21 September 2007

The (Literal) Costs of Doping

Jeff Shilt, M.D.

On the tails of pro cycling's doping scandals, the buzzword in triathlon has been age group doping. I have to admit, I've been equally curious about the incidences of doping amongst age group athletes. I remember an Outside Magazine article a few years back describing the author’s experience when he obtained performance enhancing drugs (PED’s) from an “anti-aging” doc. He discussed the performance benefits and downsides to the variety of PED’s available.

As a practicing orthopaedist who has prescribed drugs considered “performance enhancing” for patients with problems for whom the drug was created, I found this an intriguing article. I have no experience with the performance enhancement aspects of the PED’s. I was involved in a pharmaceutical company’s research in the early 90’s on the use of growth hormone (GH) to accelerate the recovery of elderly patients who had sustained hip fractures. I’ve cared for patients who required GH for a variety of short stature syndromes. I’ve known patients who require Erythropoetin (Epo) because they are practicing Jehovah Witness (religion that bans receipt of blood transfusions) and are undergoing a surgical procedure with a large expected blood loss, or patients with cancer, whose blood cell counts are low because of their cancer therapy. I can’t really tell you how the “performance” of children with diseases, old people with hip fractures, and cancer patients was affected by the use of these critically needed medicines…their recent 40 k time trial times were rarely the topic of conversation!

So, I was likewise educated as were most who read the Men’s Health article. I’m a firm believer in competing cleanly and since the resurgence of the topic coincided with my interest in endurance sports, I decided to find out what is required to ensure that athletes that I train with and advise are clean. Team Good Guys unanimously were in favor of pursuing the approach, so I set off in search of finding a regimen for us to follow, demonstrating our commitment to clean competition.

I have to admit I was shocked at my findings. Upon the advice of the cycling team physician that has taken one of the most well-known stances against doping, I contacted their lab about pricing and protocols. First, there is not one simple test that ensures with 100% accuracy that an individual is not taking ANY exogenous product. For most PED’s, year-round, weekly testing is required to follow trends of metabolites and blood markers. This testing protocol requires 2 blood and 2 urine tests per week. If you do a less stringent regimen, the protocol is ineffective as people can schedule use around known tests and avoid detection. Second, as you might imagine, this is expensive. This protocol costs about $10,000/ a year.

The lack of stringent testing is responsible for the sad state that cycling and track/field are in now. To date, no sport has required this level of testing. I applaud the cycling teams that are adhering to this principle. It really is shameful that high revenue sports, such as basketball, football, and baseball have failed to require stringent testing. Is this a rampant problem in these sports…you betcha. I don’t believe any of them are clean until they adopt this regimen.

For triathlon, and specifically, age groupers, this testing regimen is not practical. As much as I hate to admit it, if people want to cheat, they can. Although not infallible, random testing is still useful in detecting less sophisticated athletes who cheat. A negative random test doesn’t mean you don’t dope, it just means you didn't get caught. A positive test, however, proves with reasonable certainty that you have cheated. As much as I would like to believe in a couple of guys that have turned up positive, it is highly unlikely given the knowledge I have now.

Certainly for the age groupers in our team, we can’t literally afford to prove our clean approach. And even for the pro’s, who's yearly winnings rarely exceed the $10,000 required for testing, it is a stretch. In the future, I hope we see the costs decrease and the protocols improve so that we can ensure a clean sport.

Cheers to all of us out there who train and race for the healthy body and mind our activity gives us. Shame on the rest of you.

No Zeros…

14 September 2007

The Baron on Epic Camp

In this article I will write a little bit about Epic Camp (I'm on the right in this photo).

For you who don’t know what Epic Camp is then I can recommend that you visit www.epiccamp.com . There you can get more information how Gordo first came up with the idea for Epic Camp, and even for you who already know what Epic Camp is I recommend that you visit the site to see all the great pictures from the different camps and to read the blogs. It was a while ago since I visited the site but I went today to refresh my mind for this article and I got stucked for a few hours looking at all the pictures and reading the blogs. I have so many great memories from these camps so it will be hard to choose what to bring up in this article.

Previous Epic Camps:

January 2003, New Zealand, South Island.
July/August 2003, Colorado Rockies
January 2004, New Zealand, North Island
October 2004, Kona, Hawaii
January 2005, Australia
January 2006, New Zealand
June/July 2006, France
January 2007, New Zealand

Upcoming Camps:

January 2008, New Zealand
May/June 2008, Italy

I have been able to join the first 6 camps, but due to my racing schedule I mist the one in France 2006 and due to my overtraining I wasn’t able to take part in the one in NZ 2007 either. And now I just have to wait and see how my training and recovery goes in the fall to see if I can join the camp in NZ this coming January or if I have to wait to the one in Italy next summer.

One thing is for sure, if you really want to test your limits and learn a few things about yourself, and others, then you should join one of these camps. Of course it’s not always laugh and smile faces that you hear and see on these camps, after 6-7 days of 6-8 hours of training a day, people tend to fall into some kind of quietness for a few days, but then after a few days things seems to turn around again and people are able to keep things together and really enjoy the whole experience again.

Epic NZ 2003

The first ever Epic Camp was in January 2003. I came to NZ 1 month before the camp, but just a few days before the camp started I flew back home to Sweden to join a big sport ceremony where I had been nominated to be one of 4 to get the title “The up comer of the year” 2002 in all Swedish sports after I won my age group in Hawaii IM that year. Now I wasn’t the one that got that title, but just to be nominated was a big deal for me and the sport of triathlon in Sweden, so I’m very happy that I took the pain to fly half way around the globe from NZ to be part of this ceremony. It took me 2 days to fly home, then I was in Stockholm for 2 days for the ceremony then it took me 2 days to fly back to NZ, and when I arrived there it was day 5 or so of epic camp so I got thrown straight into big training. Or actually the day after I arrived we did the Queenstown ½ IM, I think I was mostly asleep during the race due to the 12 hour time difference from Sweden but I was able to keep things together and win the race. Think that is my biggest memory from that first Epic Camp.

Epic CO 2003

The 2nd Epic Camp was run in Colorado Rockies 2003, this is the camp that I still today liked the most, and it’s probably also the camp when I have been suffering the most to. I really like the feeling to be riding the bike in the mountains, its so much power and energy in these areas.

During this summer I was training for the Powerman world Championship in Duathlon, Zofingen. So I did no swimming during this camp, but instead I did double runs pretty much every day, so when the other guys went to the pool in the morning I went for a 60-90 min run, then after a long day on the bike we all ran off the bike for another 45-60 min. And I still remember how Gordo didn’t give me any bonus points in the competition for the yellow jersey for my morning run, because the bonus point each day was only if you swam, rode and ran every day. Almost like it was easier to do double runs then to float around in the pool for an hour in the morning. Okay Gordo, I have no hard feelings about this but I think I should have gotten the yellow jersey in this camp

[Ed Note -- you only won a single pass out of 15+. Sure you ran 200K and did 100,000 feet of climbing but I'm OK with the victory.]

Epic NZ 2004

In the NZ camp 2004 my strongest memory is when on day 7 or so of the camp raced Auckland ½ IM and I had a very strong race and finished just 23 sec behind Cameron Brown, ran a 1.13 ½ marathon, and that after been avg 6 hours of training a day for 6 days before the race.

Epic Kona 2004

Then we have the Kona Camp 2004. It was no “real” epic training at this camp, the camp was more a tapering camp for the Hawaii Ironman that year; think the camp ended 7 days or so before the race.

I have no epic memory from this camp; I had been training in Palm dessert and Palm Springs for 5 weeks, then another 5 weeks on the Hawaii Island to get used to the heat. I was very fit but all the heat training had slowly drained my overall energy so during the camp and when the Ironman race arrived I was already fried and it ended to be a long day out there, was in shape for a top 10 finish but as I said I was done even before the race started so I was just able to jog to the finish in a disappointing 35: th place. Guess one of my memories is that Cameron Brown also had a hard day out there and we ran together to the finish the last 10 miles.

Epic Aus 2005

The one and only camp 2005 was in Australia in January, I had never been in Australia before so I was looking forward to this camp; think my strongest memory is that it was HOT during the camp. Björn Andersson did this camp as well and I remember one day when I was able to finish the ride before him, he came to the hostel and pretty much fell of his bike because of dehydration and layed on the floor completely wiped out for a good hour like a wet dog trying to get things together again. But next day he was back in the front again.

Think one of the main thing you learn during the camp is that how much more training you can tolerate when you just can focus on training and recovery, doesn’t really matter how tired you get during the day, the crew does everything for you so you can focus on recovery so when you the next morning wake up full with new energy, ready for another 8 hour day.

Epic NZ 2006

The last camp I was able to join was the one in NZ 2006.
I was in good shape and was able to train hard and long every day at this camp, was some good people at the camp who was able to push me very hard in the yellow jersey competition, but I was able to take home the jersey.

But when I now look back my overtraining problems started with this camp. I had 12 days of very good training at the camp, so if I had been smarter I should just had been focusing on recovery for the following 10-12 days, but instead of doing that I thought I would loose too much fitness if I took more then one easy day so I keep training and I slowly got myself down in a hole. I was planning to race Ironman Arizona in April but I ended up with shingles 2 weeks before the race, so I flew home to Sweden to recover for a month, then I was able to set a new Swedish IM distance record in a time of 8.15 in Roth, but then I once again wanted too much and raced IM UK 1.5 month after that and I was back in the hole, and this time it was real.

With that, I want to mention how important the recovery is after a 12 days camp where you have pushed yourself behind your limits.

Epic Camp in VERY fun and you will learn so many things and meet great people, but don’t forget that the camp does make you tired so you might want to have some downtime to recover when you get back home.

I hope to see you at the next Epic Camp in NZ or in Italy 2008.

Take care