Does Crime Pay?
by Gordo Byrn
When my wife asked if I was going to read Tyler Hamilton's book, I wasn’t sure. I had a hunch that I’d get seriously pissed off and I like to avoid unnecessary stress.
I read a few reviews and they were generally positive. So I got myself a copy. It wasn’t what I expected.
This book is the first time I’ve read a top athlete explain exactly how PEDs work. It was fascinating. Tyler and I have the same natural hematocrit (42) so the magnitude of the boost a guy like me would get is huge. It is the difference between my best performances and the course records where I raced.
The “boost” also explains why altitude has always worked so well for me. My key performance limiter in racing was power at functional threshold, I ran great in the heat and I had the capacity to process more calories than most of my competition. It made me wonder about the path not taken (and those are thoughts I like to avoid!). I have raced athletes who made the 20% jump in five weeks that Tyler talks about. [Note: you can see huge jumps when you unload fatigue. Big jumps don’t always mean that somebody is cheating, but the largest I’ve seen in myself across five weeks is 10%.]
As a coach, the key takeaway for me is the need to understand an athlete’s baseline blood values and consider the nature of his or her physiological limiters. I need to think more deeply about when to recommend altitude training. I could see the huge advantage that flows to certain types of athletes who dope while living at sea level. Being able to live on the coast of California (my fastest recovery location) and have blood like I was living in Boulder -- that would have been a huge edge.
Tyler shares details about his transfusions, including what happens when they go wrong. The stories are absolutely nuts and a warning about where you can end up when you start down the path of cheating. When you’re outside reading about it, you think, “How could he DO that?” However, when you start gradually, with buddies, with a system that says you’ll do whatever it takes for the team... I can see exactly how it happens. In the military, people take far greater risks for their band of brothers.
Tyler gives a timeline for EPO entering the peloton and, for kicks, I pulled up the historical top 10 results of Ironman Hawaii. I wanted to see if there was a shift. I also looked for shifts that occurred when blood doping entered elite athletics, much earlier than EPO.
What gnawed at me across the entire book is a topic that rarely gets aired in public. When you look at the hundreds of millions of dollars that are generated by elite sport, and consider the lives of the professionals who choose to dope, there doesn’t appear to be any net penalty across the sport. Corrupt sport may be a net winner for the individuals involved -- the movie, Goodfellas, came to mind.
Consider the book: an athlete who gets caught cheating will have a couple years in exile but I weigh that against the experience of being a rock star before getting popped. It wasn’t the path that I chose but it isn’t an illogical path to take. On many levels, I can see how a reasonable person would choose to cheat. However, you also need to pay attention to how cheating erodes the capacity to think rationally and the corrosive impact of secrets. The financial gain extracts its return via the soul.
Overall, an interesting read and a unique insight into professional sport.
Gordo is the founder of Endurance Corner. You can find his personal blog here.