Text by Kelly O’Mara
‘If We Were Riding’ is a weekly triathlon-ish newsletter written by Kelly O’Mara and produced by Live Feisty Media. Subscribe to get it in your inbox every Wednesday morning. You can also read past issues. This episode is from May 30, 2018.
Did you take the long weekend to weekend or to train? I tried to do both. Hard runs and long rides and wine tasting and sleeping and food and movies. If we were riding, there are a lot of things in the news bothering me and a lot of things I’m not sure about. But, if we were riding, I would try to just ride, because sometimes that’s all you can do.
Is everybody else doping?
Did you watch the Giro d’Italia this weekend? I didn’t. But as I understand it, Chris Froome rode away from everyone to win, despite outstanding questions still existing in the world about his salbutamol positive. And how you feel about his win is probably a litmus test for how you feel about cycling generally and doping specifically. Whether or not he is totally innocent of all wrong-doing aside, the larger questions about doping will continue to haunt our favorite sports for some time. If you believe in people, in our sports, in the possibility of what we’re capable of, then cycling (and running and triathlon and sports, generally) might just keep breaking your heart.
The photo above is from the age group start at Kona a few years ago. Looking around at the masses starting the world championships, we know some number of them are doping. It’s just odds. We know it’s a number greater than zero, but less than what? Less than 100%? And when we start seeing crazy performances and people doing extreme things, like at the Giro, it creeps into our heads: ‘Is everyone doping but me?’
Here’s the simple answer: No. And it’s dangerous to think otherwise.
Every person who has ever been found guilty of taking performance enhancing drugs starts their explanation with: “Everyone was doing it.” It’s a pretty short leap from that to: “I might as well cheat too.”
Lance Armstrong was one of the most well-known paranoid rationalizers in this school of thought. Yet, the interesting thing about Lance is that maybe his paranoia simply begat itself. When the 1999 urine samples from the Tour de France were tested years later, after a test for EPO was developed, yes, 20 of the 84 samples were positive. BUT MOST OF THOSE WERE FROM LANCE, HIMSELF. Maybe everybody else wasn’t really doing it after all?
A similar anonymous study at the 2011 Track and Field World Championships found 29% of the athletes admitted they were doping. And most of them thought everybody else definitely was.
Yes, that’s a lot of people. Yes, we have a doping problem. Yes, triathlon is not immune (though I will continue to argue that the way triathlon is structuredmakes it slightly less susceptible). But, most importantly, that number is a lot of people, but it is not *all* the people.
There are many issues that need to be resolved, but one of the biggest problem I see is the lack of faith we have in the system. That lack of faith erodes itself. We need to believe, and we need to be given a reason to believe.
Ironman buys more stuff
This past week news came out that Ironman is in talks to buy the Breck Epic six-day mountain race in Colorado. I’m still not sure what I think about this (besides the obvious things, like ‘oooh man, should Ironman really be buying *more* stuff?’ and ‘hope they don’t ruin it’). But a couple of things stood out in the proposal:
- Ironman apparently already owns the massive mountain bike race Cape Epic in South Africa. Which I guess I should have known, but I didn’t. And they want to use the Breckenridge race as the start of a sort of qualifying system to Cape Epic—which they’re calling the Kona of Mountain Biking, btw.
- The company presented a proposal to the town council this week, which included a three- to five-year contract, a cash component with a 3% inflation escalator, and a long list of things the city has to help with. (It’s a fairly standard Ironman contract, but probably legitimately raises the question: Is it worth it for the town?)
- And this is the big one: Wanda Group, which owns World Triathlon Corporation/Ironman, continues to trim its non-core (ie. not real estate) businesses and sell off assets to settle its debts. And there persists the rumor that Wanda will be doing an IPO for its sports arm—which includes Ironman. The company already sold its stake in Atletico Madrid.
- In race coverage: Lucy Gossage won another Ironman Lanzarote title and Kristy Jahn won her first Ironman down in Brazil. Challenge Salou happened. And Michael Weiss won in Austria, which prompted another one of those Slowtwitch threads about his previous doping positive.
- I did watch the Pre Classic on TV (hey, endurance sports on primetime TV) and Shelby Houlihan’s win made me choke up a little. Maybe winning is a little bit about just believing we belong there.
- Tim Don’s halo got the full the Redbull treament and is worth a watch.
- Have you noticed the relative effort metric on Strava? It’s supposed to make it easier to compare efforts across different sports and workouts, so we can finally sorta not really answer the question: What is hardest?
- What if you ditched your training schedule and did whatever you felt like? (I should propose this to my coach.)
- Relatedly, Type D athletes have been found to be high-stress and it affects their performance.
- The quest to run a sub-4:00 mile after the age of 40.
- You remember how we talked about social media having a distorting effect on sports in last week’s podcast. Well.
- I read this letter about female coaches in the NBA last week, before I even really knew who Spurs’ assistant coach Becky Hammon was. Then I read the New Yorker profile of her. “If you don’t want a female coach, don’t hire one.”
- So, bikram yoga has got some weird weird issues it needs to sort out.
- Also, equestrian has been rocked by its own sexual assault scandal.
- Ultrarunning has a gender problem. (I mean, who doesn’t?) This race director might have some ideas.
- Should mountain bikes be allowed in “wilderness” areas? (I’m putting quotes around wilderness because I’m not completely sure anything near people qualifies as true wilderness in an ecological sense.) And here’s a response from the race director of the Breck Epic.
- Two mountain bikers outside Seattle were attacked by a cougar and one of them was killed. It’s the first death of its kind in a long, long time.
- In non-sports news I’ve thought about a bunch this week: The U.S. birth rate continues to drop and researchers can’t figure out why. I HAVE SOME IDEAS. Like, maybe we’ve made it suck to have kids here.
- And just for fun: The national parks have an Instagram sunset war.
If We Were Riding’ is a weekly triathlon-ish newsletter written by Kelly O’Mara and produced by Live Feisty Media. Subscribe to get it in your inbox every Wednesday morning. You can also read past issues or listen to the semi-related podcast of the same name on Fridays. Press reply to tell Kelly what you think. And press forward to send to a friend.