The shocking revelations in the sport of cycling just keep coming. What a week it's been? Of course if we had really been paying attention, we would have known or suspected much of this, so really it should not have come as much of a surprise.
Everyone has their limits. Real competitive sport at the elite high performance level is ruthless - endurance sports like cycling, particularly so. You either keep up . . . or you don't! When you reach that personal limit, when you know you have trained as absolutly as hard as you can and you still can't keep up, or perhaps the podium, is only a few minutes, seconds or steps away . . . . then what?
Maybe I was lucky. I always trained with guys who were a lot better then me - first in running and then in triathlon. Early on in the game, I knew that despite all the training, despite all the hard work, even though we did all the same work outs, there was no way I was going to beat the better guys that I trained with. Call it defeatist if you like. To me it just seemed to be reality.
In the early '90's, I was deep into triathlon. I had come close to breaking 9 hours for the Ironman a couple of times. I was training what seemed to be a crazy amount - kept wondering, if this was my limit. Had a reached the point of taking this as far as I could go? Nine hours at the time was an OK time, but to really break-though, you needed to go sub-9 to be taken seriously. Some potential sponsors had even said, "Call me when you break 9"!
Around that time, I was working out at a local gym and fell into conversation with a coach (note he was not a triathlon coach, but a strength coach who worked out of that gym) who I knew, and helped athletes with strength training. He said to me in a quiet moment of conversation one day, straight-up, that I would be the perfect candidate for a low dosage steroid program. Super-lean (read - skinny-bean-pole) endurance athletes like me, did well on these programs. It allowed us to recover quicker from really hard workouts and made us overall more durable. Meaning, able to train more at a higher level, and then go faster. There was no testing at all in triathlon, the coach said. It was the ideal situation, he concluded!
It could have been that easy for me. In Canada at the time, we were still reeling with the hangover from the Ben Johnson Seoul Olympic Games debacle. Taking steroids, was a no-no. I soon moved, never went back to that gym and never saw that coach again. I did not succumb. I continued to believe that, I could be my best, and get that sub-9 Ironman time, on hard-work and hope.
I tried a few more times, but the sub-9 Ironman remained elusive and by the mid-90's, I had moved onto others things and after my son was born in 1997, gave up on the sport at a competitive level completely.
Given all the news and the revelations this week, I keep thinking back to those days in the early 90's, and that conversation at the gym. How beat-up, battered and fatigued I was after heavy training, and how one conversation and the outcome could have changed everything.
Not making excuses for professional cyclists, but the pressures right through the peleton that they face, would I assume be significantly greater than what me, the sub-pro triathlete was facing in the early 90's. However, everyone will reach their limit, and when they reach that point, knowing realistically, that just more years of hard work is not going to do it, that's perhaps when you reach that junction in the road - one road, is more hard work, but you know not much is going to change. The other road, is to seek some form of outside illegal assistance.
The question is, what road do you take? If you are an endurance athlete, at the level I was at (or there abouts), where you ever tempted along the way?
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