On I went, out of the wood, passing the man leading without knowing I was going to do so. Flip-flap, flip-flap, jog-trot, jog-trot, curnchslap-crunchslap, across the middle of a broad field again, rhythmically running in my greyhound effortless fashion, knowing I had won the race though it wasn't half over, won it if I wanted it, could go on for ten or fifteen or twenty miles if I had to and drop dead at the finish of it, which would be the same, in the end, as living an honest life like the governor wanted me to. -Alan Sillitoe, "Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner"

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


What's cheating, and what's not cheating?  Who decides?

Hellebuyck on the right, his alleged
dealer (Leonid Shvetsov) on the left.
Not an optical illusion - EH is short.
By now, if you follow running news, you've surely heard the tale of Eddy Hellebuyck.  Through the '80s and into the '90s, Hellebuyck was a consistent (if not world record setting) marathoner.  By the time he hit the masters level, his times - and his motivation - had slowed some.  Accused of using performance enhancing drugs after a test came back positive, he denied the allegations for years.  He maintained his innocence until recently, when he finally confessed to a journalist that he had indeed illegally injected himself with synthetic EPO.

I took a few things from this story: one, Eddy Hellebuyck doesn't seem like a very nice person; two, the lack of publicity to blood doping in distance running (unlike in cycling) does not mean that it doesn't happen; three, if you're hiring the same lawyer that defended Floyd Landis and Marion Jones, you're probably guilty; and four, athletes will do anything to get an edge in terms of performance.

There's no way to inject a syringe full of god-knows-what into your arm without knowing you're cheating. That's a certainty.  But for most of us, the stakes are lower and so are the performance-enhancing methods we would be willing to try.

When I was home in May, ready to race against my dad in the Soldier Field 10m run, my dad was seriously afraid of losing to me.  As such, he swallowed down a 5-Hour Energy drink right before the race start and had his best run in ages.  Now, he takes a 5-hour energy drink before almost any run.  It's not illegal at all (it's mostly caffeine), but it's still a substance taken solely for the purpose of giving my dad an edge: a benefit he ideally could have gotten from consistent training.  A cheat, if you will.

I'm not trying to accuse my dad of cheating through a passive-aggressive blog (that he doesn't even read).  I'm just wondering, what else fits into this nebulous category of things we non-elites do to improve our performance when our physical training has failed.  Any thoughts?

Also, today is election day.  Don't forget to vote!  (If you are eligible to vote and are so inclined, that is.)


  1. That guy's body looks like it belongs in an anatomy textbook.

  2. Agreed. The whole doping thing is just so weird to me. Obviously he was a talented runner to begin with, but it's just so sad how he started when he was older, after much of his glory had already faded.

    Not even to mention the subtle dig of the story, which is that he very well may be a money-grubbing, remorseless guy who's trying desperately to get himself more attention by even telling his story.