Wednesday, 13 February 2013

No More Big Brother.....

Don't get me wrong, I am completely against the use of performance enhancing drugs - I'd like to think that we all compete on a level playing field and success is a reward for hard work, dedication and sacrifice - and so am very much in favour of drug tests, but being part of a national registered testing pool can seriously impact on your life.

After winning a silver medal at the 2011 World 100k championships, I had my first experience of in-competition drugs tests. After running for so many hours, peeing into a cup in front of a witness is not the easiest thing to do (especially as every muscle protests at the thought of you getting up again once you've sat down). There were no prizes for the event, and the medals didn't even have proper ribbons, but it was a world championship event run by the IAAF (the International Amateur Athletics Federation) and so was subject to agreed rules and regulations. It was actually several months after the race that I received notification that I was now to be included on the national anti-doping register.

This is run by WADA ( the World Anti Doping Agency) and is actually more complicated than it the extent that an official had to come up from Birmingham to "train" me in how to use "My Whereabouts". It's easy once you become accustomed to it, but at first takes up a lot of time and worry. "My Whereabouts" is basically an online system into which you have to submit an address for every single day of the week and provide a daily 60minute testing slot between 6am and 11pm (yes, even on weekends).  One training session and venue should be entered for each week (though apparently it's OK to give a venue as "out of the front door and turn left") and if you do not have a race planned for every quarter, there should be a reason.

In my naivete, I thought that by submitting a 60 minute slot, you would be tested in this slot if your name came up, but this is not the case. You can be tested at any time, but it is only if you fail to do a test in your allocated 60 minutes that it counts as a "failed" test. In the time that I've been on the register, I've been tested an average of every few months, but testers have turned up at my front door at 7am on a Sunday morning, at 9:45 pm on a rainy weeknight, and a couple of times at my work. Once a tester has made contact with you, you cannot disappear from their sight......which can cause comedy moments as you ransack the house to locate your passport for proof of ID, or at work when you're in a meeting or about to start surgery.

The difference to "in competition" and "out of competition" testing is in a slight difference in what medications are allowed. It is advisable to check every medication, even something as everyday as a decongestant for a cold (pseudoephedrine is a stimulant found in decongestants), on a database before you take it. The same goes for any drinks, gels or the WADA app on my phone has been very useful. Any medications taken in the past week are declared at the time of a test, and some may require a medical exemption certificate to prove you actually needed to take them.

Now, as I said earlier, I am in favour of testing to keep the sport "clean" but I do find it quite funny, when I realise that many people running faster than me in races have not been subject to the same level of testing as I have. I generally don't go in for all night drinking sessions, but it is quite restricting to have to submit an address of where you are staying ahead of time. For example,  if I visit friends, I have to ask their permission to enter their address details onto the database, and depending on when I nominate my 60minute slot, it means I either have a curfew, or I cannot leave the house before a certain time - not easy if travelling.

This week I received notification that I can now be removed from the National Registered Testing Pool - and it is amazing how liberating it feels. Although I can still be tested at any time (and can be included in the Pool again), I no longer panic when going on holiday, as I was always worried I'd forget to update accommodation details, or forget time zone differences. I can also go away on the spur of the moment, go camping, or choose to stay somewhere just "because" -  but the main bonus for me is that I can return to taking part in overnight and multi-day events, (eg Mountain Marathons) which is where my love for running started!


  1. OK, I'm just beginning the process. And likewise, they waited a long time after worlds to contact me; in my case 10 months. And it all sounds like a major pain in the ass, and after watching the mandatory video intro, they have me scared to take multi-vitamins. I'm confused as to why you didn't think you could participate in overnight or multi-day events? I know others on the list who compete in overnight events, and as long as you indicate where you'll be, what's the problem?

    1. The problem is "indicating where you'll be" Amy - not sure if you have the same set-up in the States, but in a Mountain Marathon, you are entirely self-sufficient from start to finish......and only get a map with checkpoints and overnight campsite details on it once you cross the start line (to prevent people doing route recces), hence the difficulty!

    2. But you'd never be tested during an actual competition, in general (after but never during), so you'd think that the fact that you were competing would kind of get around that issue.