules.  Every runner who enters the race, needs to comply.  This is against USATF rules.  (Applicable to  races governed by USATF)
  • A finisher medal is EARNED.  If you didn’t complete the race on your own, then unfortunately you didn’t earn the medal.
  • Allowing this could open a can of worms.  Where do you draw the lines?  Only okay for “slow” runners? Who gets to decide how slow? Is being carried really different from other modes of transportation?  How far out can you be carried and still be eligible?
  • Allowing a runner to lean on you is okay, but when the are no longer walking on their own two feet, they should be disqualified. (examples below)
  • Genuine medical concerns.  A runner is struggling so much, that they can not hold themselves up. The runner could have a variety of unknown health concerns that need medical attention.  Instead of getting the athlete the immediate help, the runner is carried a few hundred feet through the finish line.  While most of the time, the runner will be okay.  It is not worth the risk.

There seems to be a good number of runners who want to support the idea but also want to see the rules of the sport enforced.  Some feel like a DQ might be too strict for most of the runners in this scenario, but making sure athletes who earned an award or BQ did so on their own abilities.

So what do you think?  Do your opinions fall somewhere on the list above, or do you have another view point?  Does your opinion change if you are the person being carried?  If I were being honest, I probably judge myself harder than I would judge others. So while I may not have a strong opinion on others finishing in this manner, I would not want to be carried through a race.  I would rather take the DNF, and get me medical help right away!


Check out the story from one of the runners pictured above.   A strong runner, who was clearly a victim of the heat.  He ran a great race, until the wheels began to quickly fall off.  I think the detail added, that the closest medical attention was through the finish line is important.  I will never negatively judge a runner that pushes themselves to such a struggle.  I think many of us, imagine these scenes occurring with the “slower” less trained runners.  This was not the case, as this gentlemen finished with an official time of 3:05. Many of the comments seem to reflect that as long as it didn’t impact an age group place, or BQ then it should be left alone.  However, a 3:05 is a BQ.  For any age group other than the under 34 males, this is pretty much a guaranteed time entry. 

Similar situation.  Mike was one of the guys that helped another runner finish. He also notes that the closest medical attention was through the finish line.  I don’t believe anyone is judging these guys for doing the right thing and helping a fellow runner.  No matter what, safety of all participants is first.   The gentleman pictured below finished with a 3:09:46, not a BQ for his age group.  img_3012


Does the Boston Qualifier vs non-Boston Qualifier impact whether the results should stand.  These two gentlemen were a few minutes separated.  Any other age group, and the times for each would be a BQ.

Join the conversation! Thank you so much for reading, be sure to subscribe! 



Published by RunCanvas

Avid Runner, mother, wife and teacher. On a wonderful journey, taking it one mile at a time.

9 thoughts on “Runners Needing Assistance to Finish a Race- Wednesday’s Weekly Discussion- UPDATED!

  1. I’ll chime in. I don’t ever want someone dragging me across a finish line. If I can’t at least walk, I will DNF. If someone tried to carry me I would tell them no. The stories of people dragging others across do not inspire me or move me to tears… It is just a medal and the finish is not that symbolic to me. If I am not in the shape to run the race then I am not going to start it, period. My last half I only got to do a few long runs (10s and 1 12) but was comfortable with that and set a PR. I was planning to do the full pre-injury and people were asking me if I would run the full on that little training! Nope, not happening.

    I think it is fine to help a runner on the course if say, they fall. I fell in a trail race and another runner helped me up. That is different. It only took a few seconds of her time and that’s the spirit of this community. I was able to start running again after I got up and finished. But if someone is struggling that bad, the best thing to do is to get them medical help at the aid station.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely agree with you . If I can’t finish on my own two feet, I’ll dnf. Please don’t carry me, get me medical attention. If I were carried, I’m not sure I would feel like I accomplished what I set out to do anyways . We all have different goals, so I don’t judge others but I don’t want to be carried to finish. I’m not elite, so it’s more of a personal challenge.

      I def think picking someone up who fell or soemthing is a great way to support another runner. I’ve talked a few struggling runners through a rough patch too. I love the running community and the willingness to support others.


  2. Great idea for your blog and I think it’s great that you are willing to take on and encourage debate on some of the more contentious issues. This one is a tough one…I certainly agree with Amy above that I would not want to be carried across the line. If I cannot finish the race, then I will accept my DNF. I’ve come close a couple of times and I’m sure it will happen one day. But whether I fail to continue at mile 10 or mile 25 of a marathon, if I do not make it across the line, I am not an official finisher. Like yourself, I do not have a strong opinion on others – I love the community spirit of the running community and the willingness to help each other. I’ve had other runners help pick me up during a tough time in a race – mentally, not physically…and likewise, I’ve helped others. It’s what we do.

    An area that does bother me though is runners that say qualify for Boston while receiving assistance of unofficial support crews or having someone come run part of the course with them…I’ve seen that – I’ve even read it in blogs and that is just wrong, IMO. In the triathlon world, IronMan have stringent rules about being to complete the course unassisted, I believe it is an immediate DQ if they find a competitor receiving outside assistance or help.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. If I need to be carried, please carry me to the nearest medical tent not the finish line.

    I try to lean towards “you do you.” If someone else gets carried to the finish line and takes a finisher’s medal, that doesn’t take anything away from my accomplishment. But I’ve also been bumped down an age group award by a woman that didn’t run the race (a male runner pushed her in a wheelchair. The whole race was a fiasco because the timing mat failed and runners were allowed to submit their GPS times. Photos of the finish show this woman crossing the line several minutes after I did.). So…I also like that rules are rules and everyone should follow them.

    Relevant to this discussion: 1908 Olympic Marathon and Dorando Pietri. He was in first place and collapsed several times trying to get to the finish line. Race officials helped him up each time and he eventually made it to the finish line still in first place. American runner came in second, USA lodged a complaint that Pietri had received assistance, and USA ended up taking home the gold.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I reiterate what a few have said, if it was me, I wouldn’t take the assistance to the finish. If I couldn’t do it, I wouldn’t want the medal or finisher status. I think well-funded race technology could look into adding an “assisted” category or tag which would give those finishers a time and a place on the results, but they would be ineligible for awards. But if assistance was given in the middle of a race course, the responsibility for admitting assistance would be placed on the runners–it would be crazy to have to enforce it throughout the course for non-professional runners.


  5. Hi! So… this issue hits incredibly close to home because that unconscious guy in the green shorts up there is my big brother. It seems like most of the comments above assume that these individuals have the volition to either accept or decline assistance. At the time this photo was taken, Ari’s core body temperature was over 108 degrees. He was also 200 yards from the finish line and had been on track to run a sub-3 hour marathon. There was no choice involved. Also, in terms of getting to the closest medical help–the closest medical help WAS over the finish line. You can read more about his experience here:

    That all aside, I think this speaks to the bigger topic of why most of us run. Ari was nowhere close to winning or placing in the Boston marathon. If he had been, I don’t think anyone would disagree that his time shouldn’t stand. But what would be achieved by denying Ari his finish time? Not a whole lot–as Dave McGillivray, the race director, swiftly and without hesitation concluded. This all to say–there is a lot of nuance here, but let’s all keep our heads on straight–we run because we love it. We help others when they need it. And we run for ourselves and for our own ability to be our best.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your very personal reply! I love getting the personal perspective from an actual participant. I am going to update and add a link.

      I would like to clear up, that I don’t think anyone is looking down on these runners who clearly pushed themselves through great struggle. I was only a couple minutes behind him and I considered stopping at the medical tent at mile 18. I recognize the risk I myself took. I am surprised there wasn’t someone with a wheel chair that came to his aid more quickly. Someone by me was picked up by wheel chair almost instantly. I think that would have been a better option for runners who need the help.

      However, depending on age for some people that time is a BQ. So I can see where some might feel that is unfair. Not meant as disrespectful. I imagine your brother is more than capable of a sub 3 in much better weather conditions.

      I hope you understand this was meant to get some discussion started. Sometimes issues will be more personal to us, than others. I am really happy that the comments here and on social media both seems to be able to give their opinion and still be respectful.


  6. Good debate! First of all, anyone who helps someone is a star and a credit to us all.

    The main thing I wanted to say is that none of these runners have cheated. If any of their race plans were to run 26.1 miles slightly beyond their capability and/or skipping a fuel station so that they could collapse just before the finish line and get carried the rest of the way, then they deserve a medal anyway, maybe even two (no, I know that’s not cool)!
    No, none of these runners have jumped on a train part way round to get a sub 3 (imagine that!). None of them made a conscious decision to be helped across the line. None of them cheated so why DQ them?

    In my humble and often inaccurate opinion, anyone who crosses the line with any part of their body in contact with the ground, whether aided or not, deserve a medal and their time. Why only “with two feet in contact with the ground”? Limp, hop, crawl, whatever you have to do. Every runner gets help in a race, from the cheers of the crowd to energy gels to popsicles (yum!). Who hasn’t drafted behind a group in a windy race? Should the guy with a prosthetic leg be disqualified or the amazing blind runners not be allowed a guide? Of course not.

    As for someone who is in such a bad way that they have collapsed and need to be carried then, I agree, they need medical assistance asap. If the nearest assistance is across the finish line then I believe they should get their medal and their time. They have probably run over 26.2 miles anyway (anyone ever stopped their Garmin on exactly 26.2?).
    As for earning a BQ, or taking someone else’s qualifying place, if someone can run to within 200m of the finish, stumble, struggle, stop, wobble around for a bit, collapse, wait for someone to come to help, get carried slowly across the line and still BQ, then they sound like a damn fine runner to me. Boston strong maybe?

    Liked by 1 person

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