April 1, 2012

Anti Doping in the Ultra World

When I oosted on my Facebook page yesterday that the anti-doping folks had been knocking on my door at 6.30am wanting me to pee in tot a little container I think many people were a little surprised.  'You get drugs tested?', 'They can just show up?', '6.30am?!' were a few of the surprised comments.

Firstly, how did I come to be on the anti-doping register?  Well, it now seems like many moons ago but in Nov 2010 I won the IAU World 100km.  This is an IAAF (International Amateur Athletics Federation) event so drugs testing then ensues for the top 3 (I think) both immediately after the event and then you are on the register.  Sure, there's no prize money, hey - the winners medal isn't even that flash , but it is an IAAF event which holds certain prestige and strict regulations so that's the way it goes.  My attitude to whether this is right or wrong - well, personally I think it is right.  If we want ultra running to gain more recognition and prestige on a wider scale in the athletics world we must present ourselves as a professional sport and having anti-doping controls is part of that.  And hey, no one forces anyone to enter these races and no one certainly forces you to come top 3.  If you don't want to be drugs tested - don't run the race.

On a side note, so what did this first drugs test involve when I won World 100km in Gibraltar?  Well, you get whisked away at the finish line under the supervision of the anti-doping authorities.  In Gibraltar it was back to the cruise ship that we were staying on that then ensued a rather funny 10 minutes or so when they couldn't find the cabin where the testing was to be done.  We walked u and down hallways, I hobbled along behind and struggled up and down a few flights of stairs, clinging onto the bannisters.  After a few sets of stairs and still the room had not been found, we had a good laugh when I asked if we could take the elevator!  Anyway, we found the room and basically you have to pee in a cup (under same sex supervision) and until you do that - no food or drink other than water (which should be from a sealed bottle).  I like to be efficient so downed 4 litres of water, peed in my cup and completed forms regards any medication I'd taken in last 10 days.  There are also strict guidelines regards the testee getting to choose the cup and the tested being the one that seals all packages etc.  Ok, job done - now off the celebrate!  Unless you hear anything in about 14 days, you can assume you are 'all clear'.

Since then I have had to register my Whereabouts each quarter.  This is under the management of WADA (World Anti Doping Agency - www.wada-ama.org).  They have an online system and you have to enter an address for every day of the year and also a one hour testing slot between 6am and 11pm for every day.  This testing slot is so they can come and do random tests like they did to me yesterday.  It is worth noting though that in the 17 or so months since I have been registering my Whereabouts this was the first time I have had an 'out of competition' test.  And so for those of you who thought 6.30am was a little unfair - well, I asked for it!  'Out of Competition' testing is exactly the same as 'In Competition' except there are some medications which are allowed 'out of competition' and not 'in'.  So yes, you do have to be careful what pills you pop when feeling under the weather but there is an online search you can do on their website to see what is allowed and what isn't.

The only other time I have been tested?  Comrades in 2011.  There, the top 12 are tested as the top 10 win prize money so they go 12 deep in case anyone in top 10 fail the test and get disqualified.  Comrades can certainly justify their drugs testing as the prize money there is significant.

So, that's my experience of being on the anti-doping radar so far.  Yes, it 's a pain to have to complete Whereabouts (especially when say hosteling in Chile and deciding where you are staying on a day to day basis!).  Yes, it was not ideal to spend 30 mins peeing in a cup and filling out forms at 6.30am when I really needed to be at work at 8.00am.  BUT, if we are going to see more prize money and more prestige in placing well in ultra distance events then drugs testing is part and parcel of this.  It's better we have drugs testing from the get-go, rather than our sport waits until there is actual speculation that drugs may be a problem in our sport.  Let's make it fair from the start and make our sport look professional in the eyes of the outside world so we can grow the level of competition and professionalism in the awesome sport of ultra running.

Happy trails


  1. I was expecting an "April Fools!"

    1. It would be amusing...but in a way, I'm glad it's not.

  2. You know what the saddest thing about it is, (and correct me if I'm wrong please :-) ) Is that I think if you no longer want to be on the ramdom list or be subject to d-testing as you are, once you bug out, you are never eligible to even run a championship event, even when we get old and slow. That may not matter, but for some it might.

    What I don't understand also, is because there is no real money in the sport, why subject yourself to using drugs? I don't see much personal gain, other than a PR.

    Lots of races out there, far more entertaining than any world event.

    Why have to tell someone where you are all the time, so they can come invade your privacy? Just my two cents, this subject always ruffles my feathers. :-)

    Great run at Chuckanut! You rocked it.

  3. Karl - totally agree with being perplexed as to why anyone would use drugs in any sport, and think that is attitude of most athletes but guess there are always the few who have wrong mindset and morals. I don't know about the de-listing, I have had support of UK Athletics to call on for advice regards being on the register but I must admit as a totally no-pro runner I did find that I was suddenly in a situation of being on the register with very limited info unless you go do research yourself, give I have no coach etc. Fully agree that world championships are not the most competitive event but they can be up there and what's not entertaining about running around in circles on tarmac for hours ;) Regards the register it's my understanding that they will remove me (or any athlete) after a certain amount of time if non longer competing in certain events.

    Congrats to you on Antelope!

  4. That's a great attitude in regards to anti-doping and testing. Had no idea they could just show up whenever to your residence and make you test.

  5. Very interesting stuff, Ellie. Thanks for explaining it! Kudos to you for a great attitude, too. It sounds like quite a bit to deal with, but I think you are so right about keeping our sport professional from the beginning. You are a great role model and represent our sport well!