Why athletes need to spot shock symptoms quicker!

As a first aid trainer, ex leisure manager, and back when i was a youngster, a reasonable swimmer, my understanding of Shock due to exercise has developed a lot from personal experience, and watching elite events, such as marathons and sports such as Rowing and track cycling.

This post was triggered after a instagram update from Katrina Johnson Thompson.

Signs and Symptoms of Shock

  • Pale, cold and clammy skin,
  • Sweating
  • Rapid, weak pulse,
  • Fast, shallow breathing,
  • Nausea,
  • Thirst
  • Diziness

In KJT’s post you can see she is pale, and mentions she has been sick. As someone at the top of her sport, I have to ask myself, why hasnt she or her coach noticed the above signs of shock, and intervened before she was sick?


If we can spot these signs quickly, we can get the unwell person to lay down, with their legs raised. As this is exercise-related, we should see a quick recovery, especially with someone of this level.

Further examples of Shock in sport

Commonwealth Games: Scottish runner Callum Hawkins misses marathon gold after collapsing 2km from the finish line
I lost sight in one eye as I crawled to finish line, says elite runner Hayley Carruthers

Both of the above examples reference marathon runners, I have witnessed this in rowers after winning gold, and a track cyclist at the Commonwealth games. It does seem very hard to find articles about this online.

I fully understand that during extreme events, and at high level competition athletes are pushing themselves to the limit, my concern is more about this happening in training, and coaches and athletes failing to realise what this is doing to their session, and to their body.

Why is shock dangerous for elite athletes?

Shock puts additional load on to the heart. The body is struggling to pump blood around the body, which is why the casualty will feel light head (dizzy), and look pale. This additional load on the heart could be very serious for those with undiagnosed heart conditions.

Russian athlete Margarita Plavunova dies suddenly in training

The above article puts this tragic event down to the athetes workload.

How to treat shock

If we notice shock in ourselves, or in our athlete, we need to stop exercise quickly.

Ger the casualty to sit down, talk to them, and ask them if they feel sick.

If the casualty is:

  • pale,
  • feels dizzy
  • feels sick,
  • asks for a drink,
  • has fast and shallow breathing

get them to lay down quickly, and raise up their legs, as shown in the above image. Covering them with a blanket will help reduce heat loss, and keep them warm.

Have you ever noticed marathon runners being given a foil blanket as they cross the line?

As this is exercise-related, we should see a quick recovery, and we do not need to call 999, however, if the situation escalates, such as the casualty loses consciousness, ensure 999 is called immediately.


Coaches and athletes need to be aware of the signs of shock, how to treat this, and the dangers if they do not.

I have heard personal trainers use this phrase many times;

If i dont make the person sick, they havent worked hard enough!

I would argue the coach has failed in their basic requirement to be the eyes and ears of the athlete, and be aware of their safety, when they are driven to push themselves harder than their competitors.

I am not saying that athletes don’t need to push themselves, and it is inevitable that they will go in to shock in the pursuit of becoming the best in the world, however spotting these signs early, can result in a quick recovery, and a better session. Instead of stopping and going home after being sick, they can lay down, recover, and get back into the hard session.

Article written by: Stuart McNicoll