Friday, January 24, 2014

Should There Be Drug Testing At Trail Races?


Should There Be Drug Testing At Trail Races?

Need the question even be asked?  Trail running seems to me to be one of the purest sports available.  Although there are many reasons to become involved in trail running, one of them has to be its simplicity.  A pair of shoes, shorts and a shirt, some food, and a good trail are all you need to be a trail runner.  Insert the word road for trail above and everything changes.  With roads come things like asphalt, manmade structures, crowded courses, huge corporate sponsors, and maybe doping-worthy purses.  How do performance enhancing drugs (not to be confused with experience enhancing drugs) enter the simple equation of trail running?  Since the question has been posed I’ll assume it has become a reality.  What follows is an attempt to break down the few potential reasons why someone might select trail running as a sport, and then take drugs to be better at it.   

Time on the Trail – Trail running is not easy.  We do it in part because it is hard, because we are unsure of our own ability to complete something so monumental.  We put in lots of hours . . . lots.  Performance enhancing drugs, on the other hand, are a shortcut to excellence.  These two personality traits (dedication and apathy) are in conflict with one another.  Why choose something so difficult to cut corners?

Fame – Most of us find fame in recognizing old race acquaintances, reading a race report on a blog, and maybe even achieving a personal best.  We enjoy reading about elite runners, and watching them in person is a real treat, but we all run the same distance.  My ability to recall the names of the people I meet at events is already poor.  How can I be expected to favor an elite runner I have never met?  Enrichment through fame is limited.

Money – I would guess that winning these races will not make one rich.  There may be free gear, entry fees and if one is really lucky, training in Europe on some shoe-maker’s dime (which would be amazing), but where is sustained wealth?  Using drugs, which cost money, to win belt buckles and usually small sums of money (if any at all) is counterintuitive.

Personal Success – Even in the absence of fame and money, success is tainted when drugs are used to achieve it.  Why run hours upon hours every day, spend a great deal of time planning with pacers and crews, only to ruin the purity of a win with drugs?  A really good runner, if he or she works hard, might be able to win.  If not, enjoy coming in sixth, 40th, or even last – the success is the journey taken to complete the distance.

Solutions are elusive, but here are a few suggestions:

We should separate trail running events into two classes.  We’ll have one class for Traitorous Ultrarunners Racing on DrugS, or T.U.R.D.S. for short.  RD’s can perform drug testing on the field of modified runners while crew members jostle for position at the aid stations.  For added excitement, they can include obstacles on the course and hang huge sponsor banners from the trees in some of the most remote stretches.  Then maybe it can be televised and all the runners can take breaks when they go to commercial!

Everyone I have ever met while trail running will choose the other class.  No need for a flashy name because none of us care much about such stuff.  We’ll be at the local race to see friends or a destination run to experience something new.  We will laugh together, experience snapshots of the Earth in its various moods, push ourselves in ways we never imagined, and in the process be renewed.

In truth, it seems to me the solution is much easier than drug testing.  Look each entrant in the eye, and ask them “Is there any place in the world you would rather be at this moment?”  Any reply other than an emphatic “No Way” is telling enough.

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