Wednesday, June 17, 2015
One of the most obvious characteristics about getting older is the inability to perform hard workouts for days in a row. I used to be able to ride three days hard before I was really tired. Now it's two days. For running, it's even worse: a hard day is usually followed by 3-4 easy days. During the last two days I ran once and rode twice. I'm exhausted today and had to drag myself on the street to get a run in. As a driven athlete, that tiredness is hard to accept. We have all these ideas and plans of how much we are going to train to get in this amazing shape. And that's where some people look for shortcuts.
Given that this now is a personal blog about my attempt on the NYC Marathon, I had no intentions to write about doping. I don't dope, never have and never will.
I have, however, been actively involved in antidoping since 2001 and am extremely vocal about drugs in sports on Twitter. I write articles on the topic and had the chance to be interviewed by NPR and German radio stations as well as by my running club mates on their podcast Cloud259. I implemented the most sophisticated antidoping program at any amateur event which includes out of competition testing, something that has not been done before or since.
The good news is that finally many people understand how prevalent doping is among amateurs. And while very few amateurs get caught, it's a new development that no pro athlete, no matter how big, is safe nowadays: Armstrong, A-Rod, Salazar - busted.
I hate the idea of cheating in sports. I have been beaten in races by many dopers. Doping is actually more visible in amateur sports than among the top elites because it's largely unsanctioned. I'm sickened by "athletes" in their 40s who post fantasy times and win bike races against much younger riders. These guys are doping right into your face. They often show the visual cues of drug abuse, mainly a veiny, impossibly skinny yet strong body. They race almost year round and train hard day after day after day.
I wish I could name names here. There is a cyclists in his mid 40s who wins big bike races in the alps against riders in their late 20s and early 30s, many of which have been implicated with doping. There is a runner in NYC in his late 40s who suddenly started to post incredible times. In triathlon, I had to endure stories of other guys doping told by middle aged dudes who were impossibly ripped.
The gut reaction to my post might be "you're just jealous". I'm definitely jealous of any great performance that I couldn't achieve. That said, in 23 years of racing I have seen enough to get a good feeling which performance is real and which is "not normal". What I have learned is that it's actually as easy as "if it's too good to be true, it's not true."
The obvious solution for a clean athlete is to focus on himself. However, I'm a very competitive guy in races. My race performances are head and shoulder above anything I can achieve on my own. I have beaten guys who are faster and better than I am through skill and experience. Racing is the essence of any organized endurance event.
So how do I deal with it? For me, it's mainly a moral issue. It's against the rules. But what if "everybody" is doing it? What beyond morality can help you to abstain drugs under such premise?
1. Training and competing is a relative process. Unless you have a shot at becoming the best in the world, your overall performance doesn't matter. Most of us can work their ass off and take all the drugs on the planet and will still not be the best in the world. Imagine you are a front of pack amateur who decides to take drugs to be faster. Once you do, you may beat guys you couldn't touch before but you're still jealous of the ones who are even better. Yet, you can't reach them. Now you're not only not the best but also a cheater. You've lost the last thing you had: your integrity.
Hence, the goal is to push and challenge yourself to become better but to focus on the process more than the outcome. Yes, racing is the icing on the cake and winning is even better but when I look back at two decades of racing, I don't mainly think of the races I won but rather of the experiences I lived. Enjoy being part of the races. You'll miss it once it is gone.
2. Don't underestimate the health implications of doping. Supplementing testosterone means shutting down ones own production for good. A lifelong dependency on medication with increased needs over the years is one result. The other can be cancer. Yes, you can lose your balls. Others have.
EPO is readily available online. Administering is easy enough, nowadays as easy as swallowing a pill. How do you feel like going to sleep when the consequence might be death? Your blood might be too thick.
In 22 years of racing bikes, triathlon and running, there were very few things as satisfying as knowing that I achieved all I achieved - as little as it may have been - completely clean, without any exception. There is no money in the world that can buy you that integrity. Yet, it's freely available. It's nothing but a choice.