As a coach and an athlete, I was dismayed by a rash of bad news occurring in amateur endurance sport during 2015, including:
- Athletes at several large marathons, as well as Ironman Canada were disqualified for cutting the course.
- A British junior time-trial champion admitted to EPO usage.
- A British masters champion tested positive for Stanozolol, claiming using a “borrowed” syringe for injecting his vitamins was the culprit.
- A 35-year-old Danish athlete tested positive and admitted to EPO usage after winning his age-group at Ironman Copenhagen.
- Hitting close to home for me, a local masters cyclist whom I have trained with and occasionally raced against, tested positive and admitted to using banned, performance enhancing substances at a regional road race championship.
All of the choices above are obviously clear violations of the rules, as well as go directly against “the spirit of competition.” But what led these athletes to knowingly break the rules and cheat to reach a goal? I think the answer is a bit of ego and being overly competitive.
Several years ago I was volunteering at the finish line of a local half-marathon. An athlete I knew, who routinely podiumed, came running up the final stretch about 15 minutes slower than what she had normally been running. Right before the finishing chute, she pulled off the side of the course, walked to her car, and never crossed the finish line. When I later asked her what happened, she said she was having a bad race and didn’t want “that” finish time. This athlete choose a DNF versus having what they considered a “poor” result next to her name. Although there is nothing wrong with pulling out of a race when your body says it has had enough, this decision made me realize that an overly competitive and ego-driven mindset can lead to poor choices. To this athlete, if it wasn’t a “win” it wasn’t worthy, and I doubt she learned anything from the race. Now this certainly does not mean this athlete will one day resort to cheating, but a win-or-nothing mentality can lead to a win-at-all-costs mentality. Putting a result above all else can open you up to shortcuts and unethical behavior.
Here at Endurance Corner, many of the athletes we coach are pushing to be at the top of their peers and qualify to compete at the Ironman World Championship in Kona. With the current state of the sport, WTC is slowly adding more races to the calendar, but without adding more qualifying spots in Hawaii. The end result is it’s becoming more difficult to obtain a qualifying spot at races and for many, an age-group win or runner-up finish is required. The pressures for a result can never be allowed to push an athlete to do unethical choices to reach a goal. If one of our athletes has an amazing performance, but is outdone by other great athletes on the day, that does not make the amazing performance any less important.
The truth is there are no shortcuts and no amount of preparation guarantees success.
Some things to consider about competing for the right reasons
- If you are overly concerned with the outcome and focused on the “win” versus the process, it opens the window to making bad choices. This can show in pushing on a training session when you shouldn’t be, skipping out on other more important obligations to train, or ultimately to resorting to some form of cheating.
- Prepare to be the best. Perform on the day at your best. Be okay in the end with someone else being better.
- I want to win. I want my friends and athletes I coach to win. I want our team to win. If we try our best and come up short, I will think no less of anyone or myself. However, learning someone cheated to win makes everyone think much less of them.
- Your character is not defined by your performance on race day, whether good or bad, but rather on how you respond and deal with that success or failure moving forward.
- A great competitor is concerned with getting the best out of himself or herself in only the most true spirit of racing. A person who is overly competitive is only concerned with coming out on top, and is willing to take something away from others.
- There is no justification for mindfully doing the wrong thing. Trying to justify choosing to cheat is only making excuses to help you feel better about your poor actions.
- One of the most important traits of a great competitor is having gratitude. Have gratitude for those you race against and show joy in others’ success. Have gratitude for those who have given up time to spend with you while you are training. Have gratitude for your health and the ability to compete. It’s not a race without others. Respect them and respect yourself.
- For some, the only deterrent to breaking the rules is the chance of getting caught. The good news for the rest of us is that anti-doping measures among amateurs are mounting and testing outside of only national and world championships may be coming to a race near you.
As a father of a young boy, one of the main attributes I try to help instill in him is to be ethical: do what you know to be right every time. Even when others around you may be choosing poorly, do the right thing. Even when doing something the wrong way may be easier, do the right thing. When nobody’s watching, do the right thing.
Regardless of your “success,” making good choices and doing the right thing every time will bring you a fulfilling life. I have been fortunate to have lots of successes in life as well as racing. I would never want to put myself and those I care about the most at risk by winning something unethically and having that little boy, my wife, my parents and closest friends question everything I have done.
Live clean… RACE CLEAN.