Monthly Archives: October 2012
As the cascade of doping confessions continue to roll out of the Lance Armstrong debacle, a common refrain from those caught up in the doping during cycling’s dark age is that they felt “forced” to give in. That they had no choice. That they were trapped. How true was this? More importantly, before we begin casting stones, what would any of us have done in the same situation? What would you have done? What would I have done?
First, it is obviously true that no one was forced. No one was forcibly strapped on a gurney and injected with drugs by some evil Dr. Frankenstein of a team doctor. A rider could walk away. Some did. Scott Mercier saw how it worked, tried to keep up clean, knew he would fail, failed anyway, packed his bags and went home. In his interview, he states simply that he didn’t want it that much. Life as a pro cyclist had its attractions, but spending thousands on drugs that were against the rules (though basically undetectable) and had definite health risks just wasn’t worth it.
Bt what if you really did want it? What if being that guy flying up Alpe d’Huez was your boyhood dream? What if you struggled and suffered for a hundred thousand kilometers and you finally had a chance? A pro contract, and a shot at making the Tour de France team? And the team doctor said the only way you could recover enough or get fast enough was to get with the “program?” The program of course being the drugs necessary to produce that kind of performance. And that is what the Europeans meant by being “professional.” And that is what you always wanted to be. A Professional bike racer. You roll up your sleeve…
Would I have done it? The truth is, I don’t know. I can picture it two ways. The easiest cop out is my general lack of athletic ability. I can blame my genetics. I can easily believe that no matter what, I could never get to that point where I would have to make that decision. But what if I did? Would I walk away like Mercier? Or would I make room in the fridge next to the butter for a stash of EPO?
I would like to think that I would politely decline, buy a plane ticket back to the US and race domestically for a pittance until I was done and then get a real life. But I think I would have rationalized my way into it. I would have done what Tyler, George, Levi, and many others did. I would reason that everyone else was doing it. That it was a level playing field. Just as no one showed up with a beach cruiser, but equally state of the art racing bikes, real racers only showed up with “racing blood.” My paranoid side would be reassured that there was no test for EPO (the test showed up only on 2001) and a little paranoia would keep me testing clean. Most of all, in my head I would refuse to see myself as a “doper.” I would not let it define me. I would see it as temporary. I would raced for awhile, take advantage of the opportunity, then retire quietly and leave the scene. I would tell myself these things. I would probably believe them.
I don’t think I could let go of the question of “What if?” If I didn’t dope when so many others did, I would never know how good I could have been. And that unanswered question would haunt me. I don’t think I would see it as cheating if so many others did it and got away with it.
I guess then that I am a doper. At least mentally. I may never have taken EPO, testosterone, cortisone, HGH etc. but given the right circumstances, I would have. Fortunately for me, I was never faced with that decision, and my life is much more like Mercier than Armstrong. The truth is I don’t want it that much. I’m quite content to pedal around the woods aimlessly for fun. But the same mentality that leads to trying to improve performance chemically and illegally shows up in the motivation to try all sorts of dietary supplements. Same idea, just less performance and less risk. I confess to trying all manner of supplements. It’s not a big leap to doping. While we might justly condemn the dopers, we should reflect on the very natural and human feelings that lead to those decisions. Most of us cut corners, work the angles and chisel a little when we can. And who hasn’t suffered on a climb and wondered if a few more pharmaceutically acquired red blood cells might make all the difference? We can all be thankful not to be put ito a position where we have to compromise one part of our soul to give flight to another.
The Vegan Mofo project over at sister blog The Vegan Training Table is taking up nearly all time allotted to blogging. So I’ll split a post in two to prove to Google that Vegpedlr is alive and well and still blogging. The Vegan Training Table project is based on a theme of spotlighting and celebrating plant-based athletes both traditional and contemporary. It grew from my great respect and admiration for the Tarahumara and East Africans who have had tremendous success in distance running eating plant-based diets. They are not traditionally vegan, and they eat so little animal food out of necessity rather than choice. But they show that not only do athletes not need any animal food, they can do very well without. It is my opinion that such a diet is optimal. While East African and Tarahumara runners may not be vegan, their typical dishes can be easily adapted. I hope that they make me just as fast!
I already blogged about the Tarahumara, made famous in Born to Run, now it’s time to look to the great Rift Valley in East Africa, where the most successful competitive runners come from. No one country has dominated a single sport more than Kenya has dominated distance running. If you add in next door neighbour Ethiopia, you have near total domination. Many people have investigated this dominance, and there is no one answer to explain their continued success. Rather it is a number of factors, from living at altitude, barefoot running and a simple plant-based diet. Both of these countries are poor, and the dietary staples of runners are the same: unrefined starches in the form of whole grains and legumes along with seasonal fruits and vegetables. Very little meat, some dairy, and no supplements. That’s it. Simple.
For Ethiopians, the staples are injera, a fermented crepe like bread, and vegetable or legume stews. For the Kenyans, it’s ugali, a cornmeal like porridge similar to polenta, and leafy greens and legumes. Meat is for special occasions, since it’s just too expensive. And on this simple diet, these East Africans have won practically all international track races from 800m to the 10K, and most road marathons as well. That goes for both genders. They’re not held back by a “poor” diet, they lead the pack!
More on the typical nutrition of an African runner and why it works
Coming up at The Vegan Training Table:
Kenyan inspired dishes
Despite my recent fall hiatus from racing to allow for full recovery of mental and physical faculties, I decided at the last minute to jump into a neighborhood 5K just for fun. I almost never race on the road. I prefer the adventure and challenge of racing on trails. I also like that trails make comparing times much more difficult, and usually impossible. The temptation to become a numbers freak always worrying about times and paces disappears with the first rocky singletrack section.
But racing once in a while on roads or the track is good too. It’s nice to run on a consistent marked course to see what kind of pace I really can manage with my current level of fitness. If and when I do any anaerobic style training, I know what kind of pace to use. It also allows me to set reasonable time goals for the few events I want to do on the road, like a half marathon and eventually a full marathon.
I last ran this race a couple of years ago slightly faster.
I missed my 5K PR by 1.2 seconds!
Seriously, how can this be? I also ran the Squaw Mountain Run in nearly the exact same time as the previous year. How do I interpret these results?
The Glass is Half Empty:
All that slow aerobic Maffetone training isn’t helping. Train fast, if you want to race fast!
The Glass is Half Full:
I haven’t aged in three years. I’m capable of the same performance.
In reality, this has been a tough year since I started by missing all of January with pneumonia and had to start rebuilding my fitness from ZERO. So I’m not worried yet. I’ll stick to Maffetone for the time being because I enjoy it. I’ll run a half marathon instead of a full marathon for other, related reasons. My race pace now finally reflects my MAF test results, showing that my aerobic system is catching up with my anaerobic speed. So now the long, patient work of building an even bigger aerobic engine for next season begins. I’ll race again next month, then focus on MAF all the way to April before worrying about racing again.
5K Time: 23:00 41st overall out of 500(?) runners
Few people are so far under a rock as to not know about Lance Armstrong’s doping. Now his many supporters have some serious thinking to do about ethics while a 1,000 page report is in Switzerland being seriously thought about by the UCI.
Non-cyclist friends have occasionally asked if I thought Armstrong doped. For years, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Without failing a drug test, I was unwilling to accuse him. Like many, I wanted to believe the fairy tale. I also believe someone is innocent until proven guilty.
Why I Believed for Years:
- He trained extremely hard: his work ethic was legendary
- He trained smartly: he changed training methods that many others now follow
- He had a superb team, organized around one leader and focused of winning one race
- He and his team director were tactical geniuses
All of this is true. I thought for years that it was enough to explain how he could race clean and still win.
Why I Changed My Mind:
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
As the years went by and his closest competitors were popped for doping, it became increasingly harder to believe that he was THAT much better than they were to be able to beat them soundly while racing clean. At the highest level in any sport the margins of victory are very small.
Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.
- The 1999 failed cortisone test, conveniently excused by a backdated doctor’s note
- The 1999 EPO positive samples stored in a lab for research
- Showergate: not following the rules of testing procedure by disappearing into the bathroom for twenty minutes?!
- A few teammates spoke out, and were silenced: Emma O’Reilly, Frankie and Betsy Andreu.
- Two team doctors did not fight the charges.
But What About All Those Drug Tests?
This is what bothered me the most. I know many athletes have said that it’s easy to evade being caught, but it just seemed impossible to be able to get away with it for as long as Armstrong did. With that many tests, something would have to go wrong eventually if you were doping. The I read Tyler Hamilton’s book where he explains exactly how it’s done. I did a little more research and became convinced. Passing all your drug tests does not at all mean you’re not doping. Here’s how they do it:
Know When and Where the Tests Happen:
Most are during races, don’t dope during races.
Out of competition testing is infrequent, so train hard and dope hard.
Choose Methods that Are Hard to Detect:
There was no test for EPO until 2001, so why not use? There are still no reilable tests for HGH or blood transfusions. Testosterone is also very hard to detect. Doping with hormones leaves a narrow window of testability, but benefits that last for weeks.
Get the best doctors:
Pay them well, and use their expertise. Dr. Michele Ferrari was a genius.
Have a Plan “B”:
With a little warning, positive tests can be avoided by drinking a few liters of water and peeing it all out. Better yet, a “speed bag,” a quick saline injection that will alter blood values.
If Testers Come Knocking, Lie Low:
Literally. Tyler Hamilton describes a scene where he and his wife literally hit the floor and refused to answer the door when a drug tester knocked.
I’ve run out of reasons to believe Armstrong. Now the court of public opinion opens. Does the good work for cancer and cycling cancel out years of cheating, lying, and intimidating? We’ll see. It sucks to be doper!