Chemical Games

Over the past six years, Marion Jones, Justin Gatlin, and Floyd Landis have been among the most celebrated names in sports.

Today, they are merely the latest performance enhancement drug suspects in a long tradition of infamy. (We know Jones’s positive test was cleared, but she has the most suspicious legacy this side of Barry Bonds.)

We are embarrassed that our sport, which is so fundamentally simple, has been tarnished by drug scandals. However, we’re also proud that running and cycling have the most rigorous drug testing policies around. But sometimes, imperfect tests merely add to the confusion.

This won’t be your typical article about drugs. It’s not that we don’t care. We take this very seriously. It’s an admission that we have absolutely no idea what the best solution might be.

One school of thought says that we should legalize everything for competition. If you want to use HGH or EPO or synthetic testosterone, or blood doping, go right ahead. If you want to roll the dice and risk your long-term health, that’s your business.

It doesn’t appear to be much of a moral dilemma for many athletes to use drugs to gain a competitive advantage. We suspect that one reason they cheat is because they believe most of their competitors are doing the same. The financial rewards for victory can be tremendous motivators – no matter how you reach the top.

You can see how this can potentially spiral into a situation where everybody’s juicing, because nobody would want to be stuck with the equivalent of bringing only a knife to a gun fight.

So it’s not too difficult to envision a future competition where all the athletes are on some drug or another. One sport – bodybuilding – has gone down this road, to the point where they hold two separate competitions: there’s a Mr Universe for drug users, and a “Mr Natural Universe” for anyone else.

In fact, many people will tell you this “everybody’s juiced” situation is exactly what we have in track and cycling today. The only difference with bodybuilding is that they don’t ask us to pretend otherwise.

What if running formally adopted such a policy? Instead of merely having the best athletic ability, competitors would also strive to have the most potent pharmacological cocktail on board before their peak races.

They would be dependent on chemists and lab geeks to achieve their success. Imagine every sprinter’s posse with one skinny, bespectacled guy in a short-sleeve plaid shirt with a pocket protector roaming around trying to look cool with the rest of the group. If nothing else, it would provide some comedic irony.

Think about it – who got teased and beat up more in high school than the kids in chemistry club? And weren’t the jocks usually the ones doing most of the bullying? And now those two groups would be pairing off in oddball symbiotic relationships like Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley.

The chemists would actually have the upper hand in these partnerships. They would be too valuable to the athlete to be fired – because the chemist could then go and tell everybody else what particular designer drugs the athlete was on. And the athlete knows he or she won’t succeed without the help of a good lab geek.

The chemistry dudes could totally revel in this, and do all kinds of trash talking with the sprinters. Between events at track meets, they can congregate on the infield to gossip about their athletes, draw formulas in the dirt and trade periodic table jokes. They might even encounter chemistry groupies wanting to make “covalent bonds” with them after the meets.

Over time, the chemists would get the same rock star treatment the athletes get. The better ones would sign “exclusive rights” contracts with companies like Nike and become millionaires. Scores of little kids will dream of a career in laboratory science, and of growing up to compete at the “Chemical Games,” where the torch is an enormous Bunsen burner. The best chemistry students coming out of grad school could be drafted by professional teams and awarded lucrative signing bonuses. If you’re a career chemist, where’s the downside to any of this?

Realistically, we know this isn’t going to happen. We suppose that’s for the good. Sports have an inherently noble premise – that athletes are testing the limits of their God-given talents through nothing more than hard work and determination. And despite our jaded outlook, it’s a premise we’re completely in favor of defending.

Yes, the tests are light years behind the cheaters, but that doesn’t mean we should stop the effort. It’s just going to take a very long time before the priority (and money) given to testing is equal to the money that changes hands among the top athletes and corporations in every sport.

Until then, most sports will continue to have an anemic system of testing (One time per year for a baseball player? Spare us.), and they’ll continue to profess that they’re doing everything in their power to rid sports of doping.

All of the top-level athletes will emphatically assert that they are completely clean, and fans will believe what they want to believe about each athlete based on his/her carefully crafted image.

Meanwhile, none of us will ever know for sure if the next heroes like Marion Jones or Floyd Landis are true champions, or merely another example of all that’s wrong with sports. That is the true tragedy.


Scenes From a Marathon - 2006

Donald's insider perspective of the 2006 Big Sur Marathon

The 2006 Big Sur Marathon is in the books. You’ve read the articles telling you the primary results: who won the race, how many people finished, etc. But there’s always so much more to the story. Here, then are some details that didn’t make headlines, but were memorable nonetheless, from the 2006 Big Sur Marathon.

Cool new pre-race ritual: With his sisters at Grandma’s house and his Mom out to dinner, my son chose to relax at home and watch Star Wars with me the night before his 5K race. Which was very cool for two reasons:

1. When I was seven years old, my absolute favorite movie in the world was Star Wars. And every time I think this kid and I don’t have much in common, he never fails to do something exactly the way I would have at the same age. And…

2. No matter how many times you see it, watching Luke Skywalker blow up the Death Star is simply a fantastic motivational boost. I totally had the Star Wars theme in my head the next morning.

Best way to start a race: I can’t claim to be Scottish, but there’s no more inspirational song to hear at the beginning of a marathon than “Scotland the Brave” played on the bagpipes, which has become a BSIM standard over the years. It never fails to put a jump in your step and courage in your heart.

In fact, I’ve made a mental note to travel to Scotland some day, just to see what all this bravery fuss is about.

Karnazes spots the field 10 minutes: A lot of us were on the lookout for ultrarunner Dean Karnazes making his way south on Highway 1 for the first half of his out-and-back double marathon. Unfortunately, Karnazes was a bit behind schedule, leading to the unusual scene of thousands of marathoners yelling “Hi Dean!” to him during the first mile while he passed in the opposite direction, finishing his run to the start line before turning around and running an “official” time of 3:33.

This wasn’t in the race brochure: On an open stretch of road during mile 7 lay a skunk that had probably met its untimely demise under the wheels of the countless buses traversing the road in the early morning darkness. The result was the aroma of freshly-killed skunk drifting almost a full mile down the course, growing increasingly strong until runners finally passed the scene of the crime.

Biggest missed opportunity: When we crested Hurricane Point, thick fog was all around us – we couldn’t even see the ocean directly below. I felt bad for the runner from Indiana next to me and commented in true Yogi Berra fashion, “It’s a really nice view here, when you can see it.”

Then again, maybe missed opportunities are OK sometimes: Of course, when the sun did finally come out, temperatures warmed up very quickly. It went from “cool and foggy” to “hot and stifling” faster than any year that Mike and I can recall.

Most unexpected race garb: My 2-year-old daughter’s favorite shirt is solid blue with a giant Cookie Monster face depicted on it. Imagine my surprise to see a runner on race morning with the exact same shirt. I didn’t even know they made an adult version. I wonder if you can special order it in coolmax.

Sharing the love: I ran most of the race very close behind or ahead of the 1st place woman. Appropriately, the spectators and walkers go crazy when the first place girl runs by. I heard a full three hours worth of “Go girl!” or “Hey – first woman!” and all sorts of whooping and hollering. For some reason, the crowds don’t make as big a fuss over the 28th place male. But running near the lead woman is a nice way to hear a lot of cheers – and if you close your eyes, you can just pretend they are for you.

Completely random and improbable accomplishment: This was my fourth straight year of being the 28th overall finisher. I'm not flashy, good-looking, or blazing fast, but you can call me Mr. Consistency.

The sons also run: My 7-year-old son ran the 5K, then hung around the course to cheer me across the final bridge at mile 26. He then ran the rest of the way with me to the finishing chute, thereby crossing the marathon finish line ahead of Mike’s 31-year-old son, who ran his first Big Sur Marathon in 3:30. Both dads were very proud.

After pain comes pleasure: There’s really no way to describe how good it feels to be massaged by six hands at once shortly after finishing a marathon. But that’s just what happens in the massage tent following the race. If we could figure out some way to go back several times, one of these years we might just skip the race, and duck in and out of the massage tent throughout race morning. That alone could be worth the price of a race entry.

The streak is over: Mike’s Lance Armstrong-like streak of consecutive age group victories came to an end this year, as he finished second in the 55-59 age group in his slowest Big Sur Marathon time of 3:12. When it was announced at the awards ceremony, the crowd let out a collective gasp like when Mandisa was voted off American Idol. Count on Mike to have the eye of the tiger next year when he turns 60 – all you 60-year-olds should be very afraid.

Best reason to make friends with fast relay runners: Individual age group winners traditionally receive a bottle of Blackstone (Monterey County) wine. The winning 5-person relay teams don’t get separate bottles, but instead are awarded a large magnum bottle. You know they have to open that bottle sometime – so why not stop by with a corkscrew some night to congratulate them?

Warmest reception for age group winners: Hugo Ferlito, chairman of the BSIM board, stands on the podium while awards are handed out after the race. He shakes the hand of each winner as they exit the stage, and when local runners pass by, he embraces them in a warm hug. It’s a great feeling to get a bearhug from the chairman - and just another example of the hometown charm at this world-class race.

Hopefully some of these stories and other articles about the marathon will inspire you to join Mike and me for the 22nd running of the Big Sur Marathon next April. You now have a full year to train for it, so go ahead and get started! We’ll be here to help you along the way.


Take Our Advice - Please!

The 21st running of the Big Sur International Marathon is this Sunday. The two of us tend to be very competitive on race day, but in the spirit of sportsmanship, we’ve compiled some advice for our out of town competitors who may be new to the Big Sur course. So if you plan on beating us, just follow these simple guidelines.

Worry a lot about the weather:
The fog can be so thick you might lose your way. It might rain the entire morning. And the wind! When it’s not blowing directly in your face, it can potentially blow you right off the road. There are so many conditions beyond your control, the only thing you can do is lie awake worrying about them.

Squeeze in one last run:
We know you’re unsure if all of your training was enough. Go reassure yourself by doing a hard workout on Saturday. Try a long run along the coast or a shorter run at race speed. Now you’re ready for sure.

Enjoy a great Monterey restaurant: Take an opportunity on Saturday night to savor some world-class Monterey Peninsula dining. Make a reservation at about 10:00 PM to avoid the dinnertime crowds. Eat a heavy, fattening dinner and consume a bottle or two of our great Monterey County wine. Finish off dinner with some tiramisu, a cheese plate, a B-52 Latte, and a good cigar. You’re worth it!

Liven up the morning bus ride: Drink as much as you can before getting on the bus ride to the start. The 75-minute ride really doesn’t seem that long, and school buses are a lot less bumpy than they used to be. Keep hydrating like crazy on the bus ride. When in doubt – take another drink!

Also, make sure you learn as much as possible about the person next to you on the bus. Talk incessantly and be nosy. You never know, you might find your soulmate.

Best to overdress: Don’t bother with the sweats check in the morning – just wear your warmest clothes for the whole marathon. Don’t believe the hype about moisture-wicking fabrics. You’re better off in a cotton long sleeve shirt, sweatshirt and sweatpants. Wear a rain hat over your stocking cap, so you’ll be ready for cold or rain. Remember: fear the weather!

Experiment a lot: Just because something works for you in training doesn’t mean you should stick with it on race day. Why be boring? Try something different on Sunday. Buy some fancy new clothes at the race expo and wear them in the race. Never had sport beans before? What better time to try them than race day! Break out those new lightweight racing flats you’ve been waiting to wear for the first time.

Fight for position: Line up as close to the start line as possible, so nobody gets in your way. All those people lining up behind the elites are suckers. Of course, when you’re up that far, remember to…

Blast off the start line: The first 4 miles are the easiest on the course. Take advantage and cut as much time as possible off your target pace – it’s like putting money in the bank! Who knows, all that adrenaline and excitement might carry you through the entire race. Run those early miles as fast as you possibly can, because the course gets hillier and harder later. Pacing yourself is for chumps.

Keep your eyes on the yellow line: Remember, your only goal is to run fast. Block out all the beautiful scenery around you – it will only distract from your task. If you want to see the ocean and cliffs and cows, come back another day and drive the road like everybody else does. Don’t even listen to the music. Stay focused on the line in the middle of the road. The race is all that matters

Hurricane Point is bad: Hurricane Point is 2 miles of horrible climbing. It’s best to get it over with as quickly as possible. Charge forward and pass everyone ahead of you. All the walkers will think you’re a total stud (or studette) that way. Those people won’t see you later in the race, so go for it!

Run really fast on the downhills: The best way to make up time from all the uphills is to hammer the downhill sections. Regain any lost time as quickly as you can. All the minutes you lose going up Hurricane Point can be made up by flying wildly down the backside. Run like a maniac!

Embrace the camber of the road: The hardest part of the Big Sur Marathon is miles 21 to 24 through the steep hills of Carmel Highlands. Lucky for you the road starts to slant a lot in this section also. Don’t bother with the flatter portions in the middle of the road - always take the most cambered part on the tangents to save a few extra seconds. Your legs will deal with it later.

Spend some time on D-minor hill at D-major time: The last hill on the course is a slope from Monastery Beach to Carmel Meadows at the beginning of mile 26. It’s such a tough climb that you might as well just sit by the side of the road and cry. On the plus side, there are belly dancers there to keep you company.

Enjoy the ride to the finish: Not many people get to cross the finish line in the “Meat Wagon” – so if this happens, consider yourself one of the lucky ones! Once you’re released from the medical tent, make sure you come up and thank us for our great advice.

Good luck to everyone who is running on Sunday- we wish all of you a wonderful day. We want to hear your stories- good, bad, and unusual- from race day. E-mail us and tell us how you did!


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