Stimulant may have been the cause of marathoner’s death

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Last spring I posted about the tragic death of Claire Squires, a British woman who died a mile from the finish line of the London Marathon. The 30-year-old was an experienced runner and in good physical condition at the time of the race, so her death was something of an enigma.

As it turns out, there is a likely cause to Squires’ death. The Guardian newspaper is reporting that Squires had a stimulant mixed in to her water bottle that has been known to cause problems in people who consume it.

The stimulant was an energy drink mix called Jack3d, which is now banned in the UK and several other countries, including the United States. According to the Guardian’s report, Squires had told her boyfriend that she wanted to drink the water/Jack3d mix to help her improve her marathon time. Quoting the Guardian:

Jack3d was banned in August last year, four months after Squires’ death, after concerns over a stimulant called DMAA (dimethylamylamine) found in the powder. DMAA has been linked to high blood pressure, headaches, vomiting, stroke and a death.

The strongest substance I’ve ever taken while doing what might be called an “endurance activity” (does climbing a mountain count?) is a Snickers bite. And some Gatorade. But I have my own experience with stimulants.

About 10 years ago, I took part in the Body for Life challenge. It’s a great program that helped me get in pretty good shape. Part of the challenge includes (if you choose) entering a national contest where you post before- and after- photos. I was hoping to get pretty ripped, to burn more fat, and bought a supplement called Thermo DynamX. It was a stimulant designed to help you burn fat.

That stuff wigged me out. I felt on edge, and had that feeling that my heart might explode like an old tire. I threw that junk out and have never used a similar product since.

But that wasn’t my last go-around with stimulants. If you read my story about climbing Mount of the Holy Cross, you might remember how I had to drive 15 hours from western Colorado to Tulsa to make it home in time to get to my job, and I had to do this on almost no sleep.

One 5-Hour Energy shot seemed to help as I hit the Kansas-Colorado state line. By the time I hit Wichita, I thought I needed another.

What I got was a case of the jitters that lasted more than a day. It reminded me of that chemistry experiment I tried during my Body for Life phase. No thanks.

I know people who have used similar stimulants for bodybuilding purposes or to power them through road and trail races, particularly ultramarathons. None of them have reported the side-effects that I felt.

But reports such as this one concerning Claire Squires should at least give us pause. There is no reason why someone as healthy as Squires needed to die. No marathon time is worth your life.

I’ve pared back my supplement intake to an all-natural protein powder with a list of ingredients than can be counted on one hand. Everything else is just plain old food. I do this, quite frankly, because I don’t trust a lot of substances and supplements on the market right now. A lot of them are not regulated, and even those getting USDA approval still give me the willies, mostly over unseen and unknown long-term consequences over repeated ingestion of substances we don’t fully understand.

But going back to the short-term: I would just say to be cautious about what you take. We all want to run farther and faster. We want our performance to improve. But will you risk your health or even your life just for a smaller number on a clock or stopwatch?

What do you think about this topic? Do you use over-the-counter stimulants to help you lose weight or improve athletic performance? What are your experiences with this? Comment below. I’d like to hear from you.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

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10 thoughts on “Stimulant may have been the cause of marathoner’s death

  1. I use 5 Hour Energy during my longer races, with no ill effects at all. But as of late, chia seeds are my preferred boost. I may very well use both at Prairie Spirit. I do want to PR there, but if I do, it will be mainly because I have done plenty of push-backs (from the dinner table), and decreased my 12 ounce curls.

    • Love me some 12-oz curls. But they have some, er, side effects that make me slow and tubby. Knowing how I react to 5-Hour Energy and other stimulants, I’m going to listen to my body and steer clear. +1 on the chia seeds. Good stuff.

      Best of luck at Prairie Spirit!

  2. It all goes back to the whole “magic pill” idea that so many people hope will get them the results they want without the work … it doesn’t exist! I’d rather work my butt off and be proud of what I’v accomplished and NOT feel weird (not to mention spend a bunch of money on something that may or may not work and may or may not have harmful effects on the body).

  3. I never take anything before a run or a race. It’s not worth the risk and for a race I want a true result. Years ago I took a product that had ephedrene in it. It worked very well and combined with walking 2 hours a day I lost a good amount of weight. Ephedrene has since been banned in the US. Probably a good thing!

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