Doping in MUT Running: My Opinion
A recent stir of events in the MUT Running world has resulted in some rather heated “debates” on social media.
Websites like Competitor Running and iRunFar have posted some articles. So naturally being the social-media addict I am, I commented a lot online (was quoted in the Competitor article) and made my own personal posts on Facebook as well as Twitter.
However, I don’t want people to take my comments out of context as little snippets here and there posted in threads online can get out of hand quickly!
So the purpose of this blog is to share my opinion on doping in MUT Running and to hopefully provide a little more of where I am coming from in regards to this issue.
If you weren’t aware, Lance Armstrong has been quoted in the media as taking up an interest in MUT Running. Of course I already knew this from Strava.com as he still has the 6th fastest time on the Maroon Bells Four Pass Loop Segment which he ran in 5:40..
The guy is in pretty good shape still!
This past weekend, Lance raced a 35km trail race in California called the “Woodside Ramble” and won overall. This has created a little stir.
Now let’s get some things clear before I really dive in:
- I’m not afraid of Lance as a competitor. He’s obviously in good shape and can run well, but he’s not going to win any really big-profile MUT Running Race anytime soon. I’m sure he’s not after any prize money or sponsorship awards either. I also don’t think he’s on EPO now. That would be a really dull move on his part as it can’t be healthy and after beating cancer that would be insane to push his luck again.
- I’ve been fairly outspoken about performance-enhancing-drugs (PEDs) in sport and since I depend on running as a major source of income there is a financial stake that I play in being absolutely as competitive as I can be in the sport. I don’t expect most runners to share this financial stake, but I think that this issue is ultimately not about money anyway (more on this later).
- The MUT Running community is known for being inclusive and welcoming. We’ve got diverse pasts and backgrounds. We’re human and we make mistakes. For those that may have had a slip of judgment in the past and abused a controlled substance or struggled with addiction (i.e. drugs like cocaine, LSD, alcohol etc.), but then sobered up and found running…I say this: more power to YOU! On the other hand, if an athlete has used a heavy hitting PED like EPO to gain a major edge in endurance athletics…I say this: Lifetime ban from all races. No second chances. It’s a strict zero tolerance policy. I don’t think some people realize how much of a drug like EPO boosts running performance. What Lance (or any big-time PED athlete) repeatedly did for years and years cannot be compared at all to what others may or may have not done in the past (with recreational drugs etc) in their prior transgressions.
So that 3rd point is really important because I sense that some people might (I think wrongly) compare certain mistakes in life to what Lance did and somehow relate by wanting to “give him a second chance.” I think his main second change in life was beating cancer. I’m glad he helped raise money for LiveStrong as well. I’ll give him that. But that’s about it!
From my point of view, an athlete like Lance repeatedly made a choice every time he injected that needle. He did it on a very large scale, continued to lie about it, and did it to be at the top of an endurance athletic game. Hundreds of times. And of course people then say: “Well all the cyclists in the Tour were doing it…so Lance had no choice.” To that I say: “Just because everyone else is (seemingly) doing something doesn’t mean it’s right.” From what I gather Lance also treated people rather poorly (and still does), but for the logic of this blog post that is beside the point.
I also think there is danger in getting too caught up in calling things like weed and caffeine PEDs (which they are of course, but on a much smaller scale), to be remotely on the same level as a heavy hitting substance like EPO. People also talk about how altitude tents should be banned and worry about pacers during races, but my concern lies mainly with trying to keep our sport clean from those that are really trying to gain the most of an edge. I believe a PED like EPO is one of the most powerful in endurance athletics and because of that, I believe that an athlete who is caught using something like that should have to serve a lifetime ban from endurance athletics racing.
In Lance’s case he’s really only banned from cycling, triathlon, and USATF/IAAF running events I believe. So this means that any private MUT Running Races (most races in the US) are something he can try to enter and compete in. But because these races are private and not under the umbrella of one of the aforementioned organizations, the Race Director can theoretically also apply their own policy towards convicted EPO users and barr them from entry (or take them out from the results).
Knowing how a professional athlete’s mind works though, there is seemingly always an intense desire to compete. You don’t run races for “fun” very often. You run to beat people, to find flow, and to compete as hard as humanly possible. Lance can still likely win many an Age-Group categories at many a MUT Running races. He undoubtedly will displace a clean, hard working athlete. Maybe he’ll take a lottery spot at a coveted race. Is that fair to clean athletes? Is it fair to the careers of athletes he systemically ruined?
Because of those reasons I don’t think he deserves the honor of appearing in results alongside the names of clean athletes. However, he surely can run and enjoy the sport we all love! The trails and roads are always free. There are always “low key” MUT Running events, group runs, FatAss fun runs and FKTs to chase (although one may be tempted to flag him on Strava…if he gets a CR!). I know there are tons of people out there that will always embrace and support him. I personally believe Lance could and should find all his peace outside any formal racing scene. I don’t think at this point he deserves the media attention and athletic recognition of winning or placing anywhere in race results for any feats of athleticism. And I feel the same way for any athlete who has been busted for taking a heavy hitting PED like EPO. No second chances and a lifetime ban.
Another common thing that I’ve read from online comments surrounding this issue is that people seem to combine “forgiving Lance as a person” with “letting him race” as being the same thing. There is the “right to race” and “granting one forgiveness ” in general as a fellow member of society. I think those are very separate things. This is much, much more than just about Lance though (despite me using him perhaps unfairly as a scapegoat). I believe this is about setting a precedent and taking a stand. I’m not one to stay silent with my hands tied behind my back and “run away” from problems. I’m going to be blunt and outspoken in things I believe in, even if I’m in the minority.
But why am I so harsh? Again, I’ll note my own personal bias of being a pro MUT Runner. Race results, prize money, sponsorship, media exposure, national and world rankings…that is my main job! I probably take this stuff too seriously.
I’ll admit though, it’s a slippery slope. Therapeutic-Use-Exemptions or TUEs (these are notes from doctors in a case by case basis where health problems, genetics and other abnormal readings can be remedied and prescribed legally by doctors) for competing athletes have created a somewhat “gray area.” For more context on that and TUEs search “Nike Oregon Project Doping Allegations”. Again though, my take on PEDs is that there is a spectrum and that punishments and bans should address their power accordingly. Taking a bunch of caffeine pills and tripping a test is a bit different than injecting EPO.
The high costs and relatively low effectiveness of drug testing, as well as the lack of drug testing in MUT Running is also a huge barrier that we must address in the future. I’ve read comments from mid-packers convinced that drug-testing costs will raise race registration costs and that doped up competitive elites will take away too many lottery sports from popular races in the future. I don’t believe the cost of drug testing should have to be covered by those who aren’t competing for prize money. That would be silly! Furthermore, the dynamic of MUT Running and the culture is changing, but I don’t believe it will ever be flooded with masses of people like road half marathons and marathons are. Sure, there is growth and more competitive depth now, but is that really a bad thing? Also, the fact that someone like Lance could easily evade hundreds of tests with ease (and dope while riding in the Tour) just shows the effectiveness of tests. Every competitive athlete that shows up at a race that mentions testing assumes that if they do well they’ll be tested. Mirco-dosing to beat the tests before and after races has seemingly allowed many an athlete to slip under the “post-race drug testing” radar over the years. I believe bio passports can help, but ultimately I think awareness and discussion about the issue is the first step as it hopefully leads to creating positive change.
I truly believe that change must come from promoting a #cleansport culture. Fostering a culture against doping ultimately discourages future use of PEDs and those already juicing will not be able to take away spots from hard working, clean athletes. Other voices in the MUT Running community have posted their opinion and created change already: The RainShadow running RD has made a statement about not letting certain (convicted) runners enter their races, and news/race coverage websites like iRunFar have outlined a policy on how they will not promote known dopers with media coverage.
If the worlds of cycling, track and field, road marathons and organizations like IAAF have demonstrated anything already, it is that corruption and greed have led to PED usage in sport at all levels. However, I believe that promoting a zero-tolerance policy with lifetime bans for these powerful drugs, and an anti-doping culture (which may lead to private races deciding to ban convicted EPO -users from their races) I think is a big step in the right direction to preserving the integrity and pureness of MUT Running…a sport, a hobby, a profession, and a lifestyle that I love.
Please repost and share this on social media if you agree. #cleansport
Thanks for reading and I wish you the best!