Anti-Doping Measures Take To The Trail

Concerned athletes, organizations, and events are finally throwing down the gauntlet—drug testing has arrived and will be coming to more races near you. Spurred by ever-increasing popularity, large prize purses, salaried sponsorships, and the reality that known drug cheats are racing, the trail and ultrarunning community has taken a big step in legitimatizing itself as a professional sport. 2016 marked some of the most significant advancements in national and global trail and ultra anti-doping action.

Serious Dialogue Begins
November 27, 2015 – reported that The North Face Endurance Challenge Series (ECS) Championships added Italian mountain runner Elisa Desco to its elite starting field. “From 2010 to 2012, Elisa served a two-year ban from the IAAF after she tested positive for EPO at the 2009 World Mountain Running Championships.” This informational tidbit set off great debate among athletes and other news outlets about whether a previously sanctioned athlete should be allowed to compete for awards, prize money, and status. In this case, it was the ECS’s call since they had no PED (performance-enhancing drug) policy in place. In a release from Runner’s World’s Justin Mock, Katie Ramage, The North Face sports marketing director, shared, “…and while we’d like to have a solution readily available, we believe it’s more important that lasting change is created by doing it right, which takes time. Rest assured that as soon as we have something to share, we will.” To the chagrin of many, Desco was allowed to compete, though she did not finish the race.

Sage Canaday, outspoken PED opponent and elite ultrarunner, stated matter-of-factly in a December 2015 blog post and again in 2016 why dirty runners, like Desco, shouldn’t be allowed to participate. “Money, fame, and greed brings the real heavy-hitting and big-time threats,” says Canaday. “I think our best bet for the future is to try to do what we can to discourage new, competitive MUT (Mountain Ultra Trail) runners from using EPO to gain an edge and compete for prize money and sponsorship perks. The lack of drug testing, bio passports (blood-work history), and out-of-season testing in MUT running is a huge barrier that we must address in the future.”

In my July 2015 iRunFar column, “Performance Enhancing Drugs in Ultramarathons,” I concluded that, “Until the day comes, if it ever does, when drug testing becomes the norm for prestigious ultra events in the U.S., we must simply continue to do what we’ve done up to now: trust our fellow ultrarunners.” For many of those who commented on this piece, “trust” wasn’t an acceptable means for preventing or policing PED use. Well, here’s some good news, the day finally arrived and voices like Canaday’s and yours have been heard.

Policy and Rule Revolution
In February 2016, The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run became the first high-profile U.S. race to tighten its anti-doping policy. “While we had been considering updating our policy for several months, we were contacted by several elite runners in December of 2015 asking if we would consider a policy similar to the World Marathon Majors,” explains Race Director Craig Thornley. “We drafted the language and the board approved.”

The six races comprising the Abbott’s World Marathon Majors (WMM), Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York, and Tokyo, have some of the strictest anti-doping policies in professional sport. Much of their policy’s rhetoric revolves around repayments of prize money, bonuses, and appearance fees (which Western States doesn’t award) if athletes are caught. However, the spirit of the WMM’s message, which Western States embraced, prevents any athlete ever caught doping from participating in any of their events and affirms that all athletes must comply with the event’s anti-doping procedures.

The newly approved and resolute Performance Rule 18 now reads:

“The Western States Endurance Run has a zero-tolerance policy regarding the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Any athlete who has been determined to have violated anti-doping rules or policies, whether enforced by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), or any other national sports federation is ineligible for entry into the Western States Endurance Run.

“The Western States Endurance Run reserves the right to conduct pre- and post-competition testing for any and all performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) listed on the current WADA Prohibited List. Any athlete who refuses to submit to anti-doping controls, if selected for testing, shall be disqualified and subject to a lifetime ban from the Western States Endurance Run.”

Other events tied closely to Western States followed suit. “Lake Sonoma 50 Mile is just going to do whatever Western States does in this regard,” says Lake Sonoma race director and Western States Board President John Medinger. “Obviously I was involved in the Western States decision and, as a committee of one, instantly adopted the same position for my event.”

Rainshadow Running, the organization that manages the Gorge Waterfalls 100k, a 2017 Altra Golden Ticket Race and Western States qualifier, adopted similar policies in 2016. Race Rules # 6 and #9 state respectively, “No alcohol, marijuana, or other WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) prohibited substances… No runner who has been issued a temporary or lifetime ban from the WADA will be allowed to run.”

Firming up their commitment to clean sport and avoiding further controversy, The North Face ECS issued its own statement in August of 2016:

“Athletes who have been banned from competition by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), any national sports federation, or a similar organization identified by The North Face, for a violation of applicable anti-doping rules or policies, are prohibited from competing at any ECS event while the ban is effective.”

Unlike the regulations adopted by Western States, Lake Sonoma, and Rainshadow Running, the ECS policy does allow some leniency by allowing those who have served their ban to participate. However, they are ineligible for prize money, podium recognition, and awards, and cannot compete as an elite.

What’s more, because the ECS does offer a significant prize purse of $30,000, they added this WMM-like statement, “If The North Face determines, at any time, that an athlete competed in an ECS event while banned from competition as provided in this policy, that athlete must forfeit the event and return any prize money, awards, etc.”

Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile, which touts the country’s largest prize purse of $60,000, enacted a “zero-tolerance” drug policy, like Western States’s, a few months ago. “I’ve been saddened to see the negative impacts of drug use in track and field,” says race director Fred Abramowitz. “I’d hate to see the same thing happen to ultrarunning. This is our time to get out in front of it by sending a clear message, ‘Drug use will not be tolerated!’”

Adding the ‘Bite’
Though proclamations like those crafted by the events above set a precedent, words on paper, no matter how strong, don’t always deter cheaters. “The challenge is to have some bite behind these policies through a genuine chance of catching dopers,” says Ian Sharman, a staunch anti-doping advocate, coach and the Director of the Altra U.S. Skyrunner Series.

In January 2016, an informal US Anti-Doping Working Group met for the first time. “We’ve been busy,” says USA Track and Field’s Mountain, Ultra and Trail (MUT) Running Council Chairperson Nancy Hobbs. “We’ve had meetings with USADA as well as other testing organizations in person and on conference calls. We want to have all the data we need for comparing the best-case scenarios for an active anti-doping program.”

The collection’s core constituents, American Trail Running Association’s (ATRA) President Adam Chase, He(a)rd Sports Management founder and Ultrarunner podcast co-host Ethan Veneklasen, Sharman, and Hobbs, gathered their resources and put into motion a convincingly solid start to America’s first trail and ultrarunning anti-doping system.

“The initial list of potential tested trail and ultra events would be those that are prominent, championships, or where there is real prize money,” explains Chase. “The number of races will depend on funding and will be chosen at random, as will the athletes tested. We would employ a testing agency, most likely USADA, to administer the tests. The idea is to keep everyone guessing with no safe place to hide.”

With a price tag of roughly $10,000 per event, depending on the type of tests performed and number of athletes sampled, anti-doping measures have proven prohibitive up to now. “Our proposal would source funding from participating sponsors and we’d ask elite athletes to pitch in through ‘Pro Cards,’ similar to the licenses professional triathletes must obtain in order to be eligible for prize money,” explains Veneklasen. “We definitely don’t want the race organizers paying for any of this as we don’t want to pass the cost of testing on to the participant or race director.”

In November 2016, a non-profit organization called Clean Sport Collective (CSC) launched. “Our goal is to change the rhetoric from only talking about dopers to celebrating the clean athletes doing it the right way through hard work and dedication,” says CSC President Shanna Burnette. “The Clean Sport pledge is a membership base of clean professional, amateur, and student athletes, medical professionals and trainers, events, brands, sport clubs, coaches, agents, and fans. We want to put social pressure on brands to sponsor only clean athletes and build systems that foster the human athlete by creating a company culture that believes how you compete is just as important as the results you achieve.”

The Anti-Doping Working Group, now a subcommittee of ATRA, has joined forces with CSC. “In the new year we will be putting funding together to put action at the forefront,” says Burnette. “We plan to offer drug-testing scholarships to events. We would pay a third party to facilitate or give the event the funds to pay for the testing. We have been working with Adam and Ethan to implement more testing in trail racing, and we will help raise funds for their organization through ATRA.”

CSC’s ultimate goal is to enable ATRA, in the absence of an active American anti-PED ultra/trail-specific federation, by securing funding and providing the support needed to:

  1. Establish rules for a trail and ultrarunning anti‐doping program.
  2. Educate and provide resources for athletes regarding their rights and responsibilities before, during, and after the doping control process.
  3. Implement a testing program for key races (as determined by ATRA).
  4. Manage testing results and administer Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) for the anti-doping program.

Additionally, Hobbs has also turned to USA Track and Field (USATF) for additional anti-doping money. “Assuming the funds from USATF come through based on the request I made to the budget and audit committee at the annual meeting,” she says, “There would be additional testing in 2018 at USATF MUT Championships.”

The Brands’ Perspective
It seems as though the pieces are falling into place for the U.S. trail and ultra anti-doping movement. However, enough funding still must be secured.

Brian Beckstead, President and Co-Founder of Altra, has no qualms about ponying up cash for anti-doping analyses. “As a presenting sponsor of Western States, having a testing system for PED use was part of the conversation when signing the three- year agreement,” says Beckstead. “We would support pitching in when applicable in key ultra events. Altra has a strong sense of purpose in keeping this sport as clean as possible.” Altra’s athletes are held to these high standards and their contract states that termination is immediate upon:

(e) Talent commits a violation of any anti-doping rule (including without limitation testing positive to any doping test) of any national or international governing body or anti-doping organization.

NATHAN Sports feels just as passionate about the issue. “As more money has come into the sport, we’ve felt that it’s important that the athlete knows our stance on this issue,” says Vice President of Marketing Brent Hollowell. “We would never intentionally support users of PEDs and we have provisions in their agreements that clearly state the negative consequences for testing positive for banned PEDs.”

However, even though NATHAN would likely monetarily support anti-doping measures, Hollowell voices concern when the conversation turns to sponsors pitching in for testing. “I think that asking each party to sort of ‘kick in’ money for testing is simply not going to work,” he says. “Who pays for what? Which athletes pay? Which sponsors should pay the most into the system? Is it based on the size of their company or the number of sponsored athletes they have in the race?”

Hollowell is also quick to point out the elephant in the room. “Under a per-event sponsor-based funding system, monitoring efforts would be based on race-day testing only, and therefore doomed to failure since people could still cheat,” he laments. “For testing to mean anything, we would need random testing protocols that could happen at any time of year to try to prevent PED use during training blocks as well.”

The Anti-Doping Working Group acknowledges Hollowell’s trepidation. “We realize that this proposal will initially be imperfect and difficult to implement,” says Veneklasen. “But we must start somewhere and these are unprecedented first steps.”

Taking Matters Into Their Own Hands
Rather than wait for the formation of a larger organized anti-PED movement, the organizer of the Ouray 100 Mile and 50 Mile Endurance Runs took a proactive approach by drug testing, on their own dime, the top men’s and women’s finishers in 2016.

“I know from my auditing background (I’m a Certified Public Accountant) that people commit financial fraud and theft, they cheat, when three things are present: Incentive, opportunity, and rationalization,” explains race director Charles Johnston on the event’s website. “There is already incentive to do it. Gear sponsorships, books deals, etc. are at stake. There is the opportunity to do it. This is twofold. First, races simply don’t test. Second, the drugs are readily available. The only missing piece is the rationalization. This is very personal, of course. But there are plenty of people who could easily rationalize it. I can say without hesitation that there is currently an issue with doping in ultrarunning.”

Johnston had the male 50 and 100-mile winners and female 50-mile winner tested (there was no female 100-mile finisher) for anabolic steroids, testosterone, amphetamines, phencyclidine, opiates, cocaine, and cannabinoids for a grand total of $774. “We originally planned to test for human growth hormone and erythropoietin as well in 2016 at the additional cost of $223 per runner,” he adds. “Unfortunately we learned shortly before the race that our vendor was unable to do the blood draws required for those tests. For 2017 we’ll have the resources in place to do blood draws as well.”

Drug testing’s cost is inevitably the first insurmountable hurdle for small-time race directors. How did Johnston circumvent the enormous cost?

“USADA wanted a $10,000 retainer to test four athletes. That was prohibitively expensive, almost the entire 2016 race budget,” explains Johnston. “Instead we worked with Drug Testing Inc. (DTI) out of nearby Montrose (CO). The owners came to Fellin Park an hour before the award ceremony. Each athlete was observed giving a urine sample. DTI kept a portion of the sample to serve as a backup. The remainder was sent to Medtox Laboratories Inc. in St. Paul, MN, for testing. DTI emailed us the negative results… and we forwarded them on to the athletes. In the event of a positive result, we would have privately contacted the athlete and agreed on a second, different lab to test the B sample.”

Johnston, like Hollowell, acknowledges the fact that out-of-competition testing is paramount. In 2018, he has plans to implement testing perhaps 16 weeks before race day. “I have an idea but it’s a bit unorthodox, will take time to develop, and includes many aspects I still must consider,” says Johnston. “I look at it this way. Testing provides evidence that an athlete’s result is legitimate. Think of all the incredible ultrarunning performances and broken records that are not supported by testing. We tend to think of testing as a way to prevent cheating. But equally important, testing protects the clean runners by validating their wins and records. Elite athletes racing clean are currently without that protection.”

Global Initiatives
On the other side of the world, Europe’s trail and ultra communities are dealing with similar issues, but have the jump on the yet-to-be-tested stateside trail/ultra anti-doping efforts. Most recently, in June 2016, the IAAF announced that Ecuadorian Gonzalo Calisto tested positive for erythropoietin (EPO), a banned substance, after placing fifth at the 2015 UTMB. Per IAAF policy, he’s subsequently been stricken from the results and is currently serving a two-year ban of ineligibility.

The International Trail Running Association (ITRA), a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote worldwide trail running values, diversity, safety, and athlete health, collaborates with 633 member organizations, including UTMB, across 103 countries. ITRA follows a well-rounded “health policy” that acts to not only prevent PED use, but to also ensure the safety and well-being of participating athletes. However, the “health policy has neither the ambition nor the necessary qualities to replace the existing anti-doping legislation.” Events with ITRA membership and an adequate budget can request to be taken under the purview of the health-policy program, thus clearing the way for elite-athlete biomedical analyses (blood, urine, and/or capillary testing) before races.

“This is a very important, but difficult topic for our event,” says Catherine Polletti, UTMB’s General Director. “We need hard scientific evidence, must respect the athlete, and keep testing procedures ethical. In July we disqualified Calisto. This is a sign. So, in 2016, UTMB tested 100 elite athletes before the start and, of those that completed the race, again at the finish line. That cost was about 3,000 Euros but we had many nurse and doctor volunteers. Those tests fell under the ITRA health policy. Official agencies, like the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD) and WADA, proceeded with their own anonymous anti-doping tests. We collaborate, of course, but these two kinds of tests are separate. To be clear, only official tests are able to effect official penalties and only official agencies like AFLD and WADA are able to proceed with these anti-doping tests. Health policy and anti-doping converge often, but the spirit is not exactly the same. ”

In 2015, the Association Athletes For Transparency (AFT), an organization that can be likened to the CSC, developed the SHOL (Sport and Health On-Line) Platform for ITRA. This free online resource allows any athlete to create a “health page” and interactively communicate real-time medical history, current treatments and/or TUEs with race organizers. The results of athletes tested under the ITRA health policy are entered in SHOL as well.

When SHOL is used in tandem with onsite blood and urine collections and analyses, event medical counsel can holistically interpret abnormal results. This could lead to notifying an athlete of their poor health or excluding a runner from a race on medical grounds. Here, for example, are what health policy results looked like after testing at the 2016 IAU Trail World Championships in Portugal. In 2016, according to AFT, 10,000 athletes from 57 countries utilized the SHOL system.

In 2016, ITRA, with funding from the Foundation For Medicine and Science in Ultra-Endurance Sports and implementation by AFT, initiated QUARTZ, a seven-month voluntary pilot project aimed specifically at elite athletes. The endeavor requires athletes to share their location, health information, and TUEs with medical counsel and submit to random out-of-competition blood, hair, and/or urine tests. This information could be shared publicly if the athlete so desired. You can view several elite athlete QUARTZ profiles here, including Rory Bosio’s and Sage Canaday’s. Like the health policy, the QUARTZ program will never be a substitute for regulatory agency testing, but it does allow for improved elite athlete transparency and periodic health evaluations.

Pierre Sallett, the President of AFT, is optimistic about QUARTZ’s prospects. “We can say that QUARTZ 2016 was successful enough, because we were able to manage athletes living in different countries. Now we may begin phase two,” he says. “Phase two, details to be revealed in mid-February, will begin in 2017. We’ll be monitoring athlete health under real conditions and they’ll be required to respect all of the program’s conditions, including reporting to medical facilities promptly for testing when asked.”

QUARTZ 2016 results

Results from the 2016 QUARTZ program. Image courtesy of QUARTZ.

Enter 2017
What might we see in the U.S. in the coming year? When asked if Western States has tested any athletes (before/during/after competition) or if this might be a possibility in the coming year(s), Thornley replied, “Not yet, but there will be a program in 2017. Details forthcoming.”

2016 was a watershed year in trail and ultra anti-doping evolution. “Over the past year there’s been a lot of progress with regards to anti-doping testing in ultrarunning, which should lead to actual testing in 2017,” summarizes Sharman. “However, it’s equally important to note that even a richly funded anti-doping regime won’t be perfect if athletes, doctors, and sponsors collude to get around the rules.”

While we await these organizations’ much anticipated particulars, we can all continue to do our part to reject the cheating culture by making a clean pledge, participating in events that prohibit PEDs, joining and donating to anti-doping establishments, and supporting brands that fund and promote anti-doping measures. In the end, these actions will advance what we all want and deserve—a respectable, healthy, and fair sport.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)
Obviously this is a sensitive topic. We believe that civil conversation by the community can play a large and important part of minimizing cheating–including doping–in trail and ultrarunning by creating a culture that is intolerant of it. As such, we welcome you to constructively talk with each other in the comments section of this article, but we also implore you to do so according to iRunFar’s comment policy. In advance, thank you.

  • What do you think of the multi-tiered anti-doping approach–the combination of developing an anti-doping culture, testing via official bodies, and testing by other organizations–that the collective community is currently taking? What leg of this effort do you think is potentially most effective? What legs are still missing?
  • Can you share your thoughts about the funding of an anti-doping regime, which seems like one of the main prohibitors to a full-scale anti-doping testing and monitoring movement in trail and ultrarunning? Do you think that creative options–crowd funding, funding via sponsors, or other ideas–are actually plausible?
  • If you could paint a picture of what an effective and sustainable anti-doping regime would look like for our sport some five, 10, and 20 years down the road, what would that be?

There are 66 comments

  1. Burnsy

    Unfortunately, as alluded to at several points throughout this awesome, comprehensive piece, the real problem of doping lies in the training grounds and not in the competitions. For a high-level elite runner that’s using PEDs, race-day tests are indeed akin to an “IQ” test. The dubious behavior is happening when an individual is away from races and logging monster training weeks.

    Most PEDs are not going to help you in an acute, single performance; they’ll help make big gains in training. A drug like EPO isn’t going to help you at all in a race; it will help you train at a higher level and takes many weeks to affect the system. Something like testosterone is going to help you recover faster and prevent the system from breaking down in response to otherwise unsustainable stresses.

    The best case study in ultra running that we have is the Comrades Marathon. It’s economic incentive is beyond comparison (especially the relative economic incentive). They have done raceday testing for a longtime now and have even had a handful of positive tests. However, the crazy Russian domination through the 1990s and 2000s coupled with what we now know about how they were operating, suggests that the raceday tests were largely ineffective at preventing cheaters from succeeding. Indeed Leonid Shetsov, the current Up Run record holder (and until this year, the Down Run record holder), had many years of success without a positive test, and was widely known to be the EPO supplier for scores and scores of elite runners in Albuquerque.

    How do you combat this? Obviously race-day testing is needed for outright flagrant disregard for the rules, but could you scale it back, to a more randomized approach (rather than always testing the top-3 or 5, but making it known that you will randomly test two of the podium finishers) so you could divert the anti-doping resources to more effective comprehensive programs?

    What if you did targeted random testing on the individual winners of the race for the year following the race? So, if somebody wins the North Face 50 or Lake Sonoma, they agree to be tested by the race at random for the entirety of the following year. If they test positive, they not only get a ban from the sport, but also have to repay winnings (and ideally also pay a fine or suffer other punishment, but that’s another debate). This way, if many of the top races started doing this, you would build a pool of top individuals who are continually being tested. It’s not perfect, but it would serve to prevent the most probable people from systematically doping throughout a career.

    1. Kyle

      I agree with your opinion and most of all, if this is as big of a concern as most believe it is, then races need to start testing. I love the stance on races not supporting it, but start testing, otherwise organizers are just hoping they get caught by someone else.

      1. Dusty

        Many banned substances are not Performance (racing) enhancing, they are Training and often times Recovery enhancing substances. So the idea that “races need to start testing” is a money dump that is essentially testing a runner after a race to try and find out if they “cheated” and used compression sleeves and ice baths during during training.

        1. Kyle

          Strange response considering this what you wrote, “What if you did targeted random testing on the individual winners of the race for the year following the race?”

          My point is…no one tests…ever. If it’s truly a concern, then some or a race needs to start testing. Period.

          Otherwise, we’ll just talk in circles like we are now.

    2. SageCanaday

      ” A drug like EPO isn’t going to help you at all in a race; it will help you train at a higher level and takes many weeks to affect the system. ”

      Excellent thoughts Burnsy! Yeah the most effective tests I’d imagine (and we’re mainly looking at micro-dosing EPO here for the big performance gains) would be 4-10 weeks before the big race. I really like your thoughts on that and a testing system between big races based on prior performances.

      PEDs like EPO are likely the big, heavy hitters here I’d imagine. In the track and cycling world of course guys likely have more sophisticated programs with IGF-LR3, blood bags, masking agents, HGH etc, but one could probably go a really long way with some basic knowledge of biology and self injecting a $500-$800 cycle of EPO (ordered online). Other “small time” drugs (i.e. pot) are more of a distraction IMO and not going to boost performance/training nearly as much as I’d imagine. We worry a lot about gray area TUEs (note: I don’t have a TUE) and where to draw the line…which is of course an essential part of the policy, but it can be like barking up the wrong tree when EPO is boosting top level performances way more!

      Only an idiot would come into a big race glowing (esp knowing that the race might test a day before or right after the finish!!). Micro-dose off EPO a week or two before a key race event and you’re not going to get busted, but you got all the long-term benefits from the training cycle months leading into it (and likely months into the future).

      Policy is great as a start because it build awareness and support. I love the social media movement of Clean Sport Collective (obviously i’ve plugged them a lot online) and i love the races that have changed their policy…but of course the key to now to take action. The more random tests the better. An additional step that TNF50 took this year is they make one (as an athlete entering the race) also sign a waiver basically saying you are clean….just to enter the race. It’s not a huge deterrent of course since dopers can easily lie, but it’s an extra step and I was glad to see that.

      Finally, I realize a vast majority of the ultra-trail community isn’t too concerned about top runners competing for prize money or the perks of sponsorship contracts/international travel and the like. We’d all rather just run around in the woods/mountains and have fun and celebrate covering insane distances and drink beer after events (and trust each other that we’re being honest with ourselves, our body and the path we follow). There are a lot of much, much more real world problems going on that need solving first. But what example are we setting for our kids and future generations of runners if we allow powerful drugs like EPO to boost top level performances in our sport? That cheating is okay? That taking shortcuts in life is the only way to succeed? Not to mention possible, harmful long-term health consequences from taking such powerful PEDs…

      1. Mike Miller

        Always great to hear you speak out Sage, thanks.

        I would agree that oxygen-vectors like EPO would be of limited use in a long ultra, where oxygen throughput is rarely the limiting factor (although maybe at high altitude events it would be pretty advantageous.)

        I would suggest however, that at the rate people are running 50ks and 50 milers these days, oxygen throughput IS the limiting factor and oxygen vectors like EPO would be very effective.

        I’d also suggest that HgH is quite easy to get and I’d expect it would be very effective in recovery and strengthening joints to handle the punishment of lo g distance ultra’s.

        1. SageCanaday

          Thanks Mike. Didn’t mean to take Burns’s quote out of context…you’re right!

          I think EPO is the #1 thing ultra runners would use to boost race day performance (it’s easy to get a hold of, easy to self administer, and the potential gains would be most specific)…

          What I meant is that the big gains come from using it in hard/heavy training weeks and months before the race. (Faster recovery from long-hard sessions with better oxygen flow to the muscles). Training that would cause “overtraining” usually becomes manageable therefore the legs become “superhuman strong” and all the Thresholds (Lactate/Aerobic) are enhanced as capacity for work load/work output has increased. Running Economy would then not even have to be as efficient as one could ride a high heart rate and high power stride for hours on end…as long as they are taking in a lot of calories/carbs.

          This is exactly why guys in The Tour and long-distance cycling would use EPO. You have to grind up hills for hours on end and recover fast from sustained aerobic efforts!

          But smart dopers wouldn’t come in “glowing” with EPO in their system during a race. People might test positive for pot or a stimulant during a race (small beans), but the margins of improvement aren’t going to be there like they are for EPO use during training (which I’d guess would be at least 3-6% improvement gains if not a lot more for a well trained, elite level ultra runner). The benefits are already there though and the performance gains would for sure show in the race (because they are long-term!).

      2. default

        You have to start somewhere.

        1. Policies and race rules adhering to WADA anti-doping code.
        2. In competition testing.
        3. Out of competition testing.
        4. Investigation of suspicious athletes dealings.

        While #1 is least effective for catching cheaters all the way up to #4 being the most effective, each step builds on the previous one. There is still a gaping hole in #1 and it should be an easy fix. Any race can update their rules to include WADA rules without even committing to testing. Most races don’t even bother to mention doping in their rules though. You can’t stop something if it isn’t even against the published race rules.

        In competition testing only becomes an IQ test if organizations actually test. You have to start somewhere and in competition is a basic building block. History shows cheaters do sometimes fail this IQ test over time. One person’s big race is another’s training race. Most ultra runners don’t live in hiding all year and just do one race.

        Out of competition is most effective, but it only really works if runners belong to an organization that requires it. You can’t expect a single race to tackle this problem. This is more institutional and you need governing membership organizations like ITRA to deal with it. The model in other sports is local federations such as USATF, USAT, USA Cycling deal with member athletes under the umbrella of international governing bodies. Again, this has to build on the other items though, catching someone out of competition doesn’t do any good if races don’t recognize that it is against the rules and uphold the ban. Governing bodies can’t get runners to be members and test them if the races don’t require some sort of membership.

        As far as what to test for that is where WADA falls down a little bit. They have extensive lists of what is allowed and not, but you are really only looking at blood vector (such as EPO), steroids (T, precursors, SARMs), and HGH being worth testing. Some might argue THC which is only against WADA rules if used in competition.

      3. Jonathan F

        “Finally, I realize a vast majority of the ultra-trail community isn’t too concerned about top runners competing for prize money or the perks of sponsorship contracts/international travel and the like. We’d all rather just run around in the woods/mountains and have fun and celebrate covering insane distances and drink beer after events (and trust each other that we’re being honest with ourselves, our body and the path we follow).”

        I really don’t believe that most do not care. I’m willing to go out and say a lot of us are competitive when we race and care about the integrity of who/what we surround ourselves with. Some are mid to back of the pack, but that doesn’t mean their training and race is any less important than an elite’s training. We all put in a lot of blood, pain, sweat, tears into training for races, whether we’re ‘elite’ or not. I may not ever win a race, but I do alright and would be steamed if a fellow competitor was caught doping or if a race organization allowed known dopers to race. There’s a reason why I refuse to ever run a North Face EC race, why I enjoy running as a Trail Racing Over Texas ambassador, and will travel all the way to Oregon to run Gorge Waterfalls 100K. I care about this sport and the people involved. More people need to care. If no one cares enough about the sport and always takes takes takes instead of giving back or trying to make things better, the door is left wide open for people to take advantage. Sage, I’m glad you care about this sport. Glad to have met you few yrs ago at Diamond H Lodge after Bandera.

        1. Dusty

          I agree with your enthusiasm. This is a great and passionate comment Jonathan but it leaves a question mark on why you think PED are bad. Most people never even consider addressing that question. Are they bad because they are against the rules or are they against the rules because they are bad, or neither?
          I do win races from time to time (nothing major though), and I could care less what other people are doing in their training, I think almost all training strategies are okay. I even got 125 dollars for winning a race last year (woohooo!) and if someone would have beaten me that day and they were using EPO, I truly, truly, honestly, would not care, and would not demonize them for it, and would not throw a pitty-party for myself.
          I ran one of the US Sky Running races last year at 9,000ft or so up. I live and train at sea level (usually pushing a baby in a jogger stroller). And like you I “put in a lot of blood, pain, sweat, tears into training for races”, but do I get “steamed” and pissed off when I compete against people who live and train on the trails the Rocky Mountains – of course not, nor should I!
          Don’t make drama where there is none. Our sport of MUT is great not because some people run faster than others, it is great because it is tough, and novel, and does not adhere to the same bullsh*t drama of other realms of athletics.

          1. Jonathan F

            And that’s why we have the problems in running – people don’t care. I have no issue with those who live at altitude. I’ll never do Leadville of Hardrock because I know my limits and how my body reacts. Props for those that live at altitude and can bust out mountain ultras. My issue isn’t with them and the drama was started by those who decided to use PEDs and thought it was ok.

  2. Ben

    Out of competition testing 6-8 weeks before race day is the answer. Let’s start with our ‘big’, prestigious races this year. It only needs to be 2-3 races to start. State it in the rules upon entry: “By registering for this race you agree to potentially be tested at random up to and including race day”.

    Administer 10 tests for each race during the training blocks. So 30 tests total. I’m guessing 1-2 people would get caught this way. This starts to send the message that we are taking anti-doping seriously and the ball gets rolling.

    Who to test? Send out an anonymous survey to the top 100-200 trail runners in the sport. People whisper to each other. I’m guessing patterns will emerge. This would be the start of who to test.

    Man, I’m a pessimist…

    1. SageCanaday

      great idea! Test me anytime, anyplace….but make it a surprise! Maybe some top athletes can chip in some money to help front some of the costs (I would personally). Run the tests for EPO for sure…we can catch some people that way I think.

      The issue is who runs the tests (agency?) and under what governing body does it fall under? Furthermore, is there reserve money for a possible legal battle….Maybe get the top athletes in “the program” to sign a legal document saying they can’t try to take a positive result to court.

      Also see “default”‘s comment above.

      1. Rob

        Thanks for your studied insight here and elsewhere, Sage. The legal costs could be a large deterrent to some organizations for tackling this and I’m pretty sure not very many athletes want to give up their legal rights. It would be great if there were a few lawyers that would be available for low-cost consultation to RD’s.
        UTMB because of its massive popularity and marathon-like participation has an advantage. Races in the U.S. that are limited by federal and state contracts are not going to have a lot of resources for testing.
        Does JFK50 have a testing program?

  3. Kyle

    Great article.

    Burnsy’s comments above are valid and I agree, a failed test in the short term (start or completion) would represent a flagrant disregard for the rules, but the long build up prior will probably go undetected.

    Couple of questions come to mind…in my opinion, I love that the bigger races are taking such a strong stance against PED’s, but if they are so passionate; why not test prior to the event starting? Implementation of a testing standard has to be put in place first. Until then, we will always remain on the “honor system” and it will be up to the integrity/trust of each individual athlete.

    Cost. I understand why Nathan Sports is concerned with who will pay which amount. All the sponsors profit throughout the year, before, during and after the events. But if the sponsors are so passionate and if doping is truly against their core values, there should be no issue in ponying up a fair share. Divide it up against the level of sponsorship per event and let your premium/headliner sponsor pay the biggest chunk. You could pay per athlete, but too many of the “sponsored” runners have multiple sponsors.

  4. Guy Love

    Employing the same systems that have been failing track and field for the past decade coupled with draconian notions of lifetime bans seems like little more than a token gesture.

  5. Mike Miller

    If I were a race director I would ban anyone else currently working with Carmichael Training Systems from my races.

    The fact that one of the worst doping frauds in American history is currently getting paid large sums of money by top American ultra-runners is a black eye to our sport and damages our credibility. Nobody would know who Carmichael is if not for his 30 year history of association with doping in cycling and the fact that he is still getting rich from those activities is shameful.

    Ask any young athlete who get caught up in doping how it happened and almost all of them will tell you it started with their coach. We need to keep dirty coaches out of our sport.

    1. Randy

      Are there serious ultra runners who are actually affiliated with Carmichael Training Systems? If you were a top ultra runner, that seems like something you’d stay as far away from as possible.

        1. Michael Miller

          There are two reasons this is a problem for me and many others. First, there are very few people, maybe nobody else in America, who know as much about doping methods, strategies, and beating tests, or has the connections to suppliers as Carmichael and having so many elites paying him large amounts of money, (or paying him with publicity) is damaging to our credibility.

          Second, his entire business is based on the fraudulent claim that his training methods were responsible for Lance Armstrong’s success and he is still earning large amounts of money from that. As much as $1285 per month per client from his coaches and who knows how much for his personalized services. The fact that he is still getting rich is a poke in the eye to anyone who cares about clean sport. Its unconscionable that any professional athlete who wants to be considered credible would pay him to wash their car let alone for “coaching”.

  6. Jake Wyatt

    If the handful of big-money and high-profile ultras want to band together and take concerted action against doping, then more power to ’em. That’s probably going to be what it’ll take, right?

    After all, in other sports with drug testing there’s an organization that effectively governs and has some degree of control over the participants, whether through collective bargaining agreements or player contracts or otherwise (NFL, MLB, UFC, UCI, etc.)

    But I suspect that many races (maybe even most races?) will never drug test. The RDs are putting on their events as labors of love, or maybe as a little side business/hobby, and adding another layer of burden — one with significant financial and administrative implications — is a lot to ask.

  7. Narendra

    Great to have this discussed in depth even if it is a fairly depressing subject. With all we know about track, cycling, road racing, triathlon, et. al. it is difficult not to be entirely cynical. With the growth of ultra running, exposure, money, it is inevitable that the cheating has already arrived and will continue.

    Any forms of testing will be minimally effective and largely symbolic. They will also be expensive.

    What would be great is the community took a very public philosophical stand that makes commitment to clean running part of every organized competition. Instead of a waiver, I’d like to see a simple pledge that every runner has to write out and sign attesting to their commitment to both not cheat and to report anyone who they become aware is cheating. Each and every competition.

  8. Most Competitive

    Ugh, just race, guys. And if you lose to someone on EPO, just train harder. It’s what we’ve always done. Living in this world of rumor and innuendo is not productive. And remember, these athletes mostly make a living via sponsors, and a sponsor signs you not solely on performance, but also on character and marketable traits.

    1. Mark

      There are a number of problems with “just train harder”:

      1 – Many runners make their living and feed their families based off their earnings.
      2 – If cheating is ignored or rewarded, it becomes the norm. In turn, that means a clean athlete would be at a severe disadvantage.
      3 – The long-term health of an athlete can be significantly affected. Do we really want to face ethical problems similar to the NFL’s concussion mess?
      4 – Fans, spectators, and supporters of every stripe want a clean sport, not the Mutant Ultra-Running League. What value does a course record, a FKT, or a big win in a race have if the person doing it cheated?

      The decision is pretty easy: either enforce the rules and punish the cheaters or ignore the rules and punish those who follow them.

        1. SageCanaday

          Well in Ethiopia you can now do jail time:

          This generally happens when you have an illegal, controlled substance and then you strategically use it for monetary gain. (example: using EPO to win a race for prize money and other big sponsorship perks). You are essentially stealing money that is not yours.

          In my opinion a strong heavy hitting PED like EPO should be a lifetime ban. You don’t just accidentally inject that stuff!

          Other “minor” PEDs on the WADA list….like pot use during a race for example…yeah, I’d say very minor ban (6mo.maybe?)… basically a slap on the wrist. Those are just my opinions though.

      1. Most Competitive

        Mark, you are not understanding doping. You say that many runners make their living and feed their families based off their earnings: do you understand how expensive doping is? Especially for someone making $5-$15,000/year as most of Olympic-level distance crowd earns? It’s cost-prohibitive. Run the financials on a proper 4-6 week “micro-dosing” episode as Sage relates and get back to me. You will quickly find yourself paying your yearly sponsor salary in doping/shipping alone to win races that don’t pay out money.

        1. SageCanaday

          I believe injecting a cycle of EPO ($500-800 ballpark) is not that expensive (and easy to micro dose on, self administer, etc) and the gains would have a substantial ROI worth a sponsorship deal (way more) or at least thousands of dollars in race winnings/travel perks.

          You’re way off with some of those figures. An Olympic level marathoner from the US can be on a six-figure salary from their sponsor. Track athletes in the shorter distance running events usually make a lot less, but performance and key races can boost that number way above baseline salary. I don’t think you need to run that many cycles of EPO to start seeing some big benefits in a few months…

          Heck I used to race a “B level” road runner guy who ran 1:04-1:05 half marathons….he made like $20,000 in prize money a year before being busted for EPO.
          This isn’t about track or sub ultra road running though. This is about doping in ultras:

          At Comrades alone the winner can take home $32,000+ USD before sponsor bonuses.

          Other big time ultras with “no prize money”….worth potential thousands and a change of lifestyle/sponsorship deal to do well in them. Plenty of incentive.

          Doping with EPO is not that expensive relatively…and the upside would be huge.

    2. SageCanaday

      “Most Competitive” this is exactly the thought process that I think of when I think of how a doper must “rationalize” their behavior.

      EPO is a huge advantage…just look at what happened in the tour. Guys that weren’t climbers all of a sudden became the best climbers! The top guys are all talented, and they train hard and smart, and are mentally tough….EPO is a totally unfair edge when the margins of a race can come down to 1-2%.

      There are big-time performance bonuses for doing well in races (very performance based). Tens of thousands of dollars at stake….a cycle of $500-800 worth of EPO suddenly has a huge ROI.

      But ultimately this shouldn’t even be about the money or with just the “elites” (it is part of the equation of course). I’d imagine top runners dope for sponsorship perks, the money, the travel, the attention on social media, the greed etc. (or because maybe they think they have to…due to some insecurities)… but I digress.

      Why not celebrate and be inspired what the human body can do naturally…without synthetic EPO? There are health consequences and negative psychological ramifications in allowing an attitude that taking a powerful like PED like EPO is “okay” or somehow justified. It’s cheating. It’s stealing. I’d like to think this sport is built on values of integrity, honesty, and respect.

      With other drugs and controlled substances they are illegal just to take and possess. With a top level runner doping with these already controlled substances ( with the intent of boosting high level performances) they are also essentially also stealing money out of the pockets of honest, hard working athletes. Usually when people take money that is not theirs, they get put in jail. (See my link below for how Ethiopia is going to send doping athletes to jail).

      Perhaps more importantly dopers are setting an example to future generations and younger runners that taking strong, performance boosting drugs are okay and that taking shortcuts and being dishonest (with themselves and with others) in general is an okay path to take in life. I don’t believe that that is healthy (mentally or physically) for the cheating individual, and I don’t believe that it’s in the best interest for the running community and the sport of ultras to take on that kind of “short-cut” attitude.

      Mark has some great points!

      1. Most Competitive

        Sage, I don’t like this answer because I know of runners that have a “short-cut” attitude and move to altitude to gain an advantage. This is an unfair advantage to those sea-level athletes that CANNOT be disputed. Sure, you may argue it’s as natural as altitude tents, but it’s a reality. I am a high responder to high altitude, which I associate to legalized doping. It really is cheating, but I cannot afford living at altitude, so I am at a disadvantage training at sea-level.

        All of us draw arbitrary lines (caffeine – go to any WMRA, ISF, IAU, etc., event and watch the Spaniards down flask after flask of 5hr Energy. Is that legal? I’ve never seen an African do that but it was illegal in the past.) Advil. Alleve. These aids are not available to the poorest runners from the poorest nations. Compression shorts. Compression calf sleeves. Need I go on? Gatorade. Iron Supplementation. Salt supplementation. All have aides that help in performance that is documented. You somehow want to say that EPO is the culprit when it could in fact be a placebo to the elite. BTW, cycling was not just EPO but HgH and testosterone. It was a cocktail of illegal drugs.

        I would be willing to bet that EPO is not illegal in 5-10 years time. Not one bit. And then what? When it is relegated to the status of caffeine, then what do we say?

        1. Dusty

          I agree MC. I have made the same point about altitude training to other people. I am not against it all. But it does highlight that a “level playing field” and “natural yadayadayada” does not exist. Never has, never will. Some people can live at 8k feet – great! Some people can afford a coach – good for them! Some people do not have real jobs and devote all their time to training – that is awesome! Some people do not have to spend $1,000+ dollars a year on running shoes like I do because they are sponsored runners – Fantastic! Some people supplement the erythropoietin already in their body – excellent idea!

      2. Dusty

        Sage: “Why not celebrate and be inspired what the human body can do naturally…without synthetic EPO?”
        An interesting idea, lets explore it.
        Two of your sponsors are Spring Energy Gels as well as Trail Butter, some of their products have caffeine in them. Caffeine (which is a banned substance in some sports) is a very reliable and very much proven PED, and most importantly, caffeine does NOT occur naturally in the human body. EPO DOES occur naturally in the human body. People who dope EPO are supplementing their existing EPO supply.
        Perhaps you should not be so self-righteous on the issue? Or at least relay your stance differently.

        And secondly, you seem to be perpetuating the elementary understanding PEDs as if a person can take them and BLAMO, they are an athletic beast. You know thats not the case, and you know that to be elite, you must train elite, not matter what foods, supplements, and drugs you are taking.
        I am not advocating people do or do not use the PED of the year, I really do not care. But I am advocating that some of the outspoken athletes in our sport get off their high-horse.
        I understand that many people will not like my comments.

        1. SageCanaday

          Well (as you touched on briefly below) there are certain substances that we can call “heavy hitting PEDs” and those that are more “low influence.” You honestly can’t compare a substance like EPO to something like caffeine as the possible performance gains in the former compared to the latter is a night and day difference for the demand of ultra running IMO. EPO is a highly controlled substance that usually is injected. I drink caffeine every day in my morning coffee.

          That being said, i don’t think people should be allowed to pump a bunch of 200mg caffeine pills during a race….it’s simply not healthy and could cause problems. Caffeine used to be banned in running at a certain threshold, but it was very very high (like 8 cups of coffee about). But there is a reason caffeine isn’t in the same category as EPO…and I believe it was taken of the banned list anyway (probably because it is considered so inert).

          WADA code does a pretty good job in drawing the line (and applying appropriate penalty depending the the substance….not strict enough in my opinion, but showing substance differentiation.). People get caught up on pot, for example, which I think is a very very minor infraction compared to a heavy hitter like EPO. You don’t just accidentally inject EPO!

          For sure with EPO one has to train very hard to really reap the benefits. Actually that is one of the points of taking it…so you can train super hard and recover faster form hard, high volume running.

          Finally, to address what “Most Competitive” wrote about (can you be the same person, perhaps..why don’t you have the courage to post under your real name?!):

          Yeah, moving up to the mountains for altitude training is not the same benefit as injecting synthetic simply doesn’t work that way…plus I’d bet some of the top guys like to do both anyway! We can go way off on tangents ranting about nutrition and gear and “smarter” training, but that is not even in the same realm as buying synthetic EPO illegally, against set rules, for the real big performance gains. (The top elite guys already have a lot of the best gear anyway). That is the whole point of why there is a WADA code of rules of what is legal and what is not legal in terms of substances taken in distance running. If you go down your line of thought you could simply state that “it’s not fair that people with more money and more job flexibility have more time to train.” Not a logical comparison.

          1. GRod

            Hi Sage and,

            I’ve been following this thread closely and would like to share my perspective. In the summer of 2000, I was selected to participate in a USOC sponsored study of “Live High/Train Low” under Dr. Jim Stray-Gunderson and Dr. Benjamin Levine of the Cooper Center in Dallas. This study changed the way endurance athletes use altitude to train.

            In my particular case, after a month baseline in Dallas (sea-level), I moved to Deer Park, UT, and lived at 8000ft, while dropping down to Salt Lake City for speed work. (I was lightly training under John Kellogg and Kyle Heffner). Basically, we were studying how the body could NATURALLY produce erythropoietin (EPO) by proper altitude training and stimulation.

            I was graded as a high responder in quite a short period of time (we only spent 4 weeks at altitude)… my blood values soared, I scored an 81.1 mL/kg VO2 max test, and was only running 50-60 miles per week since I was on “holiday” after my senior season. Bottom line, my PR in college over 3000m was 8:26 and that was with some amazing volume and intensity, as I also ran 14:28i that season.

            When I returned to Dallas from UT, I basically “jogged” an 8:20 3k time trial “in trainers” with no kick, just steady pacing. It was mind-blowing to me. I made the conclusion, that for me, altitude training was basically “legalized doping.” It was amazing.

            Obviously, I took a different path in life, but I knew that if I wanted to reach my potential as a runner, I would have to live at altitude. The natural EPO increase I got at Park City would never have happened in Miami. It was a legitimate advantage not available to all.

            So, to this day when I race the likes of yourself and any other elite MUT runner that lives and trains at altitude, I know I am at a disadvantage, but I embrace it because it is the path we have chosen.

            Good luck to all in 2017. Control what you can and don’t focus on what you cannot.


            1. SageCanaday

              Hey GR thanks, for sharing your story. As you may know I also trained under John’s philosophy and spoke with him a lot at Cornell (even about Kyle too!).

              For sure altitude training works to improve performance and is a boost to hematocrit. That is one big reason why I packed up all my belongings in my car, and drove out to live in Colorado on a few thousand dollars of life savings, a lot more in college debt, no job lined up, and zero sponsors (this was 5 years ago). I chose to move to altitude of course because I knew it would be a boost in training/racing performance…and when you race high altitude mountain races to compete at the top you pretty much have to be altitude trained. We know altitude tents also don’t quite have the same influence (although they can help performance also).

              I believe there is a different advantage/stimulus with synthetic EPO though (another reason why it is a highly controlled substance). Altitude training is trigging the body’s natural EPO. Injecting synthetic EPO is a totally different ballgame and I believe yields much, much more drastic increases in performance. Just comparing hematocrit numbers (increasing) could be the result of lots of things, and as we know altitude training can be a double edged sword anyway without a “high-low” approach (i.e. tougher recovery, loss of leg speed if training isn’t periodized).

              Plus I believe many of the top guys who are doping with synthetic EPO are also doing altitude training anyway. One would get more bang for their buck that way.

    3. Dusty

      I was listening to a cyclist on a podcast a few months back and he was talking about doping within cycling. He was saying that regular old Joe’s who have the money do it also (though not all of them of course). Why? To get better and faster, not because it is shortcut, but because it is another tool to get better. No money being made off it, just trying to improve their times.
      When looked at in this context, it becomes so benign and harmless (and most times IS harmless for an adult). Furthermore, when compared to other training tactics that legal and okay, it is hard to say with certainty why PEDs are the enemy du jour. The witch hunts of the Sammy Sosas and the Lance Armstrongs in the mainstream has convinced people that greed and lust are the motivations for chemical performance enhancement (the “bad” kind of course, not the good kind!). This is not always the case.
      And like you, I wish people would stop treating this like a pointless “war on drugs” and “just race” and run and have fun and improve themselves.

  9. Lay Reader

    About rules and small beans: Suppose that a given trail race’s entire elite field gets lost, misled by some marker-moving prankster, and a non-elite runner, from, say, Colorado, wins prize-money. This runner, since she reached the podium, gets tested and, suppose, tests positive for the use of cannabinoids. Also, it turns out, she very likely used the drug recreationally, not to enhance performance. Would a lifetime ban be just? How about a two-year ban? Any ban? Should the prize-money be returned?

    Question: Should ultrarunning’s anti-doping rules apply across the field and to every WADA-listed drug?

    1. default

      Unless she was using cannabinoids during the race it won’t be a problem. THC is only banned by WADA in competition. So yeah, don’t do that.

      Outside of that it would be easy for races to have divisions including a participant division that is not eligible for awards.

      1. Tony Mollica

        If a runner is tested immediately after a race and they smoked or ingested marijuana within a month or so, they would test positive for marijuana. I don’t think the testing is going to be able to differentiate whether the runner used marijuana during the race, or whatever it was sometime in the preceding month. That’s the problem with OVI testing. They currently can’t tell whether the motorist is under the influence of marijuana (high/intoxicated) or had smoked in the previous month or so.

  10. Tommy Stockton

    I’ve been wondering whether noninvasive versions of medical procedures along the lines of angioplasty will be the PEDs of the next few years? A little roto-rooting of the arteries before a big race? Seems right now the recovery is too long but wth nano-technology/robots ….

  11. Jackie

    If taking performance-enhancing drugs were criminalized, two major roadblocks to clean sport would be significantly decreased. First, the cost of investigation, testing, etc. would be payed for by the government. Two, jail time is probably a much better deterrent than a 6 month ban.

  12. Dusty

    In order to keep the enigma of the “Fair Playing Field” alive in peoples’ hearts, we should probably ban runners that get paid to train and race. Right? No? Oh well, so much for the Fair Field.

    But really though, outspoken justice warriors like Canaday and Sharman love to let us all know how swell they are and how evil other people are, even their accidental evils. The fact is that testing is expensive, and time-sensitive, and simply testing someone before or after a race would only test certain aids.
    Look at the UFC, a multi-billion dollar entity that only in last few years began comprehensive and truly effective testing and it requires, among other things – that athletes report DAILY where they are and what they are consuming, and they can be (and are) tested randomly, truly at random, like knock on the door at 3AM any day of the year kind of random!

    Incomplete testing (like what we would see in MUT) due to the process and money it takes to be comprehensive would serve little purpose and not be effective. It WOULD HOWEVER, raise entrance fees into races for everyone. Testing protocols are expensive (especially because they are always changing due to PEDs always changing) and when implemented in, say the NFL, the players and coaches do not really pay for it, the larger organization does. MUT has no such organization, and likely never will.

    In sum, to test runners would increase the price of racing for everyone, including the many people like me who truly truly truly do care if another racer is or is not adding supplemental EPO or anything else to their body to run faster.

    1. SageCanaday

      Hey Dusty,
      I realize the concern with raising prices/entry fee for races. I wouldn’t want that on anyone. I think there are ways to get around that as certainly the midpacker/majority shouldn’t have to front the costs of testing.

      I also realize that top-level ultra runner doping is a very small “problem” in a world full of atrocities, violence, racism, hunger, injustice and greed/corruption. Of course people like me are extremely biased because it is my job and therefore obviously I have a big financial stake in it. I realize most of the community does not have that bias.

      What is an “accidental evil” though? Call me an “outspoken justice warrior” (whatever that means), but I just believe in honesty and integrity in something I am very passionate about. I’ll admit is it a pet-peeve of mine (and likely why I’ve posted so obsessively and frequently on here). I’l own up to that. I’m sorry that seems to offend you.

      Finally I simply wouldn’t compare UFC/NFL/ The Tour/MLB to “pro” ultra running. Those guys are competing for million dollar contracts and likely run very sophisticated doping schemes…the tests need to be dialed for those guys because they’re on high level stuff that is likely very expensive…just look at BALCO…Lance Armstrong…etc. High level doping.

      Top level ultra runners that are doping…I bet they are self injecting stuff like EPO on a small scale. More rogue. That is much easier to catch/discourage with some simple off-season testing, policy and awareness.

      1. Dusty

        The “accidental evil” is when someone is unknowingly taking a banned substance. Happens all the time – sometimes because they did not know a substance WAS banned or sometimes because there are trace elements of banned substances in other supplement pills for example. Or when someone is knowingly taking a banned substance but under doctors orders, like testosterone therapy for some men or taking a steroidal after surgery or injury.

      2. Dusty

        Furthermore, this is all going to be irrelevant very soon with the development CRISPR and other gene therapies. Maybe not while you and I are still in our competitive years of running, but definitely in our running lifetimes – performance based on speed will not be as amazing as it once was.
        Unrelated and waxing off topic: I look to photography for inspiration in this matter. There was a time when a photographer was a the person who takes pictures for a living. Now everyone takes pictures everyday, and many of them are great pictures. So now photographer have to be novel, not just capable. Athletics will follow the same path, which is too bad when you are a coach (like me) or an top-elite runner (like you).

  13. Dusty

    Why is there never much of a dialogue about why some things are banned and other things are not and what makes one substance unfair and another totally reasonable (to say nothing of comparing training strategies)
    Everyone always jumps to torches and pitchforks and tries to decide what to do with those darn “dirty” runners.
    Trail Runner Nation put out a great podcast a while back called “Spitting in the Soup” that did good job at looking at doping and steroid use with a more objective and open mind. Highly recommend people listen to it.

  14. Andrew

    Though I don’t like that there are cheaters in the sport, I think drug testing is problematic in a sport that doesn’t have a governing body. Here are some of my issues with testing. I can’t cover all my thoughts… that would take a long essay:
    – You can’t expect the typical entrant at an ultra to be compliant with all the drugs on the WADA list. There are a lot of over-the-counter drugs that, innocently taken, will get you a positive test. Sure, for a pro or other top level runner that also races USATF races, you can require that they check everything they take. You do not want to put that extra burden on the typical race entrant, but they are potentially being tested if you do random tests, or if they happen to be very fast and the testing is by high finish place. There are enough pros that get small sanctions that are reduced by the governing bodies because the governing bodies agree that the intake of the drug was accidental/honest mistake/contaminated supplement. Imagine what you’d have to deal with when testing the average runner. When the average runner gets a positive for a cold medicine or something similar that is innocently taken, is really a good thing to put out to all running media that this person is a cheater? You would be screwing with that person’s life (personal, ability to get a job for instance, because everyone looks people up when hiring) for what benefit? And that person could potentially be banned for life from certain events if what some of what you want is put into place? Then you’d have to add the cost of defending your organization for the inevitable lawsuit for screwing with someone’s life who checked a tick box on an entry form (“I agree to be tested.”) and signed a waiver.

    Some people, like my elderly parents for instance, take a lot of supplements. I think a lot of what they take might be considered snake oil. Even if the supplements’ ingredients are checked against the WADA list, there’s a high likelihood of contamination by banned substances. If you are a pro, WADA expects you to be smart and stay away from that stuff. The average runner is not educated about what common things they might take that might cause them to test positive. You cannot hold them to the same standard.

    – As an environmental scientist, I’ve submitted thousands of samples to labs for testing. Each substance or class of substance tested can range from $20 to $1000+ depending on the substance and the detection limits… plus the cost to collect the sample and ship it to the lab. If you want to test a water sample, it might cost $100 for DRO/RRO, $200 for VOCs, $1000 for PFOA/PFOS, $100 for RCRA metals, $SS for PCBs, and so on… for just one sample, not counting collection costs. Someone in the know, please provide the typical costs for testing of the complete suite of banned substances. How much does one test cost? Is the full suite of banned substances tested for each time, or a subset? Knowing the typical cost of testing is important in this discussion, so you know how many people you can reasonably expect to be able to test.

    – I have concern that banning people who have served their sentences might not be fair and might not hold up in court. So would you say, Therese Johaug (lip balm meds… many of her fellow racers including Americans are sympathetic to her), you are banned forever? Dawn Harper, you are banned forever (serving only a 3 month ban, inadvertent from taking her blood pressure meds).

    1. Andrew

      Adding some more thoughts:
      – I agree with Sage that if there is testing, a cheating runner would have to be “glowing” to get nailed at a race. That’s money that isn’t well spent. I hope someone chimes in the typical cost of one test, like I asked in my previous post, so that it can be compared prize money that might be offered. For example, if there is a $10,000 first place prize money, it might be worth it to spend $500-$1000 to test the winner, just to make you feel better that you’re not paying someone who blatantly drugged up right before the race. But if it costs $2000 to conduct the single test, wouldn’t you rather that money be put into more prize money (more places that pay out, for example?).

      – Providing whereabouts for random testing. One reason I’m glad I’m old and not fast enough (and not a member since the 1990s) to be in testing pool of USATF athletes is that that seems like a huge burden. What if you want to go on backcountry trip? It’s not uncommon among athletic people I know. You’d have to provide your proposed route maybe? If a tester wants to drop in on you by surprise, they would have to hire a helicopter and search a hundred miles from the air to drop in on you and make you piss in some bottles? How much would that cost? Round trip cost to fly to a remote state (AK for instance), rental car, possibly additional round trip flights to small town, then charter a helicopter, then add the tester’s wages, couple nights’ hotel and per diem, express shipment of the sample to the lab, plus the cost of the test.

    2. Andrew

      Let me expound a bit more on the implications of what will happen when that inadvertent positive test on a typical non-pro runner occurs and how devastating it can be. A person close to me was on the receiving end of this on a different issue. A newspaper article was written where she was able to defend herself, make the case that the overwhelming majority of the complaints against her were false. The comments on the article and on facebook were terrifying, with an unbelievable amount of verifiably false accusations, and death threats. She got fire/laid off her employer the day after the article came out, supposedly for a different reason. Neighbors and cyclists stalked her at home and on the trails, and she had to flee the state. Two years later, the newspaper article is still what pops up first when you do a search of her name, so she hasn’t been able to get a real job since then. Similar pressure might be put on inadvertent positives in the running world.

      I remember a middle-aged or older (50s?) not-elite woman in the US got busted some years back where the “cheating” was either inadvertent or maybe it was taking something in the anti-aging group of drugs that she would have taken whether she competed or not. If the later, why should the drug test rules dictate a personal health decision? I know the easy answer is age group awards, or just don’t race, but do age group awards matter so much that testing is needed (for non-record breaking performances)? It doesn’t make sense to me at least, to banish a person like this from racing.

      1. SageCanaday

        Andrew, I hear your concerns about the “accidental” positives and especially the consequences of a mid-packer tripping a test for something “minor” like a stimulant or beta-2 agnonist for example. We’d have to take a tough look at that.

        Like Jonathan F, wrote above (I like I know from coaching a lot of age-group podium winners who train really hard and fight for every place in a race), lots of people in the community (the vast majority not competing for prize money/sponsorship) still don’t want to compete against PED users who are deliberately using banned substances to improve their running. They have worked their butts off, trained at 5am before their regular job, and invested a lot in race entry fees/travel/ gear to try to compete to the best of what their natural body can do.

        But also mentioned above, I think there is a huge sliding scale with penalty/what is tested for and what is really the biggest target. Obviously a blanket policy would have to cover the whole field of a race, but I’d pull for testing only the biggest targets first: the guys actually making money in the sport (this includes me).

        I believe for most testing, the biggest target are the guys winning the big-time races and signing sponsorship deals. And the biggest PEDs to aid the most in that would be “heaving hitting ” ones like EPO. You don’t accidentally get ahold of EPO and accidentally inject it….a top runner knows exactly what they are doing…

        Finally the incentive for just prize money at races is one of the smaller incentives to dope for a top runner (well maybe not for Comrades as the win there is about $32,000), as it is more about a sponsorship contract, international travel perks, the social/media attention and ultimately ego.

    3. Andrew

      OK, I see some costs up in the article that I skimmed by. I can easily see the $10,000 for 4 tests quoted by USATF. Not to mention if you actually had to try to track someone down for a whereabouts test.

  15. Mark

    I’m so confused by all the nay-saying an opposition to making the sport more clean. If a top runner was deliberately cutting courses to win races, wouldn’t people want to know and stop it? The race directors have incentive to keep their races fair. Other athletes who miss out on the top prize money and more lucrative sponsorships want it fixed. Fans of the sport want to be confident when they cheer for an elite runner or praise a new CR that it was done legally.

    How can we be against cutting a course while ignoring doping? As the sport continues to grow and more money is involved, doping will happen. We can ignore it until it gets out of control, but then we’ll end up like cycling: an entire decade lost to cheating and scandals.

  16. Aaron d

    Good luck. The most successful diapers in history never tested positive. Even though pro cycling is now “clean” riders are putting up the same power numbers or better than the dirty riders of yesteryear. There is still(i don’t think) any test for blood doping by way of autologous transfusion. As Floyd land is showed, this is the ultimate diy poor mans way to dope. Simply store a bag of your own blood in the fridge for a few weeks and then put it back in your body before the big race. Also tour’s need to be addressed. For example, the common adhd drug ad detail is basically methamphetamine. Should racers be allowed to, and do they really need to take this stimulant on race day?

    1. SageCanaday

      BB or “blood bags” are actually pretty sophisticated. At least the way US Postal was doing it. I believe it’s how Tyler Hamilton got caught. No man, Lance and Floyd were on T, EPO, HGH and BBs (probably more stuff too!).

      Again, top guys doping in ultras probably don’t have the money to run such sophisticated programs.
      They are likely rogue doping and just self injecting EPO I’d imagine.

      That is whey policy and a clean sport culture is so key….people can also catch people! (aka Lance Armstrong).

    1. kedsky

      13month ban for lip balm – bought by her doctor LOL i haven’t laughed that good for a long time!!! it was worth it.only 13 months.

  17. Gayle C

    Lots of great reasoning and information. The first thing that springs to my mind is the name Lance Armstrong, the standard bearer for those that would take advantage.

  18. Jill

    I recently tested positive for a banned substance. I am a 46 year old woman who was on a hormone replacement therapy for osteoporosis due to early onset of menopause. I was taking a very small dose of testosterone (.03ml) along with estrogen and progesterone. I have never taken this substance to enhance performance in sports. Rather what I took, under care from a physician, was to keep myself from having ongoing bone stress fractures and other issues related to menopause (go look them up if you need).

    When I was drug tested, I believed the amount that I was taking was under banned limits. Unfortunately my understanding was wrong. I wanted to take the company to arbitration to argue the ruling but it was going to cost $10,000 in legal fees which I could not afford. I am currently one year in of a 4 year ban.

    Now, from what is described in this article even after I serve my ban, I can never race some of the races described. This in my opinion is ridiculous and completely unfair. I never made money. I was never an elite athlete. I was a woman trying to deal with life changes with commonly prescribed meds.

    Let’s not assume that you know the whole story behind every doping case. Let’s not assume each individual is a Lance Armstrong in different clothing. If a person serves there time they should be given a second chance. I would be more than happy to undergo drug testing as I’ve not taken any meds in a year. Unfortunately my body is experiencing an increase in symptoms as a result but I want to compete for the joy of it and if I can’t I want to die trying.

    If you are 20 or 30 you probably cannot fathom what it is that I speak. But I bet if you are over 40 you have some experience and understand what we are dealing with.

  19. SkiK

    So if I’ve been on Propranolol for blood pressure and heart rate control and HCTZ for blood pressure for years, I can’t run Western States? Only thing the beta blocker does is slow me down by suppressing my adrenals.

    Also is auto transfusion banned? (Just curious from a medical provider standpoint)



    “Any athlete who has been determined to have violated anti-doping rules or policies, whether enforced by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), or any other national sports federation is ineligible for entry into the Western States Endurance Run.”

    “Any athlete who refuses to submit to anti-doping controls, if selected for testing, shall be disqualified and subject to a lifetime ban from the Western States Endurance Run.”

    Is it legal according to the World Anti-Doping Code and / or the US Law?
    I can not find the legality of these measures in the World Anti-Doping Code or the US Law.
    Can you tell me precisely what is the legal basis fo this measures ?

    Thank you in advance for your answer !


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