Doping And The Effect On Ultra And Trail Running: What To Do About Cheaters

[Editor’s Note: The following are the opinions of the author raised in hopes of fostering a dialogue about what the next steps are in combating prohibited performance-enhancing drugs in our sport. In your comments, disagreement is expected, but civility is requested.]

Widespread doping has recently been uncovered within athletics, highlighted by the provisional suspension of Russia’s athletics federation by the IAAF. This reveals a much deeper and more endemic problem within all aspects of the wider sport of which our trail and ultra world is a part. Therefore, in recent weeks, I’ve been working and researching behind the scenes into what could genuinely make a difference before running goes the way of cycling and loses all credibility where athletes never know if they’re competing on a level playing field or not.

There are two major elements to minimizing cheating–anti-doping testing and the culture/acceptability of cheating. Both of these need to be strengthened, but a huge budget is needed for widespread drug testing and that’s a slower process to set in motion. Importantly, even if testing was more extensive than ever seen in any sport, there would still be cheaters so I focus more on steps that can alter the culture and reduce the propensity of athletes to even consider cheating. In particular, I believe that lifetime bans, with relevant safeguards and clear policies, are an important part of sending a signal and helping to change the culture of doping. The clearest example of this is with the world’s largest marathons, which already have this policy as described below.

In addition, there’s some emerging evidence (and, hopefully, more research lined up as more work is needed here to better understand this concept) showing that there could be long-term physical benefits from doping, even after the drug-taking stops. Physiologists from the University of Oslo in Norway have studied the effects of testosterone propionate–a fast-acting form of testosterone, an anabolic steroid–in mice and their findings suggest that the boost the substance gives to muscles could last for decades, via some form of muscle memory. Even if there’s just a chance this is true, then it’s another reason suggesting that dopers should be banned for life. Also, athletes who dope improve their race results and, therefore, gain access to better sponsors, better coaches, etc., not to mention more fame and its rewards. That can benefit one’s racing throughout the rest of his or her career.

Existing doping controls work according to the IAAF protocols. It’s the responsibility of athletes to be aware of what substances are controlled and the conditions under which testing occurs within and outside of competitions as well as through biological passports to highlight irregularities over time. The level or lack of testing an athlete receives depends on the types of races entered by an athlete and their degree of podium success. Generally, most trail and ultrarunners are very rarely or never tested and very few ultrarunners have faced biological-passport testing. Personally, I’ve had one test ever and most ultrarunners are more likely to be tested in road running (International Association of Ultrarunners events or big road ultras like Comrades Marathon or Two Oceans Marathon) than on the trails. Therefore, there’s little chance of catching a doper within our sport currently, combining with relatively short bans to offer little disincentive.

If an athlete fails a test or there are anomalies in their biological passport, then it’s possible to appeal. For example, Ludwick Mamabolo won the 2012 Comrades Marathon and his A-sample tested positive for a banned substance called methylhexaneamine—a nasal decongestant and stimulant. His B-sample confirmed the presence of the banned substance, but there were 15 irregularities with the testing process and he was let off without a stain on his record officially. This isn’t an example of how it should work, but shows that if the processes are not strictly administered, then athletes are not banned. Therefore, if someone is clean and an error makes them look like a cheat, there are processes to clear their name and avoid a ban. In that case, an athlete should be treated as innocent if their name is cleared by the appropriate sanctioning organizations.

Many compare the existing short doping bans to serving time for a mistake and, then, being able to come back afterwards with the punishment administered so they can move on. However, a lifetime doping ban doesn’t involve incarceration for life, so it’s more similar to losing a job for unethical behavior where future prospective employers are aware of the bad behavior and also decide not to hire. This is only fair so long as there are safeguards that make sure that a positive doping test is correct within a reasonable doubt (why have a higher bar than for criminal cases?) and has a right to appeal—this is part of the existing system under the IAAF and its local offshoots. In addition, since bans under three months under IAAF would not lead to lifetime disqualification from competing for prizes at any race , this means that extremely minor/accidental offenses do not lead to the end of a professional career.

A separate issue is the use of Therapeutic Use Exemptions (“TUEs”) where a doctor can basically state that an athlete has a medical need for a banned substance, so that the athlete doesn’t get in trouble for using the substance. These are controversial and many fast, fit athletes seem to need these TUEs, undoubtedly casting doubt on whether this is a loophole. This is another issue that complicates the debate, but let’s exclude it from the higher-level discussion of what can be done to make a meaningful difference right now.

Cultural Factors To Consider

  • Zero tolerance of cheating makes it harder for athletes to rationalize cheating and the chances of getting caught are certainly low, as evidenced within cycling where they had an extremely extensive testing regime but few positive tests.
  • The biggest marathons in the world are part of the World Marathon Majors (WMM) (Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York) and they deem the existing arrangements to be too lenient in allowing dopers to serve a short ban then return to racing. So they have a policy that anyone convicted of doping with a ban lasting three months or longer is not eligible for prize money or points in their races. See Article III, Section C of their Code of Conduct.
  • Cheats rarely admit they cheated and many re-offend (e.g., Justin Gatlin), so if the chance of getting caught is low and someone is ethically challenged, then allowing them back into the sport after a short ban is barely a slap on the wrist and they’re likely to try to get away with it again.
  • Breaking rules like littering (e.g. the Centurion Running events in the U.K.–see rules for one of their events) or switching bibs (e.g. California International Marathonsee their rules) can lead to lifetime bans from some races, and these offenses are arguably much less serious than intentional doping.
  • All doping is cheating, including testosterone for middle-aged women, marijuana within a race, banned painkillers, etc.–you can’t pick and choose which rules to obey or get annoyed at those using EPO if you yourself use something that’s banned. People have excuses that they’re only competing in an age group or ‘feel better’ taking certain banned medications, but this goes to the root of the culture of the sport where there should be no excuses for cheating a little, which can lead to rationalizing cheating a lot (e.g., ‘everyone else is doing it’).
  • Naming and raising public awareness about those who’ve cheated is best as it makes athletes think twice if they’ll become a pariah if caught cheating. This doesn’t mean mob justice, but having clear policies in place in advance of a race is imperative. Also, good results, rapid improvements, and association to convicted dopers alone don’t warrant baseless accusations of cheating without hard evidence. However, runners should certainly be aware that association with dopers raises questions in many people’s minds and, at the least, reflects a risk to their reputation. This is linked to the concept of disassociating with those who’ve doped or helped dopers in the past to show zero tolerance, but I understand this is at the more controversial end of the points in this article, yet I firmly believe it. I personally would not want to be associated with any organization or person linked to doping because I wouldn’t trust them or want to risk my own reputation.

Practical Next Steps

  • Develop an anti-doping policy in the first place. Some major races like The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships don’t have a policy. The simplest starting point is to copy the policies of the IAAF and, then, build on them based on the concepts in this article.
  • Apply the lifetime bans at races as per the WMM precedent for anyone who gets a three-month doping ban or longer. I’ll be reaching out to major U.S. trail races and already have commitments from several of the Altra US Skyrunner Series events to do this. I’ve spoken to governing bodies already, but a combination of bureaucracy and not wanting to rock the boat mean that this is easier to achieve race-by-race, then governing bodies will take notice. It’s similar to the approach the WMM races have taken.
  • Increase anti-doping testing at events and vocally support out-of-competition testing, encouraging further debate in this area.


  • Convince sponsors within ultra and trail running not to support any athletes with a three-month doping ban or longer, with the same proposed lifetime ban as for races.
  • Financially support anti-doping testing at events and both financially and vocally support out-of-competition testing, encouraging further debate in this area.

Everyone Else

  • If someone you know takes banned substances, let them know that you feel strongly about all forms of cheating, no matter whether they’re aiming for the podium, age-group awards, or cut-offs.
  • All the points above should be discussed openly and I hope this article will generate more debate and raise more awareness about the practical steps that will make a difference.

Call for Comments (from Ian)

  • Do you believe in the integrity of the sport of ultra and trail running currently?
  • What do you think about the proposals above to keep the sport cleaner?
  • Should dopers be banned for life?

There are 96 comments

  1. @Sometimes_I_Run

    I suspect that a lot of the folks who participate in ultra and trail runs are doing just that; “participating.” We’re not “competing” — at least not in the sense of trying to do better than everyone else in the race, or those in our age group.

    Rather, we have our own individual goals (“just finish,” “do better than last year,” etc.), so the performances of the other runners is of little concern. I absolutely agree that doping is cheating, but what happens at the front of the pack, or the front of my age group, doesn’t impact or lessen what I get from running.

    I’ve always thought of it this way: if I was given a choice of (a) running a PB time or achieving a long-term running goal in a race, but finishing dead last, or (b) running a crappy race, but winning my age group or placing high overall, I would always choose (a). Sure, I run in "races," but the only person I’m racing against is me.
    Don’t get me wrong, doping is obviously wrong, and cheating, and unfair to the majority of the fast runner and age-groupers who are clean. If I was working hard to get to that level of performance, and knew that others were doping, I'd probably be pissed.

    But how much does the testing cost, and who pays?

    My understanding (perhaps incorrect) is that effective PED testing involves more than just a quick blood draw at the end of a race. There are extensive out-of-competition protocols, because PEDs are something that cheaters throughout training, so testing needs to occur throughout the year. That’s expensive!

    The WMMs and IAAF try to address these things (many would say inadequately), but for those races there are hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of dollars at stake. Our sport doesn’t have that kind of money behind it. (And some would say the sport has already become too focused on the dollar.) And I would not be happy with any increase in race fees to fund a comprehensive testing program.

    So I suppose that’s a long-winded way of saying I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe if the prize money went away there’d be much less incentive to cheat?

    1. johnnyb2122

      Only replying to your last question. If you take prize money and sponsors (sponsorship is giving to those who compete well in the sport) irunfar would go away and many other wonderful sites that we love. The elites in our sport is what is growing our sport. They are the reason Salomon, North Face, Hoka, ect. are making the products we buy. Without the elites driving the popularity of the sport, all of us will lose. Sure older ultra runners talk about the good old days, but there have always been the elites in the sport and our sport has evolved into something greater than the good old days. Prize money is only not going to go away, but it is going to grow. The sport is going to grow. There will be huge events, small events, and many in the middle for us to choose. No frills, to epic adventures with first class treatment along the way. But that only happens with the elites pushing the sport. If the elites are dirty, it only hurts our sport from the top down. Soon the sport will make enough to text at major races. But I think it will have to be helped from money the sponsors put into the sport. Sponsors won't want to have cheaters on their teams. It's worth the cost of testing elites, so the rest of us runners can continue to enjoy our sport.

      1. corunr

        @johnnyb2122… i agree 100% with your last two sentences. Corporations are the only "people" that substantially benefit from a financial perspective. As such, they should step to the plate with additional funding – I'm just not holding my breath.

      2. todd534

        "They are the reason Salomon, North Face, Hoka, ect. are making the products we buy. "

        Pretty sure the buying is the reason they make them. Sponsoring elites is a way to get you to buy them, not the other way around.

        1. johnnyb2122

          "Sponsoring elites is a way to get you to buy them, not the other way around." I think you are agreeing with me. I just think I'm not as good explaining it. Without the elites, the products wouldn't sell like they do. Plus the companies wouldn't make as much money as they do to come up with such great products. The sponsors depend on the elites. The elites depend on the sponsors.

  2. @frumioj

    Despite the fact that elite ultra runners race with the non-elites, I guess even as a fairly successful runner myself, there is still a significant gap between me (and most other "normal" runners) and the elites. The problems of elite runners are just different. The need to support yourself with your racing. The fact that you are much more on the edge of what is possible for humans. These things demand that you investigate whatever performance enhancement is possible to improve your performance without breaking the rules in a way that will jeopardize your careers.

    To me, it feels like cheating that people can use pacers in long ultras. I have simply accepted that I will not have a pacer, despite that giving me a disadvantage to those who do. That's OK for me because I don't try to make a living from the sport, and I'm happy to think of myself as "first out of the runners who didn't have a pacer" :)

    So, ultimately, although I might prefer that we can really keep cheaters out, there will be an incentive to cheat as long as prize money and status accrue to the winners of races, and the holders of records. So some will cheat. And it's a matter of drawing an arbitrary line in the sand when we say "this person is a cheat for taking this drug", and "this person genuinely uses this substance because they need it to feel healthy."

    I am not sure then that I will completely trust any anti-doping regime, as long as there is incentive to cheat.

    The other interesting thing I'd note is the recent publication by Chris Froome of his biological test data regarding VO2Max, and power ratings. If there is a trend of having athletes publish data that have been gathered by reputable scientists measuring those athletes, I think this will be a very credible way of showing up the cheats (whose data will likely change dramatically if they use PEDs). So I think that although is somewhat a violation of the athlete's privacy to publish their biological data, I think it also holds the promise of a better way of showing up the cheats… measurement of the athlete over time, and open publication by reputable labs/scientists.

      1. johnnyb2122

        Comparing dopers to runners who use pacers at events that allow pacers takes away from how big of a deal dopers are in the sport. It's silly to compare the two in anyway what so ever.

      2. @sharmanian

        It's only cheating if it's against the rules of the race. If the race says you have to hop, using both legs would be cheating. The point is that when a runner turns up to the start line they're implicitly agreeing to the rules. (Also, I don't believe pacing makes a fast runner go any quicker and I personally only have pacers so that my crew gets more enjoyment out of standing around all day).

        1. dgsum

          So do you believe that runners should be banned for life from a race for any infraction of rules? That is what you seem to be hinting at…

    1. dgsum

      I agree with what your main point is. Though I do not think using pacing is cheating, it can definitely be performanace enhancing….kind of like everything else we do in training and racing.

  3. sbush85

    Ian, I ran with you at Rocky Raccoon 2011 when you smashed the 100 mile record. You finished the 100 around the same time I finished my 50 miler. Watching that race as a participant gave me tremendous insight into what is possible in ultras with a solid, consistent training regimen. It's good to see elite runners like yourself speaking up for anti-doping efforts. It's going to be a difficult balance between the lack of funding and the need to implement a better system than we currently have in our sport. By starting to ask for commitments on an individual level, from races and sponsors, I agree we can start to make headway. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

  4. Hoosier70

    I believe UTMB tests. Would be nice for a few premiere races to start doing this in the US – perhaps the Grand Slam races, HR100, or others that often lead to elites being pursued for sponsorship.

    Cost shouldn't be an issue for these big races to test podium or Top 10,etc. If that is the argument, I would almost guarantee you could setup a funding page (eg, gofundme) and you could raise plenty from trail runners that wish to uphold the integrity of the sport. Middle of the packers, even us age groupers, want the legends in the sport to be clean.

    With CRs falling all the time (and not by insignificant amounts) and bigger money Sponsors – Nike, TNF, Salomon – providing a way of life for athletes, certainly there are some bending the rules. Unfortunately, it is human nature.

    1. @sharmanian

      The money in the sport is very small and most races have tiny budgets. There are very few runners who can live off sponsorships without being homeless and living out the back of a truck, so finding the money for more testing isn't a trivial difficulty. I'd be very surprised if crowd funding would cover this too. But as the sport grows the budgets increase, as does the incentive to cheat, so it's important to get it on the radar of race directors at this stage.

      1. Hoosier70

        I think at some point the RDs will want to protect the integrity of the race. Would love to hear from more RDs on here.

        Would Sponsors pitch in – doubtful they want their athletes tested (what they don't know doesn't hurt them). Perhaps a contract with a testing body would reduce the price. Could also go the route of collecting samples and testing down the road if prices are reduced in the future. Would be interesting to see how that impacts (if at all) entry to a race.

        But it needs to happen. I doubt I am alone when I wonder about the winners of some races. And sadly, that is not their fault but the few that poison the well. I've heard at least one Olympian state that he is fairly confident at least one of the big names in ultrarunning is doping. Only say this given their familiarity with the sport and testing.

        With Armstrong now pursuing trail and ultra and given Sharman citing the study re: long term benefits after doping, would he be welcome? What can prevent him from entering a race?

    2. @Watoni

      A few race day tests will do very little. Without out-of-competition testing people can beat the tests fairly easily. We are talking a sport governing body and athletes having to provide somewhere they can be tested every day (not that they will be, of course). The cost involved is very substantial.

  5. watsonpe

    I agree with most of what has been said. However, as both a faculty member of a major medical school and an athlete who has been dealing with asthma since the age of 8 (52 years, if you're counting), I am somewhat concerned with the cavalier comments about Therapeutic Use Exemptions. With the worsening air quality issues, and the large influx of previously non-athletes into Masters sports in the later stages of their lives, adult asthma diagnoses have been increasing dramatically. As exercise is both a trigger for asthma and reveals asthma that may not be noticeable with a sedentary lifestyle, throwing under the bus all those who may need to use rescue inhaled drugs (albuterol) to prevent the onset of asthma symptoms during exercise is a bit harsh. I would support the need to provide verified clinical evidence to a standing panel of experts as a step to prevent inappropriate provision of TUEs, but let's not cast all who use these medicines and apply for TUEs as cheaters.

    1. @sharmanian

      TUEs are a very complex topic and there are undoubtedly reasons for this, but it currently acts as a loophole so this is an area where more safeguards should be in place. That's up to WADA and the IAAF to act on, although the more governing bodies see that athletes and fans care about a topic, the more incentive they have to do something about it. At the moment this area is too obscure for most runners to know/care about.

      1. @bob_hearn

        I agree that it's a very complex topic. What doesn't seem so complex is the simple question, how many ultrarunners are there with TUEs? I'm going into Desert Solstice this weekend, hoping to make the US National 24-hour team, and possibly set an AG record or two. It seems to me that many banned substances could make a big difference in this type of event. If my competitors have TUEs, then so be it, but I'd prefer to know about it. I guess it seems more likely that essentially nobody in ultrarunning is on TUEs, but maybe that's naive. I'd swear I read something a while back speculating that most top 24-hour runners had TUEs for banned stimulants.

        Also, even where there is testing, like Desert Solstice (but only for open world records, not ARs, or even world AG records), that only catches the illegal dopers, and not the inappropriate TUE users.

        A start to simplifying the complexity of the topic would be some transparency.

    2. @Rundoctor74

      I was recently diagnosed with asthma and have or plan to compete in races where drug testing is in place, so it is imperative for me to use legal medications. Nearly all traditional asthma meds are not banned, rather they have an upper limit for use. However, that upper limit is far in excess of normal use. For example, albuterol is only banned above 2400 mcg. That is more than 26 puffs off an inhaler! Even if you need it every two hours, you still won't reach that limit. Oral steroids and long acting beta agonists are also not on the banned list, so by and large, asthmatics should not need a TUE.

  6. @bob_hearn

    Thank you, Ian. I'm somewhat torn on this issue, as I do buy into the concept that once you have served your time, then you have paid your price for your mistake, and should not be further penalized. If we think the penalties are insufficient, then it seems to me that the level to address that at is in the determination of the penalties, rather than in individual races or race series deciding arbitrarily to impose additional penalties.

    But I do also realize that in some cases the effects of doping can last long beyond the currently imposed ban. However, surely this depends on the individual drug, and is not true of using all banned substances. In your discussion of this point you also mention the other long-term potential benefits of doping, such as sponsors, fame, etc. But these benefits would seem to disappear once one becomes a doper.

    I am more interested in the TUE question. How prevalent are TUEs in ultrarunning? Is there any way to know how many ultrarunners have TUEs? I'm generally willing to give my competitors the benefit of the doubt that they are not cheating. But if some percentage are using TUEs — "legally" doping — I would like to have an idea of what the playing field is actually like.

    1. @Baristing

      If nothing is banned, then there are no rules to be exempted from. Someone on Synthroid, testosterone, etc., (for whatever reason) needn't disclose or get any sort of waiver.

      1. @Baristing

        Clarifying: I'm not saying this is in any way ideal. Just that it's the current state of affairs. TUEs, by definition, can only exist when there are rules to be exempted from. Since ultrarunning doesn't have a singular governing body, or any accompanying rules, then by definition, TUEs can't exist.

        1. @bob_hearn

          Well you can apply to USADA and maybe get a TUE, and then run ultras thinking you are good. Whether you are actually good, or whether that even means anything, I guess depends on the race.

          But my question is, is this happening?

          1. @Baristing

            My assumption would be that it isn't happening. The USADA, broadly speaking, doesn't concern itself with ultrarunning. And VERY few races, so far as I know, explicitly ban thyroid and/or testosterone supplementation – and then actually test. So there's simply no motivation. If it's not banned/tested for, then you're functionally given carte blanche already. Why ask permission would you already have it? Unless you have an elite road/track background, I just can't see any reason for going this route. (Indeed, there's a now-trail runner featured in the notable WSJ article about possible TUE exploitation in the road/track world.)

            1. @Rundoctor74

              Also, if you look at the rules only "big ticket" USATF races like Olympic trial and track national championships require a TUE ahead of time. (Also athletes who are the national testing list). So any ultra athlete technically doesn't need a TUE until they test positive, which if there is no testing will never happen. So yeah, probably very few TUEs in our sport.

  7. mye2angelz

    It is naive at best to think if you took prize money out of ultra's doping will decrease or stop. Doping I equate to course cutting, which happens quite frequently . We have course cutters at fatazz events.

    1. @sharmanian

      Yes, doping is just another form of cheating. How would a runner chasing the cut-offs feel if they saw someone significantly cutting the course? Surely that would be unacceptable to everyone.

    2. johnnyb2122

      Perfect. I've been at a fatazz event where a runner cut the course by a couple miles and then posted online how he won the fatazz. First, I have never heard a person brag about winning a fatazz before, but he even knew he cheated but still wanted the recognition of being a winner. Doping is cutting the course. Perfect way to explain it.

  8. @andymsymonds

    Agree with your take on this Ian. Now is the time to act to make it damn well clear that trail running is a complete no go zone for dopers!!. (See my thoughts on "natural" trail running :
    The subject only really concerns elite runners (chasing after medals and/or money) and organisers of those kind of events (ie big championship races and one-off prize purse races). So it's up to those parties to act, talk about it, set examples and invest in proving and communicating the non-dope culture. It's a sad state of affairs to say that you can't offer prize money without controlling runners, but the human race is a sad state of affairs and we have to live with it! Sorry for the pessimism, it's not my normal attitude! We are, obviously, only talking about a small percentage, but it only takes one to ruin the game.
    Well done for commencing a positive process in the US with the sky series.

  9. DrFager

    TUE's create more questions than answers, generally speaking. The testosterone exemption in boxing/mma was a nightmare. They ultimately had to end the TUE for a wide variety of reasons. One, it could be viewed as performance enhancing in and of itself. Two, it could be used to mask other PEDs. Three, low testosterone levels are often the result of previous PED use.

    There are certainly legitimate use-cases for testosterone supplementation that dontt fall into any of those categories, but it was so problematic to identify them, that they just had to ban the TUE for it altogether. This ultimately applies to most TUE use-cases. (Cheaters find ways to exploit exemptions)

    So there has to be acceptance that outliers will exist as a byproduct of creating strict anti-doping policies. (Case in point, the user above taking exception to inhalants for asthmatics) There will be some runners with legit conditions that will NOT be able to compete professionally. It’s unfortunate, but unavoidable.

    1. corunr

      If this is the byproduct of a clean sport " There will be some runners with legit conditions that will NOT be able to compete professionally. It’s unfortunate, but unavoidable." then the vision is flawed from the start.

      1. DrFager

        All system anti-doping systems are flawed for someone. You either side with stringent zero tolerance systems that will exclude certain participants that need legit TUE's, or you allow them across the board, and allow PED's use and culture to prevail. (Exactly what happened in boxing and mma, and they have way more money and resources available than ultra running)

        1. mikehinterberg

          False dichotomy.
          Like in much of life, there's a "hard, right" thing to do here, rather than either of the extreme "easy, wrong" options.

  10. @SageCanaday

    Well done Ian! I think awareness of issues like this is the first step as it hopefully leads to creating positive change.

    More testing of course and bio passports are always better, but again with expensive cost and the fact that dopers can easily "beat the tests" I truly believe that change must come from promoting a #cleansport culture. I think RD's of private races have great power to not allow former convicted cheats into their races. iRunfar here has taken a stand with race coverage and not allowing convicted dopers media attention/interviews. I think these are good steps. Fostering a culture against doping ultimately discourages future use of PEDs and those already juicing will not be able to take away spots from hard working, clean athletes.

    [discalimer: I compete 100% clean…always have and always will].
    Some rather heated social media debate as recently cropped up in regards to characters like Lance Armstrong. Now, as humans we all have flaws…we make mistakes and as a supportive culture there can be forgiveness…but it's a case by case basis. The MUT Running community is known for being inclusive and welcoming. We've got diverse pasts and backgrounds. For those that may have had a slip of judgement in the past and abused a controlled substance or struggled with addiction (i.e. drugs like cocaine, LSD, alcohol etc.), but then sobered up and found running…I say this: more power to YOU! On the other hand, if an athlete has used a heavy hitting PED like EPO to gain a major edge in endurance athletics…I say this: Lifetime ban from races. No second chances. It's a strict zero tolerance policy. I don't think some people realize how much of a drug like EPO boosts (and likely keeps boosting performance for years and years) running performance. What Lance (or any big-time PED athlete) repeatedly did for years and years cannot be compared at all to what others may or may have not done in the past (with recreational drugs etc).

    That being said I'm against all forms of doping (stimulants, more "minor ones" etc), and I also realize that as a runner who competes for a living and whose race performances helps pay rent, that I have more of a personal/financial stake in this kind of thing (so I apologize if I rant). But again it's ultimately not about the money. I know someone like Lance isn't racing for money or sponsorship at this stage in his game. But he's still going to do pretty well…he's going to displace a clean runner and win a lot of Age-group awards and maybe more overall titles. He'll take lottery spots. Is that fair? I think not.

    If the worlds of cycling, track and field, road marathons and organizations like IAAF have demonstrated anything already, it is that corruption and greed have led to PED usage in sport at all levels. However, I believe that promoting a zero-tolerance policy with lifetime bans, and an anti-doping culture (which may lead to private races deciding to ban convicted EPO -users from their races) I think is a big step in the right direction to preserving the integrity and pureness of MUT Running…a sport, a hobby, a profession, and a lifestyle that I love. #cleansport

    1. @sharmanian

      Importantly, the lifetime ban would apply to COMPETING for prizes, money, places (even age group places), but doesn't have to stop the doper turning up to a race…as long as the rest of the field is made aware that the doper doesn't count in the competitive results and will be shown separately in results in their own category. My reading of the WMM rules is that a past doper could still run their races but not compete for any form of prizes or points.

      1. @ultrarunt

        Thx for clearing that up Ian. I was kinda thinking that the lifetime ban was a little too extreme but if they can still grow old wise up and race for fun again I'm all for #cleansport
        Thx for all your work and information

  11. benzultra

    Allowing past dopers to race doesn't just affect the elites at the front of races that offer prize money. It affects anyone who trains their butts off to win the local no-frills race. Imagine if Lance showed up and won The Dipsea Race instead of the Woodside Ramble 35k? Why should this race be any different? They can of course run and train on your own, that's fine. don't line up with people who train their butts off to win the local 35k only for a lifetime doper (who is still reaping the benefits of it btw) to show up and win. It's total BS.

  12. mikehinterberg

    Good summary, Ian, and I appreciate how your discussion includes the idea that there are persistent physical, as well as mental, social, and material benefits from PEDs. Often, a more simplistic model of PEDs only being transiently beneficial is mentioned in regard to term-limited bans. So I'm glad you mentioned the benefits can be lasting.

    But you did bring up TUEs, and not sure how far to get into that, but your comments were seemingly only about the negative issues associated with it. In contrast, (Dr.) watsonpe's comment above is great. Just as you're highly in-tune with the larger effects of doping on elite competition, I hope you are open to the broader context of therapeutic use. I'm all for efforts that weed out exploiting loopholes, but let's not make that the default view and stigmatize everyone. As a case in point, athletes like Jackie Joyner-Kersee were incredible influential in influencing kids (and their parents) with asthma to have hope in controlling it and participating competitively in sports. This was a palpable shift in the 1980's, and has continued with other star athletes. Telling kids they'll have no chance of competing in the future for that reason alone is more destructive, IMHO, than our current worry about potential advantages from potential elites in these races, let alone those that might only have needed treatment for an acute issue, and the medical ethics of deciding between taking a therapy vs. continuing competition. (The latter of which actually does come into play not infrequently with regard to asthma in races like WS). With a gamut of low-energy/mild sexual dysfunction (e.g. testosterone) vs. potentially life-threatening issues (e.g. inhaler), there's not a one-size-fits-all solution. It will get more important if we do discuss lifetime bans.

    Note that major team sports have generally found a balance with acceptable therapeutic use. The real unique challenge here remains the lack of governing body, testing, and athletes transitioning between different endurance sports with various rules. To summarize, please remember the overall social impact of therapeutic use of drugs when considering issues with TUEs. Or, as you originally suggested (before delving into it a bit), let's just set aside TUEs for now. Cheers!

  13. @andymsymonds

    Agree with your take on this Ian. Now is the time to act to make it damn well clear that trail running is a complete no go zone for dopers!!. (See my thoughts on "natural" trail running :
    The subject only really concerns elite runners (chasing after medals and/or money) and organisers of those kind of events (ie big championship races and one-off prize purse races). So it's up to those parties to act, talk about it, set examples and invest in proving and communicating the non-dope culture. It's a sad state of affairs to say that you can't offer prize money without controlling runners, but the human race is a sad state of affairs and we have to live with it! Sorry for the pessimism, it's not my normal attitude! We are, obviously, only talking about a small percentage, but it only takes one to ruin the game.
    Well done for commencing a positive process in the US with the sky series.

    1. @evnamkung

      Andy, I would respectfully disagree that this only concerns elite runners, and that the responsibility should fall on them to solve it. One of the biggest things that differentiates our sport from cycling or triathlon is the community aspect, and the fact that I can toe the same line as the elite runner and have the same gun go off for both of us. I may not have a sponsor, win money, or be interviewed after the race, but I damn sure want to know that my sport is clean. Our community aspect also gives us a ton of strength in confronting this issue, and I believe that the entire community must be involved in taking steps to address it. I don't know whether we are at the point of crowdfunding as Hoosier70 suggested, but I do think that outside the box ideas like that could work in this sport where perhaps they wouldn't in others, based on our close knit ties and the power of our relationships.

      1. @andymsymonds

        ​When I say that, what I mean is that doping is only really a direct problem at the front end of competitive fields. It's a waste of time, money and also ruins the image of trail running to have doping controls testing people who are clearly just out there for the fun and the environment finishing mid-pack at all your local trail races. It's the people at the money end of the sport who need to be taking some responsibility as it's the money that's likely the cause of enciting cheats.
        But yes, agree that if the trail community can collectively say, "sod off" to dopers and all forms of non-natural assistance products and substances then that's a powerful message.

  14. djb03055

    Figuratively speaking, everyone who played college football and baseball in the late 80s/ early 90s took steroids or other PEDs.

    This line is a left-over from a common 80s argument "for" taking steriods:

    Also, athletes who dope improve their race results and, therefore, gain access to better sponsors, better coaches, etc., not to mention more fame and its rewards. That can benefit one’s racing throughout the rest of his or her career.

    It was only after 1) we saw the effects of "Roid Rage" first hand on college campus, 2) the death of Lyle Alzado, and 3) the implosion of multiple professional football and baseball careers due to the steroid abuse (like Tony Mandarich, Ken Caminiti, Mo Vaughn, etc.) that the argument "against" taking steroids started to influence athlete behavior.

    Take away any fame and monetary reward resulting from PEDs as quickly and publicly as possible.

    And PEDs is a tricky one because if a borderline athlete has the means to break through via PED use then the temptation may always be there.

    Maybe the sport of ultra marathon running should just stay small and weird and we can let the fame seekers go somewhere else.

  15. @travisliles

    This sport is becoming mainstream and that is a hard pill to swallow (pun fully intended) for those that got in because of the low budget, low fanfare sort of an outing that it once was. There is no going back despite what some may want. The old school events are not gone entirely but in general the major events in the sport and many of the new ones popping up are evolving to fit the new model of sponsors, monetary awards, RD's as a full time job, and large production value, etc. None are bad just different from the roots of the sport. That is what changes the conversation on cheating. When the stakes increase then the scrutiny does as well for all parties involved.

    A race that is offering up prize money or is viewed as an event that could lead to "fame" has to test and should have some set of guidelines that they have to follow to make it easier for the race to conduct the tests. The event itself as well as the sponsors could take on these costs. Testing is pricey and roughly eats up the entire cost of an entry after the upfront costs but the sport has changed for everyone so the price of doing business is increasing across the board. If the fee is passed on to the field then they will vote with their pocketbooks, though history shows that increasing fees is not stopping anyone from signing up for major events.

    In terms of lower key and local events…. It sucks that I train hard and can show up somewhere and get beat by a cheater (any type of cheating). However, this sport has been dealing with that the entire time it has been going on. I don’t want to pay $400 for a local 100 miler because we have to drug test and I can’t expect an RD doing it for the love of the sport to pour over lists of banned athletes. If we want to keep having small old school events, then we have to accept that it is out there and let the court of public opinion deal with it. Just like we do in every other aspect of life. As an RD that put on a low margin event I can say very firmly that we could not have taken on the cost of drug testing and kept our prices where they are or we would have had to significantly lower the quality/expectation of the event.

    If an event wants to be the Boston, Chicago, Kona, or.. (insert big event name here) then they need to prepare for the added pressure of putting on a clean event. Conversely a runner trying to compete at a high level in these events also needs to be ready for the added inspection. This is no different than we treat local small 5ks where the stakes are low up to Olympic qualifiers where the stakes are high.

  16. Duluthian

    I'm a hematologist, who is very interested in the subject of doping.

    Here are a few educated guesses:

    In terms of QUANTITY, most dopers within North American ultra running is probably found in the masters divisions. These people probably don't think of what they are doing as cheating per se. A natural part of aging is a drop in testosterone and growth hormone, so when a 50-year old is frustrated with his/her performance declining, it may not seem like such a big deal to take DHEA or another testosterone replacement.

    This was, after all, the story behind the ONLY North American ultra runner convicted of doping. I won't write her name, after following the (in my opinion) witch hunt of Elisa Desco. This unnamed runner was done with her suspension in October of this year and should be allowed to race freely, I think.

    In terms of doping QUALITY, or as Lance Armstrong called it, high-octane doping, I personally don't think it's very prevalent In North America, if at all present. Once an athlete's doping involves a cocktail of drugs, including EPO equivalents, he/she had better be consulting a hematologist or similar doctor. I could be naive, but I don't think it exists here. Even in the heyday of doping of cycling, the smaller US teams had no access to high-octane doping and new riders on USPS would be surprised by how organized the doping was on that team.

    I think high-octane doping exists to some degree in Southern Europe, particularly Spain and Italy. Both are countries with terrible doping track records, and I don't think that culture has gone away, just because people move up from the marathon into ultra running.

    The above is nothing but speculations, of course, so take it with a grain of salt.

    1. @SageCanaday

      Thank you for posting! Again, I want to reemphasis how a transgression like "high octane doping" (i.e. EPO use) is much much more severe than basically any other "drug use" in terms of integrity but also in terms of performance and what sort of ban (duration etc) one may "deserve" to receive.

      I don't know much about EPO, but I've run against guys on the road who've been busted for it. One guy admits that when he was on "the juice" he finally felt like one of those feather weight Kenyans…4:50/mile pace for a half marathon felt like a "jog." He also has said that once one makes that decision to take EPO there is no turning back and one should not be allowed to ever race again.

      I believe Lance was said to not only be on EPO/HGH etc. but a whole cocktail of PEDs…and he took that crap for years.

      So what are we looking at here, maybe a 3-5% improvement in performance at the bare minimum (that's a ton!) and the ability to recover like a superman. Benefits for years after the fact as well. What say you, Duluthian?

      1. Duluthian

        Sage, no one knows, because it has not been studied.

        If I were to guess, I would say that EPO has no long-term benefits. In fact, you may even harm yourself by becoming too dependent on it. Rumor had it that Jan Ullrich lost his EPO responsiveness. In fact, in patients on EPO, it's common that they need a steadily higher dose over years.

        When you bulk up with HGH and testosterone, I agree that OF COURSE these effects last for years. Justin Gatlin bulked up with choice cuts of lean meanness during his doping days, and that muscle is still on him. Doesn't matter how it was made, it's still there.

        For your competition, however, I don't think the answer is as easy as for the sprinters. Too much bulk can hurt you, of course. When looking at the way the most successful dopers doped (and dope), it was as much about keeping the weight down (with stimulants, but also with HGH). Testosterone for the endurance athlete is more about recovery than building muscle, so I think the long term effects are less if any).

        I wonder if you are referring to Christian Hesch in your post. His honesty gave some interesting insight into how one starts taking EPO. When I first read his testimony, I couldn't help thinking, how did he know how much to take? How often did he have his blood tests? Was he really all alone (and super lucky to land on the right dose)?

        1. @SageCanaday

          Thanks for the info.

          What about the idea that if one is on EPO they can train/recover at a higher level (much like the HGH/testosterone combo)…so over time the "training effect" benefit might help for another year or two?

          I think in MUT Running the added muscle strength/power could be very helpful as bombing downhills and grinding up hills tears up one's legs the most. That seems to be a limiting factor always for me at least. So strength is key…it's not all about Vo2max or Lactate Threshold! Also, a high/fast recovery rate from Long Runs.

          I actually was referring to Christian. I believe he was actually an RN (or training to be one).

    2. Adrian

      This is an amazingly naive comment. It is exactly what used to be said about cycling and then it turned out that almost every North American pro had been on the sauce, your national junior team was systematically doped and amateurs were being busted at turns too. NA pro-sports are riddled with it, but it’s only the euros in your chosen sport, and if there are any NAs,then only those who are older (with a half justification thrown in to boot).

      EPO is readily available on the Web and micro-dosing effectively is just a google search away. I think this sport, like cycling and athletics, is in for a rude awakening.

      1. Duluthian

        I think we agree more than you imply, Adrian.

        However, I'm referring to the systematic multi-drug dosing seen in cycling, consisting of HGH, testosterone analogues, EPO and blood transfusions. Even on US domestic cycling teams, this did not exist. Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis both testified in great detail that they had never blood doped before USPS. You could argue that they were lying, but they sound believable to me. The equipment needed to tap the blood, store it and transfuse is safely, was simply beyond the budget of smaller teams.

        Sure, you can buy EPO on the net. But. How much would you take? How often would you check your hematocrit? How would you take it in relation to a goal race? I have treated countless patients with EPO and it's not an exact science at all. Sometimes you overshoot; sometimes, there is no effect at all. I, personally, would be very scared of taking EPO without being able to check my hematocrit very often.

        Don't forget that in "high-octane" doping's glory days, the EPO was taken in the off-season in order to be able to tap a few units of blood that could then be transfused in small doses during the Tour. EPO itself does not give you an immediate effect that is useful during a period of a steady drop in hematocrit, such as the Tour or a very heavy period of training.

        But, again, I think casual single-drug doping is fairly prevalent and, again, especially among competitive masters, who look at it like "just getting back up to normal".


          There is an exceptional documentary available on the BBC where a reporter went to a lab for a set of performance tests, went home and spent the next 6 or so weeks taking EPO he bought off the web, using micro-dosing techniques he looked up on google and then he went and repeated his tests – big improvements all around. Access to HGH and Testosterone is equally as easy and equally simple to obtain dosing guidelines for on the web. The only thing I would wager that you are right about, is they are not blood doping – but even then there might be exceptions, Ricardo Ricco nearly killed himself when he self administered a blood bag that he kept in his kitchen fridge (stupid and now the recipient of a 12 year doping ban).

          The simple truth is, you don't need the likes of USPS behind you to dope in the manner of Armstrong, Landis and Co., you can simply do it yourself these days with the aid of a credit card and a laptop. Hence, I stand by my original comment – this sport will almost certainly have systematic dopers operating in it today, in Europe, in North America, in Asia, Australasia.


  17. _RobHoughton

    Great article. I agree with almost everything in your article. I am sure there will be runners in the ultra world who are currently taking PED's or have done so in the past. I agree that a lifetime ban is the only way to both provide the deterrent and penalty. What worries me is micro dosing using EPO where the level of drug is so small that is undetectable but the impact of the repeated micro dose is real and enhancing. The biological passport is some help but only shows changes from when the passport was started. What happens if the athlete takes PED's prior to the first medical assessment for the passport?
    On the subject of of who pays for the testing and who is tested, if there are monetary prizes then those prize winners should be tested. To pay for the testing some of the prize money, should be diverted to paying for testing. Thus the races with the deepest pockets pay for and complete the testing; as is the case with the big city marathons.
    Good luck in getting the issue up the agenda.

  18. geezer123

    I'm pretty positive many master/grandmaster runners use testosterone and either don't bother to report it or don't even know it is a PED. I mean if I DONT use testosterone, am I on an equal footing as someone who does?

    Don't kid yourself if you think this is only any issue for "elites". Age class competition is fierce and associated with significant "swag".

  19. Bryon of iRunFar

    Hi all,
    Thanks for the great, civil discussion here. It's great to hear the variety of opinions and to delve a little deeper into the nuances of this admittedly complicated issue. Please carry on with it!

    Just a quick reminder that not only is it not productive to the conversation to make unfounded accusations, even inferential against a group or individual, we don't permit it.

    Thanks again,

    1. johnnyb2122

      I was wondering what happen to that post. I posted a civil response to him. But I really wanted to be mean. It's actually been one of the best civil discussions I have seen on the Internet ever. Loving it.

  20. Archangel_Tex

    Super-informative article and comments. This fulfills my "doping article" quota for the month quite nicely. Yes, I set a limit on how many of these I read in much the same way I chose years ago to stop watching the local evening news. Stopping watching the local evening news with its negativity and body counts has enriched my life immensely. Those who wallow in the negativity of the local news do, however, accuse me of sticking my head in the sand. But that's the price I pay for maintaining balance. Similarly, I stopped reading several of the most popular running sites that daily headline the latest micro-developments in athletes suspected or proven to have doped. I'm a little less informed, but have maintained joy. I seek out the sites that emphasize the challenge or joy of running — something this site, for the most part, does well.
    This is the view from the amateur side. :-) The elites obviously need to discuss this important issue.

    1. Meghan Hicks

      Archangel_Tex, I hope you visit back to the website tomorrow. I’m editing a fascinating and hilarious interview with the brand-new IAU 50k World Champ Tony Migliozzi to publish tomorrow. The dude’s won a half marathon wearing jeans and flannel. We’ll try to balance out with a little levity and positivity. Thanks for commenting and sharing your perspective.

    1. ad

      Ha ha, good luck with that. The most successful dopers in history, lance armsrong and Marion Jones never tested positive. If you want to dope and not get caught, a simple Google search will teach you how to get roo, testosterone, ugh, etc. from your doctor, as well as what to say to get a therapeutic use exemption. Hint, go to an anti-aging doctor, there are quite a few in Durango, for example. If you choose to order your roo from China, Google will also teach you how to microcode. Google will also teach you how to blood dope, which requires a very expensive test to catch. In the end, these tests will only catch stupid people.

  21. kconnelly8233

    Interesting posting, Ian. To answer your questions directly:

    "Do you believe in the integrity of the sport of ultra and trail running currently?" — I'm 100% certain a segment of ultra runners (elites and others) cheat with PEDS. To deny at least some ultra runners cheat would be intellectually dishonest.

    "What do you think about the proposals above to keep the sport cleaner?" — You make some very good points/suggestions. I just don't see how you police PED use with non-elites — there's too many of us crappy wanna be Ian Sharman runners out there!! With the elites, I believe it is the sponsors' responsibility to thoroughly PED test their athletes. This would a) disincentivize those looking to be sponsored to cheat, b) disincentivize those currently sponsored to cheat, and c) mimimize the chance a sponsor pays someone to cheapen their image/brand with PEDs.

    "Should dopers be banned for life?" From races, yes. From trails, no ;)

    1. Meghan Hicks

      kconnelly, thank you for the very thoughtful elements of your comment. However, your rude statement about Ian is against our comment policy. (It may have been intended as funny, but it can also be interpreted as disrespectful.) We will disallow further rude statements about specific people by you from here out. Thanks for respecting our comment policy and everyone participating in this conversation.

      1. kconnelly8233

        I had not intended to be perceived as rude. My apologies. My point about Ian was a lot of us runners wish we had his talent in the sport. No worries. Happy running!

  22. astroyam

    I'm all for life time bans on people caught for EPO, HGH, testosterone, and other heavy hitting PEDs. Why bother with a short ban, just nip it in the bud.
    Now marijuana, I'm not clear on. I don't smoke or eat or enjoy it myself at all, but I've certainly tried it enough to think it would not help me in a race. Should this really be banned? I can tell you that if I'm in a race and the guy next to me is high, I don't mind. If he or she has more enjoyment from the race high, fine by me. Other than calming nerves, is there a real benefit?

    1. johnnyb2122

      The thing about marijuana is that it is banned and runners (especially elite or professional) should not be using it if they want to be making money off running. Until that is overturned, runners who use marijuana are cheating. There are runners sponsored by marijuana companies saying they benefit greatly from using it during training and racing. Not sure why they would say they are benefiting from it if they aren't any benefits. But it is illegal to use in racing. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against marijuana. If they make it legal to use in training and racing, smoke'm up and pass the Funyuns.

      1. Bryon of iRunFar

        As you note, marijuana is prohibited from being in an athlete's system during competition. Ethanol (i.e., alcohol) falls into the same category for designated sports. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong (I'm no WADA/USADA expert), but I think that means that the rules/governing bodies tolerate out of competition (and out of the bloodstream before competition) use of both marijuana and, for the relevant sports, ethanol.

        (This is all outside whether it's legal to use in a given location.)

        1. corunr

          @Bryon, I think you are right on the out of competition angle for cannabinoids and ethanol. Both USADA and WADA are ok with it out of competition. Another interesting angle to consider is that the NCAA prohibits cannabinoids out of competition so another set of rules that may apply to a subset of runners (in addition to the legality or lack thereof depending on where you live)… Hard to keep track of it all.

      2. astroyam

        The reason they might say that they benefit, when they don't, is simply that it could help sell the product for which they are sponsored. As far as performance goes, I can see in long races, maybe it masks the discomfort. But so do cushioned shoes. It's not the same kind of performance enhancement as EPO, HGH, testosterone.

    2. Johnny

      Should these rules apply to people who aren't competing professional or competing at the front of the field? Let's say a guy in his late 40s or early 50s is taking testosterone replacement therapy just to improve his everyday life: feel better, be stronger, fuck harder, and recover faster. But he also has a hobby of ultra running where he usually runs in the mid-pack or back of pack. Is it wrong for him to be taking medically prescribed testosterone? Should he not be allowed in races?

  23. BrettSC

    I believe I recall an anonymous survey one time of 600 (was that it?) ultrarunners (was it on IRF?) and the results were 9% responded that they had doped before. That is truly amazing to me and illustrates the challenges we will continue to face in this regard.

    Many of us had a gut feeling something was not right in Russia and Kenya and it took several years to begin to ferret that out, but our instincts are proven correct. This 9% response (if I am remembering the numbers correctly) means there are a lot of folks we know out there running trails who are cheaters. Its going to be a sad day if or when any household names get busted. I am staying optimistically naive that there was something vague in that survey to which people included more than they needed to in the definition of doping (altitude tents or IVs or something).

    1. BrettSC

      Found it:

      "In 2011, more than 2,000 track and field athletes were asked to complete an anonymous survey on doping. 29% of the athletes in the 2011 IAAF World Championships in Athletics and 45% in the 2011 Pan-Arab Games admitted they used PEDs."

      "On June 16, 2015, I asked the ultrarunning community to participate in a cursory one-question, yes-or-no answer anonymous survey: Have you ever used a performance-enhancing drug (PED) while training for or participating in an organized ultramarathon (a running/hiking event/race of 50K in length or longer)? For the purposes of this survey PEDs include: testosterone, any steroid derivatives, blood doping, ephedrine, prescription painkillers or narcotics, insulin, erythropoietin (EPO), human growth hormone (HGH), marijuana, or (meth)amphetamine. In the end, 705 ultrarunners responded of which 9% have used PEDs."

      So according to people's own responses, ~30% of elite athletes admit to cheating, and ~9% of ultrarunners admit to cheating.

      This topic is as relevant as ever.

  24. ad

    Hey Bryon did you delete my comment, why? Also, it is my understanding that you have in the past disclosed the identity of people who commented anonymously. Call for comment.

    1. Bryon of iRunFar

      Personally, I hadn't seen your previous comment, but it's never been deleted. Most doping-related comments on iRunFar go to moderation first (I'm guessing yours did), as in the past there's been an issue with baseless accusations against individuals or specific small groups. We're checking in on comments as often as we can, but we did sleep last night. Comments were checked and posted first thing this morning. :-)

      It's possible that once or twice in the history of iRunFar. (I don't recall, honestly, as there've been 65,000 comments.) If I have, it would have been for good reason and after attempting to contact the commentor privately. Also, it's been a while since anonymous comments have been permitted on iRunFar, so that's not an issue at this time.

  25. @Watoni

    As sad/cynical as this may sound:
    It is inconceivable to me that some trail/ultras runners, elite and non-elite, dope. My experience cycling is that amateurs and pros alike cheat — setting aside the Tour de France, I was at an amateur gran fondo in Italy 10+ years ago where they busted many people for using EPO! No prize money, no real glory to speak of …. just a risk of death.
    Even with rigorous out of competition testing, controls during races, etc. cycling is still not 100% clean. There is no budget in ultra/trail running for something like a biological passport system and it is not foolproof anyway. The best defense now is culture and frankly the lack of money. Real doping is expensive (or just extremely dangerous — see Riccardo Ricco's self-administered blood transfusion and near death). Ban anyone caught from competing in elite fields, but realize the chances of detecting cheaters is fairly slim at this point in ultra/trail racing.
    So what is my takeaway? Run because you love it, not for anyone else. Elites trying to make a living need to worry about doping, but I personally have no need to worry about it. And, to respond to one comment about Lance and the brouhahah about him racing this weekend on my home trails — Lance is not the problem. He is not an elite trail runner, never will be. I would not care if he finished ahead of me at a trail race …. YMMV

  26. dgsum

    I do not think "cheaters" is a good lable at all.
    These are NOT people that stole the answers from the teacher for the math test. Dopers improve their performance using 100 different methods, non-dopers use only 99 methods.

    I have never used or wanted to use them. But as an ultra runner, coach, and former powerlifter – I do not care at all if adults choose to do so, nor do i think they should have such strict bans in noncontact sports. Sport where you endanger other people, like boxing and football should have restrictions though, but not running, baseball, cycling, etc. The main reason why people are against PEDs is because of the word Drugs, it is a word with baggage.

    And please dont use the silly "level playingfield" line, as if that actually exists anywhere. How about lets ban anyone who lives above 5,000 ft., and anyone who has their own vegetable garden, and anyone takes extra iron and protein, or anyone who has parents that are good runners, or anyone who can afford a running coach, or anyone who trains in a sauna, or anyone who eats Wheaties, or anyone who can take naps during the day, or anyone who is practiced in meditation, or anyone who has a heartrate monitor, or anyone who eats GU…………………

    1. EmersonTA

      You get a thumbs up for honesty, but a thumbs down for logic and ethics. In your world there are no rules, because everything is viewed as the moral equivalent of everything else. If I ate broccoli this morning I am the same as the guy who had testosterone for breakfast. In your world it is easy to dope because one leaves their conscience and guilt at the door. If that's the way you rationalize life, so be it. But trying to sell it as logical, ethical, or reasonable is nonsense.

      1. dgsum

        It does not seem you understand what ethics or logic are, but hyperbole you know for sure! Seriously, read it again, there are no logical claims, maaaaaaaybe you could doctor an ethic out of what I said, but only if you acknowledged that most people agree with what I said, but that was not my intent.

        My grief is that everyone’s reaction to PEDs is so predictable and knee-jerk, and rarely do people ever try to examine the topic without the assumption that PEDs are bad, whatever “bad” means to you (which is a moral claim, not an ethical claim). I am not even saying they are “good”. Read again!

        And don’t be silly and compare testosterone injections with broccoli (broccoli for BREAKFAST nonetheless!). I know it is easy to use hyperbole and simplify an argument when you have none of your own, but try to resist. My claim was that no level playing field or absolute fairness exists anywhere, nor should it. My claim is that there are 100 ways to become more athletic, and no single person does them all OR has the luxury to do so.

        I only wonder why the greater society picks out just a few training methods (and PEDs are a training method, it is not black magic), and label them as the ultimate Soviet evil. It would be easy to argue that hiring a running coach is not only a more effective performance enhancer, but it is also elitists and WAY beyond the level playing field (and I am a running coach!)

        Please reply but Closed Minds are not allowed :-)

        PS: I never give specific advice to athletes about nutrition, supplementation, and drug use – I believe such things should be discovered and tinkered with on their own. I do tell them what I myself eat and consume. And again, I don't use PEDs….except caffeine, which is a PED!

        1. EmersonTA

          "I only wonder why the greater society picks out just a few training methods (and PEDs are a training method, it is not black magic), and label them as the ultimate Soviet evil."

          Let me try and help you figure out this thing called "civilization." In civilization we make various laws and rules. The idea is to create justice, whether in the courts or on the playing field. In pursuit of justice, we try to delineate between right and wrong. In your world of "wondering," there is no right and wrong. Rather, if something "works" — training with a good coach — it is equated with something else that "works" — doping. This is a brain fail. Understand, once there are rules, and once one breaks those rules, one has cheated. It's as simple as that. There are various levels of cheating, so try not to equate all cheating, or you will again be engaging in more flawed logic. Finally, if you believe there is no right and wrong — only results — then join an Ultra regulatory board and work to change the rules to allow doping, or direct an ultra race that allows doping as legal. Then, if someone complains about dopers cheating in your race I will defend you.

  27. @beerback

    Considering the near unanimity among commenters here, it's particularly curious that ITR chose to allow Armstrong to race. Their decision and post-race explanation reveal a very different perspective to nearly all those shared in this forum. So, our broader community, including race directors, should be very interested to see if ITR's decision adversely affects their business…basically, will we put our money where our mouths are?

  28. Luke_B

    As a cycling fan that lived through the denial years of course I think cheating is happening at the elite level. And as a matter of principle I'm against cheating. I'm just not sure I can tell you what cheating is in all cases.

    I don't know if a 55 year old who can't do what he used to do and gets diagnosed with and receives treatment for low T is cheating or just being smart. I can tell you I don't care and if I faced this I would probably make that decision if recommended by a doctor I trusted. Should it matter that I said low T and not low iron, or hypothyroidism, or diabetes?

    I don't know if someone who because of genetics has a biological advantage in several dimensions affecting performance, but a disadvantage in another for which he gets treatment and a TUE is getting an unfair advantage over someone who is because of genetics is just average in all dimensions. Why is it ok to use chemistry to raise your level to the average but not to the elite level when it is done in a safe, medically supervised way and leads to an overall benefit to quality of life? If the idea of competition is to just let genetics and preparation decide the winner, get rid of TUEs. I think this is a bad idea personally. And who says letting genetics decide is fair and best for the sport anyway?

    1. dgsum

      And there are so many contradictory rules from sport to sport. For example cortisone can be injected into an NFL runningbback at half time (or hell, even a high school runningback!) and that is fine, but it is banned in some other sports, like cycling I think, but I could be wrong about that.

  29. trailfiend

    Thanks for one of the clearest pieces of writing on this issue as it relates to trail. This BBC investigation,Catch Me If You Can,really points to the hazards of putting faith in a testing regime. It always seemed strange to me that the dopers in cycling were never simply picked up for the number of infusion scars they must have had. Investigation into practices more than chemistry seems the way to go.

  30. Buzz

    I can say with absolute certainty that no "doper" has ever cheated me in a race.

    That's because I'm not interested in what others might be doing, only what I am doing. I am going to go out there hard, throw it down, have a great time, all of which is my experience, which I am the only judge of. This is a core value of running, why 32 million people have started running in the US, so let's not lose sight of it. It's quite likely I finished 17th in some race sometime instead of 16th because someone ahead of me took something they weren't supposed to, but considering 3.1 million children will starve to death this year alone, to freak out because some moron cheated and finished ahead of me would be a serious lose of perspective on what is important in life.

    Professional runners naturally have a different perspective. Unlike the other 99.99% of us, by definition they are running for money, so losing one place in a race might mean the lose of income, so I completely respect that professionals would view breaking this set of rules much more seriously. Thus, it makes perfect sense that professional races must enforce these rules just like all the rules.

    Likewise, since very few ultra/trail races or runners participate for money, it also makes perfect sense that we are careful to balance the approach to drug cheating so that we do no harm to the sport and negatively impact our reasons for participating.

    If we could, "Test everyone, kick out the cheaters, and the sport would be fair", then great – 110% agreement from everyone. But as everyone knows, the issue is vastly more difficult and complex than that. Testing is very expensive, time-consuming, and not accurate. Plus, what is being tested for is stunningly subjective – alcohol kills tens of thousands of people every year yet is being celebrated by many runners, while EPO literally saves many lives every year and is condemned (correctly so in this circumstance I should add). Tests show Caffeine is by far the most efficacious PED, and it's not just legal by is taken by virtually everyone, while HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) is another life-saver for tens of thousands of middle-aged women, has been classified as illegal for runners, while tests show zero performance-enhancing benefit. Fairness? Can you afford an oxygen tent or can you not? A coach? Do you work 40 hours a week and squeeze in a run at night before putting the kids to bed, or do you sleep in as long as you want, get up and go for an excellent training run followed by a nap and post on Facebook about the cool things you just did?

    In summary:
    * I definitely believe there has to be rules and we definitely have to enforce those rules!
    * And I believe in fairness, which isn't quite the same as the rules we have now.
    * And I believe keeping a perspective on our sport, why we love it and why we actually do it, and noting that when a billion people are at risk of murder, death, or starvation, we might want to relax a little and be grateful for the incredible bounty of our lives and our opportunity to run for pure pleasure, while we simultaneously work to resolve our problems around that.

  31. Hillrunner50

    I have been doing mountain and ultrarunning long enough to have seen a lot of growth, a lot of it positive and a lot of it negative. I don't race as much as I used to because the racing takes a toll on the body and I want to keep being able to run, but I have become quite skeptical not so much of the fast young runners, but of the older runners. Yeah, maybe a few elite runners might dope, but there just isn't much of a financial incentive for most of them, except maybe the ones with big sponsorships on the line (Kilian, etc). I have seen quite a lot of age 40+ year old runners who are running race after race after race and not only competing well but recovering extremely well. It's the fast recovery with race after race that causes me to be cynical and believe that a lot of them have to be on something. Unfortunately not much can be done about it if it were to be true.

  32. Alex Turos

    Hi Ian –
    Over the years I’ve become disillusioned with multiple sports due to doping. MLB in ’98 w/ Sosa & McQuire. The Olympics, the 2017 ‘Icarus’ documentary was just so disheartening. I was a HUGE cycling fan, but cooled to it in 2006, well before Lance was finally netted. And I’m sure there is a story there, since he was almost allowed to compete in the Ironman World Championships. Triathlon, Crossfit, all of it. And, now I’m afraid, ultra-running.

    What is the common demomenator for sports to be invaded by doping? Money. The more a given sport has a narrow pyramid of top earnings for the very few, the more fuel is thrown onto finding an advantage. IMHO, league based sports should pay players fairly and equally for their salaries. If you are a break-out star (LeBron James, Tom Brady), then you will earn sponsorships. That’s where the award comes. But when you are in the huddle or practice with your team, everyone is paid the same. I’d be interested to see even one team of one league take this course and see if that equality resulted not only in less doping, but a better TEAM.

    Can that then be extrapolated across singular sports events such as running, crossfit, triathlon, cross-country skiing? These tend to be non-team based sports with athletes earning money from sponsorships. Again the top paying sponsors have had the murkiest record with athletes testing positive: see Nike. Then when an athlete is found to have tested positive the sponsor says, ‘we knew nothing of this’. When in fact, if you ask around, you find that it was more of a ‘don’t ask – don’t tell’ policy on the sponsors part. SIGH. I would be curious if a less hodgepodge form of salary would help in these instances. Not really a ‘team’ or ‘league’ but some sort of ‘confederation’ for these such sports. Something that would allow a base salary, healthcare and sick / family leave for athletes.

    Leveling the salary support for athletes would cool the urge to dope. Competition should stay on the field of play and away from having to fight for a living wage. I know that sounds like a fairy tale, but when I weigh it against the prospect of tracking, following, testing 10,000 athletes a year on a insufficient budget, it seems more realistic.

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