Saturday, 18 January 2014

Should there be drug testing at trail races?

Ok so this is an interesting topic and provided by Trail Runner Mag as part of their monthly blog symposium - check the shiny button (image) below!

Now as people who may have read my prior blogs will know I personally abhor cheats. I do not understand why people would do it. Well I do, we live in a ends justify the means type of culture. Actually blaming culture is probably a bit of an unfair bag for culture as we are biologically predisposed towards deceit.

Seriously, think about it everything you do. It all costs energy. If you can find a way of taking a short cut or of doing something a bit quicker or easier then nature demands that you do that (generally) because it would mean that you might be more successful than someone who is taking a long way round to do something. This feeling of finding the quickest and most efficient way of doing things is one of the key drivers that has helped shape our world, not just through natural selection but also through human engineering and design.

What this means is that we have a biological pressure to find a short way round. Added to this the constant reminders about getting what we want for very little (TV talent shows, lottery draws, cult of celebrity and bankers greed).

Now when it comes to sport people fall into two categories in my mind. 'Participation sportspeople' and 'winning is everything sportspeople'.

Now do not think either is good or bad, or has an advantage over the other because I don't think that is true.

For instance myself I am a participation-er. I want to get better but I don't really care to much about being number one because for me to finish events and to be out running is victory enough. How I would feel if I was up towards the front end of the pack I don't know, and I don't think I could put myself in the mind-set of an elite athlete who is vying for first position, sponsor money, places on a team and to secure their livelihood.

Where was I?

Oh yes. So some people are the 'winning is everything types', you know the ones, obsessed with PB's, trying new fad diets and uber-cool workouts that are so new the second half of it has not been written yet. They often do multiple other sports just to improve on their main sport - but you know if they got really good at the alternate sport they might stop doing their main sport! We all know a few of these and in most cases they are very nice people and mostly harmless (like the Earth in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy!)

However it can be a path to the Darkside the reason I say this is I always remember a sports physiology lecture I attended when I was a PGCE student (trainee teacher). Well the lecture was for a group of school kids but I was present. Anyway we were watching footage of the 1 hour record attempt in cycling (a sport notorious for doping). Now the reason why I bring this up is that it was a very tight contest however one cyclist had the edge slightly. This edge slowly increased over the hour and by the time the footage had finished the different between the two contestants was markedly different. How would you feel if you were always the other cyclist? Would the pressure to perform, to improve your time and beat someone else, would this eventually make you crack and take something nefarious? Something that would give you a slight advantage over your nemesis? Think every sprinter in the word against Usain Bolt at the moment!

Now these 'marginal gains' I have blogged about before, but whether it is technical, training or coaching athletes of all abilities want to improve. Whether you are a participation fun runner like me or a serious athlete with sponsors and a career, its when these gains take on the form of something banned that I have an issue, but then as I have said my take on trail running so far is that it is not one of those sports, yet.

I would like to believe that the people running trails and ultra events would never consider taking drugs and cheating, but then I don't know what pressures elite athletes are under from their sponsors or coaches. I also believed that Lance Armstrong was innocent and just a victim of his success, so my hunches are often a bit off track.

If people genuinely felt that some competitors were cheating, or taking substances which are banned well then testing has to come through and quickly. It is the only way to keep the sport fair and clean. It would signal also a few things.

First that the sport has reached the big time where the ends are justifying the means, that prize money and professionalism in the sport are worth cheating for. Secondly it would show that the sport is starting to be taken more seriously at an international level allowing our top professionals to start to rank up alongside mountain bikers, snowboarders, surfers and other 'alternative' sports in national in international conscious. Maybe this coming of age for trail running has to happen?

I for one though would however be vey upset and saddened on the day that is felt necessary though! Personally I love the rough and ready feel to trail running. That winning isn't everything and it is about finishing the course. The fact that we are all in it together. As I said maybe drugs testing is part of a sport hitting the big time and gaining legitimacy in the wider eyes of the world. I just feel personally that when trail running reaches that stage a little bit of the soul of our sport will have been lost, and we may never get that back.

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