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It’s an unfortunate reality that nearly every major sport has had its own performance-enhancing-drug (PED) scandal. Most prominently, cycling, road running and baseball are in the midst of decades-long debates. Meanwhile, trail running has been left largely unscathed in the public eye—until recently.
First, Elisa Desco, who served a doping ban after testing positive for the banned substance EPO in 2009 competed in the North Face 50 Miler in San Francisco. (She dropped before completing the race.)
Then, just as the debate about Desco’s appearance was quieting, Lance Armstrong won a trail race near San Francisco, setting off social-media shockwaves.
For years, the topic of PED use in trail running has come up in private conversations between elite runners. But the recent controversies have pushed the conversation into the open.
In response, a new website, RunCleanGetDirty.org, has been set up, asking competitive trail athletes to sign on to a “commitment to running clean.”
Website founder Paul Kirsch, a race director and the manager of the U.S. Mountain Running Junior Team, has been a prominent part of the doping conversation for years.
(Full disclosure: Kirsch and I discussed his idea of a clean-sport pledge over email last week, and I have been involved in the development of the website. I have since signed the pledge.)
Kirsch hopes the website can show young runners, like the junior athletes he manages, that there are good role models in trail running who can run clean and win. “I want them and others to have a place that doesn’t just talk about the evils of doping but also highlights really successful runners who have committed to running clean,” he says.
Run Clean. Get Dirty. founder Paul Kirsch. Photo courtesy of Paul Kirsch
Trail runners who sign the pledge state that, if found guilty of PED use by “the IAAF, a national federation, or any national anti-doping agency or government in any sport,” they “agree to a lifetime ban on receiving any prize money, points, other form of prize, or a position in the competitive rankings of any race.”
Each athlete also submits a description of why being clean is important. Already, some of the biggest names in trail running have agreed to the pledge and posted their testimonials, including Sage Canaday, Max King, Kaci Lickteig, Dylan Bowman, Maria Dalzot, Kasie Enman, Camille Herron, Stephanie Howe, Ian Sharman and Alex Varner.
Canaday, winner of The North Face 50 in 2014 and the Speedgoat 50K for the past three years, wrote, “I think future generations of runners can benefit from being shown what can be achieved through plain ol’ hard work!”
Camille Herron, the 2015 World 50K and 100K Champion, wrote, “I want to be a legend and leave my mark on the world, and no way would I want to tarnish my legacy by cheating myself and others.”
David Laney, who came in third at the 2015 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, was succinct: “I like fresh air and big mountains. I think that’s the way it ought to be. Simple.”
Kirsch hopes these testimonials will help shift the debate from Internet-vigilante rhetoric to an optimistic, forward-looking tone. “Since each athlete gets to put in their own words why they have made a commitment to be clean,” he says, “I think it gives a lot of great perspectives on the whole matter, and does so in a positive, constructive light.”