The trail runner who defied a snake bite to finish the Tor des Géants

The Surrey-based Japanese runner put off treatment to reach the finish line of the 330km race in Italy

Hideo Takano

by Paul Halford |

A runner from Surrey has made a full recovery from being bitten by a snake during the Tor des Géants race last weekend and ending up in hospital after crossing the finish line.

Hideo Takano, who is with the Dorking & Mole Valley Athletics Club, fought on bravely after the bite around 2km from the finish at Courmayeur in Italy. However, he suffered a bad reaction and blacked out twice before he had to be helped across the line.

The 55-year-old completed the 330km race with 24,000m of elevation in six days two hours one minute.

The incident happened on the outskirts of the town which was the headquarters for the race. The prolific ultra runner explained: “The first I knew of it was this massive stabbing pain on my ankle. Just before that, strangely enough, I heard a hissing sound, but we’d been hearing that a lot on the course because you had these water pipes that were makes that hissing sound so I thought nothing of it. But the second I got whacked on the ankle I knew I’d been bitten and it wasn’t just like a bee but it was a snake.

“My first thought was, is it going to be quicker for me to go to the doctor or a doctor to come to me? We were still on the trails and it was a bit uphill and I was so close to the finish. I thought I may as well get to the finish and get treated.”

For about a kilometre, the pain of the bite itself was the only issue, but then suddenly his lips and tongue started to swell. Then, back in the town and about 500m from the end, he suffered his first blackout.

“Next thing I knew there were people looking over me giving me water and stuff,” said Takano. “They were very encouraging, saying 'you’ve nearly finished', but I was trying to explain to them that I’d been bitten by a snake.

Hideo Takano
Hideo Takano blacked out twice in the home stretch and had to be flown to hospital when he crossed the finish line at the Tor des Geants

“I got up and tried to go a bit further and then blacked out again. Next time I came to, someone said there’s a doctor on the way so to just wait.

“The doctor had a look at me and gave me the option of either stopping the race here and we can treat you or you can go to the finish and we can treat you after you’ve crossed the finish line. But to me it wasn’t much of a choice after I’d be going for six days. I’m not going to just give it up within sight of the finish and, if the doctor’s giving me that choice, obviously it’s not life-threatening.”

He was propped up by helpers either side to complete the race and then bundled barely conscious into an ambulance and then taken by air to hospital. The last kilometre had taken him around 20 minutes. He thinks he was not disqualified because the assistance came via official race volunteers.

From speaking to the medical personnel, he gathers through the language barrier that the snake was probably not poisonous but that he suffered something similar to an allergic reaction.

The event has not put him off ultras and, having touched down back in the UK, he is already talking about going back for a third time to try to run quicker.

Takano, who arrived in Britain from Japan in 1977, has completed 19 editions of the iconic Comrades Marathon ultra. It was during the 55-mile race in 2017 that he made a sporting sacrifice which led to him receiving the prestigious Spirit of Comrades award. In order to support a struggling fellow runner, Colin Gill, who was seeking his eagerly sought “green number” for a 10th finish, he gave up completing the event himself. Staying back with him rather than pushing ahead, they were both forced to retire as they did not make the cut-off point 30km from the end.

Looking back now, he feels “ambivalent” about the award. He said: “It’s amazing to get that award but, given the choice, if we’d finished it and Colin had got his green number, I’d have been happier with that outcome. He did say go on get your medal but I just thought, ‘You can’t just leave your friend and go off and get your medal, we’ll stay together.’” He has vowed to be back to gain his 20th finish and “double green number”.

He has completed more than 50 ultras, including the Western States Endurance Run and UTMB, he explained his motivation: “I just love being in the mountains. It’s personal enjoyment, also I make a lot of friends in these races. It’s just a really nice way to spend time away from the world in the mountains just being with nature.”

Main pic credit: Carlo Alberto Raschioni. Additional reporting and second photo: Pio Song

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