Call me old school, but I think the beautiful and most exciting part of running is that it is an opportunity to see what the untainted human body is capable of. Through training, hard work, and dedication, we can do amazing things.
Unfortunately amazing things can be accomplished through other means as well. News just bursted wide open on an athlete I've met on several occasions, Christian Hesch, caught for using EPO. Not long before that, we all heard Lance Armstrong gave up fighting an uphill battle with the US Anti-Doping Agency. (Below are some links to the NY Times, and one to Hesch's own public apology for doping).
At this day and age, when these types of 'alternatives' are available, it seems that someone will always ask, "Why don't they just legalize everything and let the best man (or woman) win?"
I'll tell you why: It take everything PURE away from this sport and turns it into a technology/financial war. The person with the best tech team and the most money would win races, nothing would be left to chance, and there would be no excitement in even watching the sport anymore. There would be no such thing as 'miracles' in this sport, if it were left to become a free-for-all sport.
Think about it in really simple terms, as a kid, if you challenged another child to a race on the playground, would you call it fair if your friend pulls a bike from behind a bush and rides off and leaves you huffing and puffing on foot? NO. While doping might not look the same as hopping on a bike and riding away from the competition, it is not in the spirit of raw competition to take any shortcuts or easy ways out.
Of course, those shortcuts and easy ways out may tempt people at times, especially when they are down. To me, succumbing to the pressures and deciding to dope only demonstrates that you have truly given up, and believe that you are not good enough on your own to accomplish the things you, or others have said you can do.
I don't generally like to bring negative attention to anyone, but I feel moved by some of the responses to this breaking news about Hesch that I needed to get off my chest.
First, I saw a comment a meet director wrote on Christian Hesch's Facebook page. He basically wrote: "No doping controls at my race! ;) Hopefully we'll see you back next year."
SERIOUSLY? I usually LOVE to meet race directors because they are incredibly generous people who take the time to make an honest opportunity for people to race and see who is truly the best. A lot of times they personally do most of the fundraising to provide prize money for the athletes, and truly hope it goes towards clean athletes who are trying to represent themselves and their country in an honorable way. I remember David Monti, of the New York Road Runners mentioning at the 5th Ave Mile that this race does have drug testing, because "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem." That is the type of man and organization that I truly respect.
If you want to create a doper's race, maybe you should advertise even more publicly the fact that you turn a blind eye to cheating, so that none of us show up to get robbed.
That's how I see it. It is ripping off not only the race directors of their hard-raised funds, but also the athletes (whom he calls his "Friends") that toe the line right next to a him. It is unfair for us to walk away with less prize money at a race because someone else made an alternative investment to cheat rather than to train. More importantly to me, I take my finishing places and times seriously. It robs a clean athlete of the positive morale they deserve for their accomplishments when they get beat by a cheater.
I fear a lot of people will read this as a public criticism towards Hesch alone. This is not my intent. This incident is just a perfect example for me to use to write public criticism towards the behavior of doping in general. To me, even if the doping behavior is done 'responsibly' and 'safely', it is still wrong, and still dangerous and damaging to the sport that I hold near and dear to my heart. I know a lot of people don't take cycling seriously anymore because they say "They all dope." I don't want that to become true of running, and I especially don't want people lumping me in this category because I am associated with high-level running.
To me, the decision not to dope comes down to one simple fact: it's not worth it. Doping must come with incredibly conflicting emotions, especially if it's going well for you. You'd feel guilty for your success, and wonder how much of that success if from "you" and how much is from what you're taking. You wouldn't feel comfortable acting as a positive role model for anyone while living a lie, and you rob yourself of the opportunity of knowing what you COULD have done without it. Worst of all, when you get caught (I'd like to hope that all eventually do get caught), everything you did prior to doping is tainted, and if you return to competition, people will always associate you with your past, and it will never just be accepted as a great pure performance.
I know these things probably take place more often than I know, and more commonly than what gets splashed around in headlines. I also know I am extremely naive when it comes to this issue, so forgive me for any remarks that might seem unfounded. These are my feelings on the issue and this is my public proclamation that I believe in this sport, and I believe in me, so hopefully the only headlines you'll see from me are from when good ol' hard work pays off.