If we are trying to see who is the best on any given day, the playing field has to be even. It also has to be comparable to other playing fields at other times without influence if we want to gauge a performance against a specific finishing time.
Training is pretty much free range. You can do as many miles and go as hard as you like as often as you want. You can race as hard as you want on equipment that fits general guidelines as well. Yes, we have rules about what constitutes fair play on race day. But we all generally try to abide by those.
But we do limit what’s acceptable for helping an athlete recover quicker than their bodies would do naturally. We also set borders on what they can take to boost their ability to gain benefit from their training. This is the realm of Hormone Therapy and PED’s. With rare exception, if you do any of that and race, it’s considered cheating. You’ve gained an unfair advantage over your fellow competitors who are staying within the guidelines of fair play.
But this is not the real core issue. The real question is how to reduce the number of athletes racing who are on Hormone Therapy or taking PED’s?
The front line on this is indeed the drug testing. It’s becoming more prevalent especially in the age group ranks where we know athletes have gotten away with murder over the years because they knew they would not get tested. Those days are numbered. The professionals are already under the microscope about as much as is possible.
But even with all that, there are those sneaking and sliming their way through the backdoors that are nearly endless and are getting away with cheating. This will never change dramatically until one thing happens. And that one thing is when en masse it becomes culturally totally and completely unacceptable to tolerate this type of behavior.
When we all become vocal about our complete disapproval of the use of PED’s there’s a good guarantee that their use will drop off the cliff. That voice needs to come from everyone in every training group big and small when it becomes clear that a member in that group is on something. That someone needs to be ostracized. Yes, it is a radical concept! But then turning our collective backs and just walking away in private disgust does nothing to stem the problem.
We need to call people out to our sport’s governing bodies when we have strong or even substantiated suspicion of a cheating violator. If that person suddenly has their name on a “random” test list, well, then let the results of that set the record straight. Maybe they will get caught, and that would be vindication for all suspicions! If the result is negative, then we will know they made a huge and amazing breakthrough legally. That helps to elevate them to even higher esteem. It’s not unfair to them to call them out. It’s the only way to have things fair for you.
Great gains can be made! Mind bending results can be posted. Just because you have not figured out how to do what another has done is in no way a sign that they are doing something illegal.
But unfortunately, the small number of athletes who are unwilling to play by the game book the rest of us are following are likely to be those who are also going to influence the top end of the results. Someone who finishes second from last is probably not going to think “Geez, if I had done Hormone Therapy I could have moved up five spots”. But someone who finishes second overall may have that thought come into their brain, and then act on it. And if the result after PED’s does get them to the top, well, it’s likely they will continue.
That influences the sport overall. The top people are the ones others look up to and aspire to match. But if they are at the top illegally, then we are all chasing ghosts rather than true greats in our sport.
In 1989 I won my first IRONMAN World Championship against Dave Scott as many of you know. It came on my seventh attempt at the race with the six previous being wrought with disaster. That epic battle produced a winning time that was almost 27-minutes faster than I had ever gone in those previous six races. I set a marathon split of 2:40:04 that stood for 27-years.
That was a mind-boggling improvement. It could have easily been looked at as something only possible by taking PED’s. I mean, how does someone who has only broken 9:00hrs twice in his six previous IROMAN World Championships suddenly go sub 8:10? How could someone who had a PR of 8:36:04 suddenly go an 8:09:15?
Yes, in IRONMAN you can make big gains especially if you are just starting out. But I was seven years into that pie. So to make that type of improvement was astronomical. Yet I did it without PED’s or hormone therapy. It came partially because I finally figured out how to train for that race. I finally found the mindset that got me ready to deal with the pressure of it. And then there was tapping into the whole spirit of the race and the Island.
All those pieces are stories for the campfire on another day. But the takeaway is that amazing is possible even if you stay within the rules of engagement. So let’s clean things up and make every result and finish and performance that is outstanding be clean, inspiring and nothing we ever have to question!
I am the Founder and CEO at Mark Allen Coaching. I am proud to have been voted in an ESPN global poll "The Greatest Endurance Athlete Of All Time." During my multi-sport career I won the Ironman Triathlon World Championship six time, the inaugural Triathlon World Championship at the Olympic Distance in Avignon, France, and at one point in my career I won 21 straight races across every derivation and distance. It was a great career, but that's all it would ever be unless I was able to share all of the experience and methodology we invented long before smart watches, power meters, and flashy uniforms. That's why I started Mark Allen Coaching, as a way to return to others at least the part of the gifts I received.