Coming to a Consensus on Cheating

A recent New Yorker Magazine story about Kip Litton, a marathon runner who presumably cheated his way to dozens of impressive marathon finishes in the past several years, got me thinking a lot this week about how and where we draw the line in terms of what is, and what isn’t ethical in the pursuit of a desired result in running. As long distance runners we do all kinds of crazy things in hopes of achieving a better result on race day. I think it’s certain that the vast majority of runners don’t do anything that is illegal or against the rules of a particular race, but certainly not everyone adheres to these mostly self-imposed standards. Furthermore, why is it that certain things are deemed against the rules while other things which may give as much or more of an advantage are not? The line gets even further muddled when you consider that many things which might be considered “cheating” in one event are considered smart running in another.

In many trail races you are required only to start and finish in an exact location, and pass through all designated checkpoints along the way. If you find ways to shave minutes between these points you will be held in high regard among your competitors. When we run these kinds of events we often scout the course ahead of time, not just to know how to follow the route, but to see if there are any places to make the route faster than the obvious way. Conversely, in the majority of races (at least in North America), it is considered cheating when we follow anything other than the obvious/marked route. Many races lay all of these things out in their rules, but many do not.

Things become even more confusing when we look at the issue of doping, and what substances/practices are okay, and which ones are not. There are some fairly universal international standards which seem to be unofficially applied to most athletic events. In this way it becomes generally understood that eating a caffeinated gel in the wee hours of a 100 mile race, or taking some ibuprofen to get those fried quads through the last 10 miles, is not considered cheating, but that getting a blood transfusion because we’re unusually tired two days before a big race is. It gets really tricky here because the vast majority of trail races do not have any drug-related rules, and many of the drugs/practices which are commonly used for performance enhancing in athletics are not universally illegal. Once again, we come back to the reality that “cheating” in trail running is largely based on our own self-imposed standards.

If you’ve read this far you might feel fairly depressed about all this. Basically what I’ve said is that cheating happens in our sport, and that if you’re creative, resourceful, and bold you can do a lot of different “unethical” things to achieve some very impressive results (i.e., Kip Litton). The good thing, though, is that I think the vast majority of people have no desire to achieve a certain result through anything that they themselves would consider cheating. Where we most often run into trouble is when one person thinks of something as cheating and another does not. In many cases race rules or laws can address these discrepancies, but in many other cases a lot of gray area still remains. Again though, I think we have the huge advantage that most people don’t want to cheat. Maybe I’m being naïve, but I think it’s in our nature as humans to get more satisfaction from accomplishing something in a manner that is widely recognized as fair and ethical, than in a manner which causes our peers to question the validity of our accomplishments. In this way all that is needed to “police” the vast majority of people is a clear understanding of what is fair and what is not.

Achieving this clear understanding isn’t something that can happen overnight, but it is something that seems to be growing as the sport of trail running matures. Open conversations among runners and race organizers seem to be advancing this conversation. Even open forums like this website, which can often get a little off track and aggressive, have been extremely valuable in moving toward a clearer understanding of what is and isn’t “fair.” Most specifically though, I think races need to make it very clear to their participants what is and what isn’t allowed. Many races are currently going the extra mile to do this, but many more seem to have no interest in doing so. Certainly I’m not a fan of long lists of rules, just for the sake of having rules, and in a perfect world we could all just line up, say go, and race away with everyone on the same page. But the problem is what you think is fair might look like a blatant form of cheating to the gal one stride behind you.

In terms of what to do about the blatant cheaters, the Kip Litton’s of the world, the blood dopers: nothing! Disqualify them when we catch them, and then ignore them. If we continue to draw a clearer and clearer picture of what is and what isn’t fair in a particular race, then those who choose to break these rules have nothing to stand behind, and become more and more marginalized, and less and less regarded for their performances. After all, this is often what the blatant cheaters are hoping for: high regard and attention for their accomplishments. Does prize money not skew this entire notion, you ask? Sure it does to some degree. It adds a whole another motivation (besides simply regard and attention) to the potential blatant cheater. In this sense, I think it’s even more important for races that offer substantial prize money to be really clear about what is and what isn’t allowed. Do we need to do more than this though? I don’t think so, because again, I believe that most people don’t want to do anything that they know their fellow competitors will think of as cheating.

As long as we don’t get to a tipping point in which so many people are pushing these boundaries of fairness, that things which are currently regarded as cheating become accepted as fair because so many people are doing them (i.e., the recent doping situations in MLB and professional cycling). And once again, the best way to avoid this is to create a very clear understanding of what the boundaries are, and that it’s absolutely not fair to cross them. Do we also need stringent testing, increased course marshalling, etc? No, I don’t think so, but we will eventually if the sport continues to grow the way it is and we don’t take the opportunity in the next few years to more clearly define the boundaries of what is fair, both within the sport as a whole and within individual events.

What can we then do, you ask? Talk about these things with your fellow competitors. Make sure you are all on the same page about what’s ethical and what is not. If you’re running a race that doesn’t clearly define something that is important to you, ask the race director to address this with you and the other racers. When you see or hear of someone doing something that you don’t think is ethical, speak up. Not necessarily in an accusatory way, but in a constructive way. A conversation will arise which will hopefully result in much more clarity going forward. With this type of collective effort we can assure a fair, pure, and thriving sport for decades to come, something I think we all have an agreed desire for.

Call for Comments (from Bryon)
It would be great to hear your thoughts on Geoff’s article. In contemplating the topic as well as drafting and publishing a comment, I ask you to (1) not make any unfounded accusations and (2) treat everyone (both commenters and those not present on the website) with the respect you would give someone if you were running on the trail with him or her. [Editor’s Note: Thanks to the first 8 people who commented in a thoughtful and constructive way. Let’s keep that up!]

So, what runs/standards need to be defined on a sport-wide or individual race basis?

There are 183 comments

    1. Terry Miller

      I disagree about cutting switchbacks being universally wrong. In the American west, it is ecologically unsound to do so, and I never would. The conditions are so dry and the ground so poor that plants have a hard time growing to prevent erosion, and an abundance of caution is necessary. That is not the case everywhere, even in the US. In the East and the South,(and even in the West, such as Dipsea, which encourages course-cutting) there are many places where the environment and the conditions of the course itself can withstand people bushwacking to their heart's content. It's simply a question of the rules of the place where you happen to be. As long as everyone's following the same rules it's ok.

  1. Justin

    America = No Switchback Cutting

    PEDs = how we gonna test for it? Who really wants to pay the entry fee at the first race to try? Whats the cost?

    Hypixico Tents = I drove to a trail head at 10k ft and slept in my car the week before the Leadville 50.. cheating? I don't live there…I paid for a gas and some off-road tires though to make it easier to get there..

    Pacers = Seriously? did you see what some of the mid-packers looked like at the half-way point of Leadville 100 this year? You would recommend putting them out there for another 50 by themselves? You going to refund the money of them racers who have to rescue someone?

    GPS = huh? really? the course is marked, follow the signs. If the course has poor signs then don't run it the next year. I'm sure the RD will figure it out.

    Electronics = what are we tri-athletes? haha. I kid… What about headphones? Is a runner receiving an advantage from some sweet tunes while on the trail to pump him/her up?

    Painkillers = didn't I read an article or two about how they could put you in liver or kidney failure or something? Maybe we should ban beer at the aid stations too.

    Geoffs Writing = definitely cheating… I've seen serious improvement in this area. Who proof read and edited this? This didn't come only from practice. Get healthy!

  2. Ben

    Any thoughts on getting lost if it winds up in your favor??

    I was running a new 50k (ironmaster 50K) this spring, and some turkey hunters decided the race markings interfered with their hunting (right around a crucial T-bone split). I feel bad because I know I missed an actual mile or two of course, but on the other hand we probably bushwacked about 30 min until we eventually found the correct turn from the T-bone.

    I know there were a few guys ahead that got a little more lost than I did, so I ended up finishing ahead of them. On the other hand, getting lost definately made me slower than I would have been had I stayed on course.

    No prize money was involved…..

  3. Frank

    This entire topic is a tough one. I found myself getting close to a 100 mile race.. and still 10 pounds over weight.. over goal weight.. I could start taking some fat reduction weight loss stuff.. but instead decided that my best approach was to go into the race being what i am.. rather then what i think might help with my time or less pain.. I wanted to be proud of my accomplishment.. Regardless of the external fame.. those who cut corners and push the rules.. if they do well.. they know inside the reason why they did well..

    Also in closing.. at 55.. 28 ultras later.. everything above board.. sure.. very little success.. except knowing every race was real.. every failure was real.. and those few great races.. i earned the crazy hard way..

  4. Jean-Philippe

    There is indeed some grey areas in what is and what is not cheating, and especially so when it comes to doping. I am not very sure of what is the logic behind a decision by a federation or a controlling institution to exclude this or that product. I believe the nature argument does not lead anywhere, if not, well, any piece of equipment (including shoes, socks,…) can be considered as cheating.

    The objective of all this, however, is to get a fair competition, therefore, in my opinion, the only things which should be forbidden ought to be those that are not available to the public at a reasonable price. Within this logic, EPO, blood transfusions and other fancy drugs must be forbidden because they necessitate a medical supervision and/or connections with laboratories to be practised safely, on the contrary, a caffeinated gel can be bought and used safely by almost every competitor. Another principle that is covered at least partially by the first one but maybe not totally, is whether an "enhancement" is safe for the competitor to use, if not it should enter in the forbidden class, we don't want competitive trail running to become a sport reserved to those willing to unreasonably risk their life for achieving a performance.

  5. Anonymous

    Regarding altitude tents and in this case houses, I remember Nike had a house built in Portland for there top athletes to "train low, live high". The whole house was a altitude tent, tell me that is not awesome! Then I heard they shut it down partly do to pressure from governing bodies.

    Does anybody know the whole/real story?

    1. Anonymous

      Also just wondering not that I could afford it but, how much is a altitude tent, do rent, lease, buy? Tried finding stuff online but very few sites post prices which always leads me to believe it is WAY out of my league.

      1. Bryon Powell

        Hey Anonymous,
        As a number of factors suggest you are a regular commenter on iRunFar, I’d encourage you to publish with a (consistent) name even if it’s a pseudonym. It’d make following conversions (multiple anonymous commenters) easier and make your presence on iRunFar more tangible.

        Thanks for your consideration,

        Ps. Nothing wrong here… I’ll be generally encouraging this these days.

  6. Whitney Richman

    There's a lot to take in here, I find that the RDs need to be clear about rules before races. I did a 12 hr. race in June and was running well behind 2nd woman. At the end of the race she beats me by 4.5 miles, but I soon find out that she had a pacer for at least her last 12, if not more. Knowing she had a pacer would have motivated me to close the gap quicker. And having a pacer could have helped me run faster and decrease aid station time. There was no mention of pacers before or during the race.

    1. Whitney Richman

      and by "running well behind 2nd woman" what I really meant was that I was running very strong, with in a mile of the 1st woman. I was the 2nd woman.

  7. Ultrawolf

    I used to compete in the Skyrunning World Championship 2010 in Premana/Italy. I was picking up my race number when some guy came along asking directly if I want to purchase EPO. When I told him that I don´t do drugs he didn´t believe me, claiming that everyone here´s doing EPO. I should tell him how much I pay for mine, he´s sure to go under the price. He left me only alone after I told him to #### off. I certainly don´t believe everybody there´s doing drugs but if a dealer´s talking streight to a strange, well, that suggests a lot…..

    If there would be more tests – out of competition tests like in cycling – there would be far more positives and not only the two mentioned before by Meghan and Morgan.

    You asked before not to mention "I know X did and Y might have done that" but can´t help pointing out that one of the two cheat´s partner is a famous runner as well but of course never came up with "Oh honey, what are those seyrings for we got in the fridge ? Olive oil for the salad I believe ?"

    While most ultra runners are clean – I certainly believe in that – there are without any doubts some which violate the WADA Code knowing quite well there will never be consequences.

    Me, I´m far from being a world class athlete but at least in my home country Austria one of the best ( the best ? ) in Trail Ultras. Occasionally it happened that people came up asking what stuff I´m on since they can´t imagine running some 100 kilometers in the mountains. ( Usually those are the people which can´t even manage to lose 5 kgs or stop smoking )

    Hard to prove you´re innocent when never tested so I came up with the idea of signing a declaration, if I should ever violated the WADA´s anti doping rules I had to donate a year´s salery to the SOS Kindedorf (=an organization for orphans). Needless to say, married with two kids I could never afford that. So what better prove than you economical existence ? Would be great to see the real stars of our scene doing the same but I doubt all would.

    ( for those interested, you can find my declaration under . Apart from that my webside´s not really up to date, I´m a bit lazy prefering to be on the trails than in front of the computer )

    Best wishes

    Wolfgang (who´s not a native speaker so appologizes for his bad wording)

  8. ser13gio

    I think is US didn't notice in Spain we had three more issues about doping, all in the same race out of six tests (!). Sorry, but the link is in spanish: ('Googletranslate' it)

    Aitor Osa was a pro cyclist. The other two names are not known for privacy laws, just the initials, but if you know the sport here it's easy to know who they are. The first was EPO, very easy; another cannabis (stupid); the third was a 'contaminated' suplements (what the runner argued). Are not suspended yet cause there's time for replies and so. Consider the prize cash was 500 € for winner, one of the highest prize money in Spain. I mean, don't think it's just because of the money and sponsors, the ego can be much bigger.

    From my point of view, if you want to believe ultra racing is clean, you can keep thinking, I'm sure it's not, but I still hope the problem is not too big.


  9. Roger from CT

    How many people are reading this at work stealing company time? Just bcause it is the social norm, doesn't make it the right thing to do.

  10. Josh

    A lot of people are inappropriately applying their personal ideals to this. What is considered cheating is a matter of the rules established for the event. When something is fair, all that it means is that it's the same rules for everybody. The ONLY grey area is when rules don't specify. This is obviously a more difficult call in situations where something is generally accepted in one area, and not elsewhere. Whether or not we "like" an activity, such as hypoxic tents or pacers is more or less irrelevant, unless you can convince a race director to ban them.

    You can take the potential examples as far as you want in any direction, from extremes of race directors allowing anything … any drug, any support, whatever … to directors allowing only runners that run buck naked after having survived for 3 months in the wilderness on what they grew and killed with their bare hands. If a race is established that explicitly allows the competitors to use EPO, then for that race, using EPO is fair. Again, it really doesn't matter if any of us find it repellent. A race that allows EPO simply wouldn't be sanctioned by any governing body that I can think of, and may be subject to inquiry by other authorities.

    You cannot make arguments about things like cost or even real altitude vs tents unless they are specified by race directors. Trying to do so introduces societal and environmental constraints which are not controllable and never will be. I am a white male born to a middle class family in the US. Totally unfair to BILLIONS of people in many, many ways. If I was a Haitian woman with 6 kids in rural Haiti, every minute of my existence would be consumed with trying to feed my family and running at all would be ludicrous unless I was trying to escape something. Dakota and Tony have the means and lack of other commitments to move to altitude for months before races and train for endless hours weekly. Totally unfair to those who have jobs, families, etc. that prevent them from doing so. Should we make Tony and Dakota get jobs in Kansas and have multiple children to even the playing field? Should big races start flying in all the runners and providing car rentals and hotels such that expense is no longer an unfair factor?

    As far as pacers/mules, this is an area where directors tend to clearly state the rules. If the race director has made them a part of a race they are therefore fair. Yes, it's easier, but as long as the race director has explicitly made it easier for EVERYBODY, it's fair. If the rules are different for amateurs, then that's another story.

    In regards to hypoxic tents, the general running body does not consider them a problem, as evidenced by the fact that they are advertised in our periodicals. I'm fairly comfortable that the vast majority of race directors running large high-altitude races have heard of hypoxic tents, are familiar with their use, and yet have not chosen to ban them. As they are then available to everyone who has the funds and chooses to direct those funds in this manner they are fair. For those that don't agree, your only recourse is to attempt to convince enough racers that it shouldn't be allowed that race directors begin to ban them. And the only way to realistically enforce that would be to ban their sale in the first place. Incredibly unlikely, so my humble suggestion would be to get over it. They aren't going away.

    Finally, the "natural" argument is random and subjective. Ibuprofen does not naturally occur in the body. Body glide does not grow on trees for us to grab and use as we run by. The house or tent that you sleep in did not pop up there as a force of non-human activity. Traveling to a race in Europe or Australia in a large hunk of metal propelled by decomposed dinosaurs is incredibly unnatural. The very internet that this discussion is occurring on is not "natural".

    1. phil jeremy

      Josh, although your piece was quite long I found it concise and definitive….This article by Geoff is causing as much a stir as the Killian switchback debate. I find it interesting that the whole drug/cheating thing is obviously clearly something that ultra runners care about very deeply. The message coming across is that cheating may exist in life but we don't want it in our sport…..period.

    2. Pierre

      "A lot of people are inappropriately applying their personal ideals to this"

      Euh… I think Geoff was trying to open a discussion, a debate. Just saying.

      1. Josh

        Fair enough. In that line of thought, I wonder if hypoxic tents would make an interesting article on irunfar on it's own? Pros, cons, the science, feelings in the community, etc. I suspect a lot of us are familiar with the concept but not so much the details. At least, that's me.

  11. Rochelle Williams

    It is a shame that if someone does well , and the drug tests are negative, they must be doping.Why can't people do well simply because of hard works and genetics.I would hate to think of long distance running as just like the other sports where there is a doping problem, as a sport we do what we do , even if there is a large or a small prize money offered , because we love it and the challenge.I think that is really cynical to believe that if they offer more prize money more people will cheat.The Alberto salazars and dick beadsleys of the past ran hard, trained hard and did not make a lot of money and they still gave amazing drug free performances, I continue to remain an optimist, most long distance runners are an honest bunch.

  12. Rochelle Williams

    For the most part triathlons are still clean and Nina was a minority, since her we have not seen anyone else.Chrissie Wellington has won iron man 4 times already and she works hard and is clean, again no one does iron man for the prize money, elite or non elite, like running it goes beyond the monetary benefits.

    1. Ultrawolf

      How can you know Chrissie is clean ? Because she´s never testes positive ? Lance was never tested positive – and he for sure worked harder than anyone else. Still……

      Don´t get me wrong, I´m not saying Chrissie is using banned substances but I certainly wouldn´t say she doesn´t.

      I´m pretty certain if there´d be the same controls like in pro cycling ( out of competition tests, blood passport, whereabouts, etc. ) the situation among the Pros would be the same. Feel free to put in swimming, nordic skiing, biathlon, athletics,……iso triathlon.

      1. Rochelle Williams

        If we take that stance , then every body mustbe cheating, because they do test triathletes like chrisse, but when will enough testing be enough ? Or will the results enough to satisfy us, in the lance case negative results , repeatedly negative results were not enough to satisfy certain bodies and people.Or do we rely on hearsay.

        I believe that all should be innocent until proven guilty otherwise everyone must be cheating as these races are hotly contested, never a walk in the park.Then the 2 nd placeand3 rd place winners are also suspect in all races .I prefere to beliieve that you are innocent until proven guilty.

  13. KenZ

    I am but if they fire me, I'll not only get severance, but more time to run!

    (But no, your corollary was not lost on me. Point well made.)

  14. KenZ

    I don't recall offhand, but I did contact two of the manufacturers, and I recall that one of them would rent at what I considered pretty darn "reasonable" prices; something like $3-500/week (??) Yeah, that's a crap ton of $$$, but so is taking 2-3 weeks off of work, flying to Silverton early, and renting a car and room.

    If/when I get into Hardrock (fingers crossed), I will be seriously looking at that. On whether or not that constitutes cheating, here's my take:

    A. Yes, it is in some ways not "fair" due to the price

    B. It is also not "fair" that I don't live at elevation in Colorado.

    C. It is also not "fair" that I can't pre-run the course ad-nauseum. Don't tell me that Karl doesn't have a bit of an advantage there (and more power to him).

    D. I am not a contender for any significant place at Hardrock. Seeing as I expect that anyone around me couldn't care the less if they're at 31st vs 30th place because some dude rented an oxygen tent, I'm not too fussed by it.

    E. I would rent it not to place better, but to be able to enjoy the event more.

    1. KenZ

      PS- I think the one thing that a race like Hardrock needs to rule on (and I haven't seen it for HR if they have it) is GPS devices. As stated before, a guy like Karl has a distinct course "advantage" having run it so many times. But… that is leveled a bit if newbies get to use a GPS. But seriously, is a GPS within the spirit of Hardrock? That's an article in itself. I do think things like that need to be spelled out by RDs. (if someone knows the GPS answer on HR, do speak up).

      1. OOJ

        Good point…but reading the Hardrock rules, in seems like the "spirit" is truly, "use whatever the hell you want" (e.g. skis, poles, and other ridiculous, tongue-in-cheek things)…

        But clearly, in a race that prides itself on self-sufficiency and minimal route guidance, a GPS unit would seem enormously "performance enhancing" beyond the spirit of the race…

  15. KenZ

    1. I love your first post. It's my favorite so far.

    2. Yes to the discussion of tents. I've never used one, but definitely would. I think it would need to start with the science discussion, then followed by the ethical debate.

    1. Meghan Hicks


      Thanks for commenting again. If the blog post to which you're referring is a first-hand observation from a person who observed what they thought was cheating, and if, in your best judgement, you think the person is making a legitimate statement, I'd encourage you to post the link here. In this way, interested parties can read the the first-hand statement rather than your second-hand announcement of it.

      I hope you understand that my purpose in following up to your original comment is to keep things here in the realm of first-hand and/or founded rather than accusations/unfounded statements. Thanks again.

  16. Paul

    So should any Badwater runner who spent time in a sauna considered a cheater, because they didn't move to Death Valley or Libya or something?

    If not, how is a sauna different from an altitude tent. If saunas were not common in many gyms and health clubs, most people could not afford to have their own built. If altitude tents were commonplace in health clubs, or were available for affordable nightly rates, would it still be cheating?

    1. Paul

      Spending time in a sauna (artificial) or in the heat of Death Valley (natural) will both result in physical changes in the body, to promote self temperature regulation and cooling.

  17. StillwaterRunner

    Great topic! Drawing the line is very difficult when discussing ethics; they tend to be subjective. My take:

    1. The rules are the rules. Breaking the rules is cheating. And to be rules, they must be enforcable. If we say PED's are against the rules, then all podium finishers should be tested. Scenario: PED's are not listed in a race's rules, and someone is caught in the act before a race, are they diqualified? What if the PED is not illegal? When I look through my next race's rules, they are all enforcable.

    2. Ethics encompass the remainder of issues I read above. We do not have a clear code of ethics for Trail Running. How do we put one together? Who is the arbiter? I would like to see one put together, but am not sure who does.

  18. AV1611-Ben

    There is responsibility for *ALL* of us in the Trail/Ultra community here.

    1. Race Directors need to be very, very clear about the rules for their individual race. (Ie – do you have to clearly followed the defined course, or is "shortest possible route" acceptable?) Good example in this month's Trail Runner magazine re: SpeedGoat 50K and Kilian Jornet. I dare you to go to Karl M's website and read the rules – carefully. KJ did not break any rules. Yet a big stink followed… In my opinion, KM was at fault here, not KJ.

    2. Competitors need to be very, very careful to understand the rules. "Ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking the law."

    We *ALL* need to see ourselves as stewards of our sport. We *ALL* need to see ourselves as ambassadors of our sport.

    We have a *LOT* to sort out – we have to accept the fact that as a sport, we are still maturing. Let us approach it in a mature manner.

  19. Paul

    Why is there a focus on altitude tents and not saunas? I've never heard anyone say that heat training in a sauna (or driving around with you windows up and a/c off in the summer) is cheating or unfair.

    The physiological benefits to heat training in a sauna, with respect to tolerating heat are nearly identical to those gained by using an altitude tent to tolerate altitude.

  20. fred p

    What about all these cheaters who are using intervals and tempo runs to increase their vo2 max? And what about all these scumbags using willpower to get a leg up on the competition?

  21. OOJ

    Good discussion on real ETHICS of sport. And with ethics – whether or not rules are concerned – it is always a grey area and a sliding scale.

    In football, there's no black-and-white between offensive holding and defensive pass interference. You do as much as you can to not break the threshold: be it with officials, competitors, or your own values.

    I've done rule-stretching: having a pacer carrying my bottle/pack in the last two miles of a race…but not then using said pack… It was advantageous to not drop it, and I was ethical enough to not then re-use the pack.

    I've also "littered"…by dropping a cup a couple feet beyond an aid station trash bin, hoping that AS crew would be "understanding" enough to pick it up. Is it littering in the spirit of the rule? Sort of…but not really…

    What I like about Geoff's writing is that he's stuck to an interesting theme: the many ways in which the sports may/will change as it grows. The bigger it gets, the more explicit these rules issues must become.

  22. Jason

    From Ultra Wolf above: "….I was picking up my race number when some guy came along asking directly if I want to purchase EPO. When I told him that I don´t do drugs he didn´t believe me, claiming that everyone here´s doing EPO. I should tell him how much I pay for mine, he´s sure to go under the price. He left me only alone after I told him to #### off. I certainly don´t believe everybody there´s doing drugs but if a dealer´s talking streight to a strange, well, that suggests a lot….."

    I have spent some time in Italy for work, and have had the opportunity to make friends with some athletes over there. I've talked with them about this (one lady in particular, an American living over there, a very accomplished athlete.. but totally unverifiable). They said that MANY people in the local running club, both men and women were doping with EPO. Amateur athletes. Nothing to gain.

    1. Mikey J

      You might not but some people care about the integrity of a race, if you naturally work hard and have sacrificed for a certain level of fitness that another gained through unsavory ways, they are undeserving and are essentially stealing from everyone else they finished in front of…These are races not training runs.

  23. Scott S

    I'll go a step further, but not in jest. Allow all PEDs. I think that we ought to stop trying to regulate each other's bodies. As a non-competitive participant in this sport, I am certainly not going to be taking any PEDs, but how about if we let the adults take responsibility for their own actions. If people want to sacrifice their long-term health to achieve short term goals, let them.

    1. Mikey J

      Why not a whole separate competition for PEDs not everyone wants to compete with dirty athletes, so if you want a world where there is a freedom to use PEDs then why not a clean series and a PED acceptable series. I have a child with some potential and I would hate for her to feel like she has to dope just to keep up with the competition, it's not fair to someone in that class. Just because some don't run to compete or care about their times or place(though many freaked out over Paul Ryan's assertion of a sub 3hr marathon, what was that about?), listen others are out there putting in huge investments to their passion and craft, why should the competitive athlete be left to fend for themselves against the sharks of this world that would dope…some people have a conscious and shouldn't be penalized because of it, PEDs are wrong on many levels & the elite athlete that is trying to run clean should not be burdened with having to battle this on their own.

      1. Ultrawolf

        Guess what would happen then ? Athletes using PEDs would still compete in races for the "Non-PED´s athletes" claiming they are clean. And who would admitt taking PED´s running the doper´s races ? Probablly Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis alone :-)

  24. Scott S

    I agree. I recently paced a friend for 26 miles during the overnight portion of a century. I then went to the finish line to watch him bring it home with a another pacer. I got all choked up as he crossed the finish line and fulfilled his goal. I've never felt that good completing my own race. Not sure what this has to do with cheating, except it is an external aid to the runner. So perhaps it could be considered cheating in a strict sense, but this seems like fodder for the RD to make "their" race what they want it to be.

  25. Jason

    Yup, seriously. I was amazed, but I believe her absolutely. It's a social norm thing. She said that among the runners in the club it was accepted, and that the prestige of winning far outweighed the non existent stigma attached to taking drugs. Wasnt there a Kenyan athlete at the Olympics booted for a positive test and he sung like a bird saying all the other guys were doing it? Course, that's one guy with no credit, not saying I believe that, just that it's easier to see with recent high profile doping cases.

    If I was a world class runner training with other like runners who were doping. If it was my one passion. If it was my ticket out of poverty. Why wouldn't I do it in order to level the playing field? If i knew i was good enough, but not good enough to beat dopers, and the option was relative mediocraty. Glad I'm not faced with that decision!

    Discussions like this reinforce the social norms that are certainly more powerful than the Law.

  26. Mikey J

    People are cynical because unfortunately there is no utopian society that exists where the vanity of man doesn't rear it's ugly head. There may be a certain immunization for the majority of trail runner just by the nature of the sport and those drawn to it but anywhere you find man I guarantee you his/her frailties are not far behind.

  27. Mikey J

    Agree, I just attended my daughter's first XC meet today and it made me think how would I feel if someone cheated against her? I'm sick of the moralizing that goes on, there should be absolute as a way to ensure fairness.

  28. Mikey J

    Agree the human ego is allure & power enough, vanity and pride, some people don't care if it's empty because if they can't come across it naturally they seem to feel they still deserve it, think ever spoiled person you ever meet.

  29. Mikey J

    The world we live in largely and glaringly celebrates celebrity so much that it doesn't matter anymore if it's infamy or nobility, only that it's celebrity and that is the problem with moral relativism, there will always be apologist for you if you achieve a certain level of fame or popularity.

  30. Jim Tinnion

    All very intersting, but most of the thread seems to be dealing with trying to draw a line in a very grey area of sand (pardon me for mixing my metaphors).

    My attitude is that it's a question of personal ethics. Of course you must follow the race organiser's rules, and the rules of the governing body licensing the race/event (USATF, UK Athletics), but what an athlete choses to do within that is up to them.

    Personally I don't see anything wrong with using an altitude tent (I wouldn't becuase there are other priorities in my life for the cash), or the odd buprofen, cup of coffee, etc., but I wouldn't ever want to use something that I felt could have helped me finish ahead of someone else unfairly. I just wouldn't feel comfortable in myself crossing the line.

    I'm not too bothered about what other folks do really, it's not my place to judge: I just want to be able to hold my head up and be pleased with my individual result and proud of the achievement.

    1. Fabienne

      Excellent article Geoff.!

      I concur with Jim, I think that within "the rules" of each race, we have to focus on our own achievement in each race and as a runner. Indeed there needs to be some regulations as the size of races move away from the more informal races we used to see in trail and ultras. Growing pains I guess! The thing is that as much as the rules are meant to make the race fair, there is a limit to the fairness provided by trying to make things even given the fact by our mere intrinsic differences , some of us will be at an advantage from the get go! And add to that each runner's geographic home location etc… And some advantages are bound to play in their favor. I try to look at it as what makes the race an even more interesting challenge . Everyone brings in their "prepping for the race" box to the race and hope that they put in the best combination.

      Although I certainly agree that we should try to agree as participants in this sport, to keep blood doping and drugs recognized as enhancing (versus ibuprofen for example) and fight against cheating, I think a large part of success at keeping cheating out of the sport will come from the participants through peer cohesiveness and peer intolerance of cheating. I have always felt that the trail running community set itself apart in many aspects and this is one of them.

  31. Josh

    Does anybody know if the current pattern in ultrarunning mirrors that of cycling, track & field, etc.? By that, I mean, were the participants in large numbers expressing concern about money & growth and the potential downsides as this group has? Perhaps the triathalon/ironman circuit?

    At face value, it doesn't seem likely … especially given that cycling & track & field are simply much older and there weren't internet forums. Perhaps the triathletes?

    Point being, I wonder if there are critical differences between ultrarunning and these other sports that will lead to different outcomes? Awareness of the potential problems being one factor. Beyond that, however, money is always likely to be less. You have the difficulty bringing the races to TV in their wilderness environments, the many many hours that a 100 mile race lasts, the wilderness ethic/spiritual nature of many ultrarunners, etc. Less money = less fame = less motivation to go thru the effort of doping. Granted, I'm sure there will always be a presence of PED's, etc. I'm just wondering to what extent …

  32. Scott S

    I don't think that it is anybody else's business what people put into their own body. I do know that there are many groups of people that feel that they do have a right to know and that many groups have imposed their will on others in this regard, but I don't think that it is right. Using PEDs is a stupid move in my opinion, but one that should be left to the individual.

  33. tenting up

    I think that's the key thing for me whether so and so method is unethical. If nothing changes at all no working your body harder to breakthrough and its as easy as you just have to pop into bed inside a bubble. Its the ease of it. If you do performance enhancing drugs, almost everyone will call that cheating since what is easier than injecting yourself and going back to training exactly as you were, and boom significant performance enhancement. If you imagine two routes to a PR, one in which you do harder and longer training and get the PR or having to suck wind at altitude, as opposed to training the same sleeping in a tent and getting the same PR.

    Having said that who knows if altitude tents really work, it may be just be a money maker and people with lots of money, I'm leaning towards it may actually work, the olympics being a big eye opener for me. For now though you just have to treat it like the bellyputter in golf. As long as its legal "I'll keep cheating with the rest of them" like ernie els says.

  34. Tyler

    In short…I was in a trail race in which I caught a fellow runner cutting through the woods on a part of the trail where there was switchbacks.He in turn was right behind me,I PR'D that day it was very motivating.In my head I was thinking…Im gonna make this guy work for his placement! Anyway why as trail/ultra runners would you cheat yourself,in a sport mostly devoted to pushing ones own limits?

  35. Nanna

    I recently witnessed pacing in a 100 miler race where pacing is banned. I reminded the pacer of the race rules when sighted at the following checkpoint. The competitor placed in the top 3. I was disgusted that someone could stand there proudly accepting the award when they knew the race rules. Some must win at any cost but they are only cheating themselves.

  36. stack

    ran a small local church run 5k on christmas eve… 2 loops on trails and I'm sitting 5th as some guy flies by me holding his race # in his hand. I had just passed my buddy and nobody should have passed me so soon except maybe my buddy bc we had a 45 second gap to the next group behind us. the guy looks way too fresh and is flying asking what place he was in. it just didn't seem right so after I finished my buddy confirmed he came out of nowhere and all the sudden passed him then me.

    long story short I had to say something bc they were only awarding top 3 overall and this joker 'placed' 3rd beating out a 7th grade kid (who ran 19 min 5k on the trails btw). 2nd place finisher said he saw the guy walking the opposite direction of the races at one point in the race.

    the guy eventually fessed up one the RD approached him and said they believe he cheated but his response was 'i got here 3 minutes after the start but I didn't cut that much off the course'. after the awards he (30 something guy) goes up to the kid (7th grade) and says something along the lines that 'i probably would have beat you anyway'.

    i like to think this is a very small population of runners and an even smaller population of trail runners (and of course even smaller among ultrarunners) but its just scary that people will justify it in their mind.

    as far as the Kip Litton thing… i have runner friends here in CLT who have had run-ins with the guy and helped prove he cheated here at the marathon in CLT. Kip seems to be one of these guys that somehow justifies the cheating in their head… sad.

  37. phil jeremy

    I did a difficult 33k trail race in December and at one point there was a 2 kilometer stretch of soft, wet sand, which was tough to run on after 4 hours….and just 2 feet above it was a concrete path(easy). Not a single runner took the path, everyone ploughed through the wet sand, the rules didn't state which was right or wrong, it was just obvious. I think if you run trails or ultra's, if you can't abide by the spirit then don't bother turning up….simple.

  38. Dmitry

    Cheating is not a big problem in trail running until there are no big money in the sport. if there are money cheating will be a problem. Look at Comrades (probably the highest prize ultra in the world) – there were quite sophisticated attempts to cheat. Cheating to get prize money is a kind of "reasonable" (obvious value). Cheating to win is pointless, there is no self-satisfaction is winning that they (no value).

Post Your Thoughts