Out with the old

A recent article in the Guardian highlights the usage of two new performance enhancing drugs: GW1516 and Aicar. The article states that medical companies “are manufacturing (GW1516) without medical clearance. A single click reveals GW1516 to be the third highest-selling product on one internet site, at $119 for a 150-mg bottle.”

Who is buying this drug and making it such a top seller? Yes, some pros have been caught using it, but it takes a lot more sales to take it to number 3 on the sales charts.


Reading the comments reminds me that, just days before the start of the 100th Tour,  cycling has lost almost all credibility among fans.


Vanity (un)Fair

Since this blog began, I’ve received numerous questions regarding drugs and amateur sports. The main question is: why? Why would an amateur athlete take drugs, risking their health, when there is absolutely nothing to gain. There’s no prizemoney, no sponsorship deals, not even any real accolades. Wow, you were two minutes faster than last year: big deal.

The best answer I can offer – because I don’t know what moves the hearts and minds of those amateur athletes who take courses of vitamin D – is vanity. And it reminds me of that locker room scene in ‘The Wrestler’ where Mickey Rourke’s character (if ever there was a poster boy for the impact of performance enhancing drugs, the Ram is it) buys a cocktail of drugs from a pumped-up pusher who, under the Ram’s urging, puts his bag of goodies aside to flex and show his cannons. The Wrestler is making his crumpet from his time in the theatrical ring, but his motivation for taking drugs has as much to do with vanity. With the drug-dealer’s biceps, it’s all vanity (and probably a fair bit of compensating).

Applied to amateur triathlons, the vanity comes from training hard and racing fast; winning some small village race where a handful of people clap you to the finish line and you stand on a dais made of chipboard as they hang a ten-cent medal around your neck and you can think of yourself as king of this very tiny world; while in the back of your mind you know full well it was the vitamin D that got you there; and you also know that your vanity is rather shameful.

There could also be the vanity that comes not from fast times, but from victory. A bit like: if you can’t beat them, join them so you can beat them, or at the very least compete with them. (Cue the Tour de France analogy.) And, the drug-taker says, while we’re talking about victory, please look at the trophies on my wall, the photos of me hitting the line first and drinking from the big glass of beer. Admire my cups made of tin, my ribbons and medals and finisher shirts. But please don’t look in my trash.

Then there’s the physical vanity. Testosterone and HGH and what-ever-the-latest-generic-crap-you-can-buy-online will make you look younger, leaner and more muscular. That’s not so unlike the emails I get promising that I can be harder for longer. Just the kind of thing that might appeal to men in their 30s, 40s and 50s who are determined to hang onto their youth, or at least get back their youthful feelings. So ramp up the T and give yourself the equivalent hormonal juices of a 16 year-old, and win a triathlon when you’re 46. Good for you. You’re so vain.

So, thanks for all the questions so far. This blog has been, for me, I kind of purging of my demons. I’m feeling much better about racing and playing sport now than I did a year ago. If amateur athletes want to take vitamin D and be vain winners, so be it. I’ve reached acceptance: I can’t stop them from taking drugs, I’ll never beat them, and I’ll never ever win a triathlon, and there’s a good chance I’ll finish last at the Age Group Champs in London.

I’m out there training and racing for the love of it, and I’m enjoying the races much more than I have in the past.

Park life

Enjoyed a great race on Sunday in Hamburg’s Stadtpark. This is one of the good ones, where they separate the athletes into Sprinttriathlon (for the serious boffins) and Volkstriathlon (literally: people’s triathlon). Sounds rather communist, I know, the people’s triathlon, but it’s actually better than most races because it’s not nearly as serious. People ride old racing bikes and mountain bikes. They do part of the run with their kids. Guys try not to elbow you in the swim. Athletes congratulate each other at the finish line. All very good. People smile!

Yes, I probably should have been in the Sprinttriathlon, but I much prefer the atmosphere of the people’s tri. I finished 6th overall, in 1:06. The 36 year old winner clocked 1:01. Over in the Sprinttriathlon, the 22 year old winner finished in 0:59. Second, 41 years old, was a minute behind.

On the run, I had to leap over a dog and go through thick clouds of barbecue smoke. But I managed to run fast enough to finish first in start time 12:30. As seen in the photo below, the world’s most lacklustre final sprint to the line.


Ignorance isn’t bliss

An interesting article in the Guardian about amateur athletes taking supplements without an awareness of what is in them and the possible consequences:

In the article, Dr Ken van Someren, director of sports science at the English Institute of Sport, is quoted as saying: “The real challenges come for the amateur athlete, who doesn’t have someone pointing out which products are safe and which aren’t or someone able to cut through the performance claims. It is an industry that is still relatively unregulated.”

He’s referring to the products themselves, not to athletes being tested. This all only becomes a problem when something goes horribly wrong, as with Claire Squires at the London Marathon.

I’m thinking about the supplements issue and amateur athletes taking “vitamin D” because I’m curious how a 46 year-old wins a triathlon, and a 51 year-old finishes third, as what happened in the race on Sunday.

It’s a hoe

The race in Geesthacht was cancelled because of the flood waters in the eastern parts of Germany, and that saved me from having to swim in the Elbe River (which last year wasn’t so bad, just very cold).

So, I drove out to Itzehoe instead, to do the Olympic distance. I’ve done the race before, and it’s not my favourite, because the bike course is short and very bumpy. Over the five laps, there was carnage, with half a dozen riders getting flats. But overall, it was a good race, and I’m happy with my 2:19 result.

First place was 46 years old, second was 38, third was 51. Everyone in the top seven was over 37. No comment about that.

Water sports

Last year, I did a race in Münster in pouring rain. I fell off the bike, taking a big chunk out of my hand, and wrecked my feet on the run (blisters galore). I vowed never to do another race in heavy rain.

So, the first race of the season in Berlin was a total washout. The rain was bad, but worse was the temperature. 11°!. The water (ugh, the River Spree) was 16°. But getting out of the swim and onto the bike…well, my body started to freeze up. At kilometre 8, I got a flat tire and was actually quite happy about it. But it was a long, cold walk back to the (flooded) transition area, with chattering teeth. Packed up and left. Everything was wet.

So, I’ve added Berlin Triathlon to my black list. Not because of juiced-up competitors (even though there was that element), but because of the dangerous bike course. 9 loops of 4.3km, with drafting allowed. I felt very unsafe, especially with the soaked roads. The swim was also sickening, with the course dangerously constructed; a bottleneck start. I sliced my index finger open on what felt like broken glass.

But apart from all that, it was an enjoyable weekend in Berlin.