Category Archives: Ethics

A New Low in Cheating

It hasn’t been the greatest year for running with the NOP scandal and Russian doping bust but I guess we can take some solace in the fact that we have at least avoided putting motors in our legs (to date). For those who missed the headline, a professional cyclist at the World Championships for cyclocross was busted for having a hidden motor in one of her bikes. A motor.

What is going on in professional endurance sports that we have given up on chasing the next level the natural way? Is winning worth a lifetime of knowing you cheated and the risk of getting caught? What is the punishment for someone (arguably barely an adult) who participated in this?

Kara Goucher…again, a massive hurdle pileup and an ethical dilemma

It’s getting a little old (in a good way) to write about Kara Goucher every week. This week, she, Nick Symmonds and Alysia Montano all signed with Soleus, which is a watch and GPS company. I actually checked their product line out after the announcement and am really interested in trying them out. They have a nicer aesthetic than Garmin and since mine is totally and utterly broken, maybe now’s the time. This most recent announcement is another awesome example of the quiet shakeup occurring in professional running. Goucher, Symmonds and Montano were all Nike runners at one point but all now run for shoe companies that allow them more latitude in other apparel and gear contracts. It’s also interesting to me that Goucher has a young child and is currently injured while Montano is pregnant and not competing this year, but Soleus was still happy to sign them. In the world of professional running, non-performance punishments are part of the business, but it seems that some of the smaller companies are starting to realize that elite runners are human too.

In more local news, an amazing story about a Vermont runner who had Guillain-Barre this winter and came back to be able to run half of VCM. We just did GB in a case study this week, so this story was about as timely as possible. My only objection to the story was the mention that the flu vaccine was a plausible cause of his GB. While the influenza vaccine can cause GB, it is FAR more common for a diarrheal or upper respiratory virus to cause GB (although GB is not at all common).

In another collision of my worlds, an interesting editorial was published on KevinMD this week, written by a resident who was running Boston and taking pictures for the Boston Globe to commemorate the experience. When a medical emergency occurred, she stopped to help and took a picture of the first responders. She also inadvertently got a picture of the victim and took considerable criticism. Her situation is somewhat unique but brings up both the interesting experience of the physician-runner and of social media rules for physicians. Every year at VCM, there are medical issues along the course and friends/colleagues of mine have to stop their races to provide medical care. It’s part of our job; whether we’re on duty or not, we have an obligation to help. I’m still getting used to that responsibility/requirement.

Rogue Running posted another great training article this week, this time on de-training and re-training. I know way too many people who go from marathon to marathon to marathon, only to have results stagnate or even get worse. This article is a simple explanation of why this happens.

Finally in “newsy news,” one of the most epic hurdle crashes I’ve seen in a long time. Hurdles and Steeple make for fantastic spectator fodder, but this almost takes the cake. I was never a great hurdler, but it seems like the guy in the lead fouled a few times, kicking through his hurdle instead of over it. You can clip a hurdle without a DQ, but not if it is intentional or impedes the progress of others. I don’t know about the former, but the ramifications of his clip clearly impeded (impressively) the entire heat.

What new equipment/gear companies are you loving? Do you use periodization in training or are you guilty of jumping from cycle to cycle? Best race related wipeout you’ve been a part of or witnessed?

I’m off to pick up our bibs at the Expo. Seems strange to have it be VCM weekend and not be preparing for a big race but also nice to know that I get to stop at Oakledge Park tomorrow.

Have a great weekend!

Recently Read: 5.2.14

How is it May?! I ask both because I woke up in a start this morning when I realized we hadn’t paid our rent and because it’s been a miserable weather week. Anyway…

In annoying news, dopers are still all over our sport. On the one hand, I’m glad to see her get caught. On the other, I don’t understand our two year bans or the time frame that was assigned that allows her to compete in Worlds next year. Lauren Fleshman had an interesting perspective where she talks about a few years ago when she realized she couldn’t reach her goals without doping. Like Lauren, no outcome is worth cheating to me. My litmus test for most things comes from the poem below; it hung in my husband’s room when I first met him and now hangs next to our bathroom mirror.

When you get what you want in your struggle for self,
And the world makes you king for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that man has to say.
For it isn’t a man’s father, mother or wife,
Whose judgement upon him must pass,
The fellow whose verdict counts most in life,
Is the man staring back from the glass.
He’s the fellow to please, never mind all the rest,
For he’s with you clear to the end,
And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test,
If the man in the glass is your friend.
You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But the final reward will be heartache and tears,
If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.

Moving on…I’m looking forward to trying out a class here. I like spinning fine but rowing is a totally new idea. I like that it is a huge cardio workout without direct impact on the legs, works through the hip joint and builds upper body strength perfect for a good arm swing.

I love this article on the impact of running, both because it comes from my alma mater and because we all know the benefits of running, so it’s nice to see them quantified for the world to appreciate.

This is just plain awesome. I’m not even sure I can drink a beer in 5 minutes, let alone 4 and run a mile. That being said, I’d love to know what the women’s record is. I have this thing about holding random records.

Finally, I’m thisclose to picking my fall marathon and kicking off my training cycle, so this is my go-to video to remind me why all the hard work will be worth it.

What are you up to this weekend? Racing? Long Runs? Cleaning up the yard?

Take Your Damn Headphones Off

Lauren Fleshman is unequivocally one of my favorite women. Not just favorite runner, but favorite women. She’s feisty, talented, unapologetic and creative about improving the sport of running. When she was injured last year, she modified workouts such that she was barely running more than 100 meters at a time and still made the finals at the Trials. Now she’s baking a baby (whom she affectionately calls Lima Bean) and writing a hilarious column for Running Times. Her recent post on ethics is spot on and I hope it gets the traction it deserves as a sensible and simple beginning of a discussion that has waited too long to happen. It seems like we’re hearing about more positive doping tests after every major track race and even at the level I run at, questionable behavior occurs.

It’s also something that I think of every year at this time as VCM rolls around. Try as RunVermont might (and they do try, just see Joe’s post on bandits), no one seems to follow the rules very well. For example, a woman who finished in the top 10 last year was wearing headphones. Not allowed. Other things that are not allowed? Taking aid from your coach or a friend somewhere other than a designated aid station or having someone run or bike alongside you for any period of time longer than a few strides. And where are all these rules contained? The USATF Competition Rules Book.

Technically speaking, these rules apply to any person competing in a USATF event, of which the Vermont City Marathon is one. However, in 2008 the USATF changed the headphones rule to state that headphones were allowed “however, those competing in Championships for awards, medals, or prize money may not use such devices.”  This logic has been (and wisely for the most part) extended to the other rules. If you aren’t a top finisher, the RD isn’t going to pull you off the course or DQ you for an infraction. (Note: GMAA does not allow headphones in any GMAA sponsored races for safety reasons for ANY competitor, first or last. Good on you, GMAA). So why wasn’t the finisher DQd? Because none of us filed a protest with the Race Director. Too small a town, too small a difference. As with deciding to file a protest at a cross country or nordic ski race, you pick your battles. Flagrant body contact or course cutting? Yes. Headphones, grr, but no. Interestingly, the top two female finishers were disqualified for taking aid and wearing headphones at a marathon a couple of years ago.

What’s the issue? The issue is that a race is supposed to be a head to head event, where each runner is individually responsible for their performance. Sure, we have tons of people who get us to the starting line and spectators who cheer us on, but once the gun goes off, we are supposed to be on our own. Headphones, friends pacing certain miles and aid outside stages confers an advantage to the offending athlete. (Of course, the other major issue with headphones is a safety issue, but not really in line with this post). I have training partners who break these rules and much like the pick-your-battles intricacies of filing a protest, I mostly find their grievances annoying. I wonder though, where the line is between condoning rule breaks like these and rule breaks surrounding banned or questionable substances. As Fleshman points out, there are substances in use right now that are not yet banned, but definitely fail the hairy eyeball test. Is it the same for me to know that a friend got her BQ by having a friend pace her much of the way as it would be to turn the other way if she used a questionable substance?

Seth, Will and I discussed this at length when Lance Armstrong finally copped to his steroid use with the caveat that it was part of the culture on his team. All of us are part of the Lance generation and it was hard to hear that someone we look up to might have cheated his way to his accolades. I have no doubt that Lance is an incredible athlete and I also buy that doping wasn’t unique to him. We ended up talking about team culture and about how when you are a new member on a team, you tend to just accept what the veterans do. Like a freshman on a cross country team, if the older girls diligently stretch and do core, you will too. If they don’t eat fat because “lighter is better,” you won’t either. And if someone uses a substance or your coach encourages a supplement that may someday be banned, it’s likely that your moral compass isn’t quite as strong as you think.

All of these issues from headphones to banned substances put us uncomfortably in the gray area. No one wants to be the town crier but stay quiet too long and cheating becomes so deeply entrenched in a culture that it’s not recognized. As a team, the Olde Bones work hard to follow the rules. We are all individually responsible for knowing the courses we compete on and the rules that bind us. We actively discuss race plans and voice concerns about possible infractions. None of us even use protein supplements; as hard as it gets is homemade Gatorade. On race day, as much as I might want Will, Seth, Kath, or Myke to run with me for a minute and keep me calm, I won’t ask and they won’t offer. We got here together, but we’re in this alone.

Have you ever witnessed cheating at a race? Did you say anything? What do you think about Lauren’s guidelines for ethical sport?

And for the record, if you want to wear headphones and you aren’t competing for prizes or a top finisher, go for it. Just keep one earbud out and only do that on closed race courses. We don’t need anymore ghost running shoes or crashes at aid stations.