When a lost Italian runner was discovered by a police officer in Manhattan this week, two days after the city marathon had ended, commenters expressed disbelief. But he's not alone. Other distance runners have nearly died from disorientation.
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Gianclaudio Marengo was running with fellow recovered addicts from Italy, but got separated from them. He later said he'd lost his hotel key and subway map. The New York Times reported that Marengo, who doesn't speak English, wandered for two days before a police officer discovered him on a train, still in his racing clothes.
Why didn't he ask for help? Maybe he couldn't. His body was likely burning more fuel than it could give to his brain. The bib wasn't his, so perhaps he was afraid of getting caught. Now add unfamiliar surroundings and a language barrier. When a distance runner gets seriously lost, a harrowing new race begins.
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In May, new mother Susan O'Brien went the wrong way during a race in New Zealand. She dug a hole in the forest, covered herself with dirt to stay warm, and drank her own breast milk, according to the Daily Mail. Rescuers found her the next day.
Even experienced distance racers have gotten terribly lost while training. Last year Modesto Marathon runner Bob Root was with his running club on a trail when he took a wrong turn. Fifty-five hypothermic hours later, he came across rescuers. In January ultramarathoner Allison Tai got turned around on Vancouver Island. Her phone died. She began hallucinating in the six hours before a helicopter rescue arrived.
But Mauro Prosperi's experience during the Marathon des Sables race in 1994 sounds like a pure nightmare. Granted, the 155-mile desert race is grueling at best. But Italian racer Prosperi got caught in a Saharan sandstorm and spent 10 days trying to survive.
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"I grabbed a handful of bats, cut their heads and mushed up their insides with a knife, then sucked them out," the former Olympian told the BBC. His thick blood thwarted a suicide attempt. He ate snakes. He drank his urine. Finally he came across shepherds who alerted the Algerian police - he'd inadvertently crossed the border from Morocco.
Recovery took nearly two years, but Prosperi ultimately returned to race Marathon des Sables again. He refused to give up.