My thoughts on the latest doping scandal..

What doping scandal?

Recently there was a raid at the World Nordic Skiing Championships in Austria. You may have seen the video circulating online of the police walking into the hotel room where one of the skiers was caught in the act.

You may be asking yourself.. what has this got to do with triathlon? This raid has been the catalyst of a large number of arrests including athletes and a doctor. It has been released to the press by the investigators that hundreds of cases have taken place world wide but one of the places where blood was sent and where athletes took part in blood doping is Hawaii.
You can read about it here.

Now, that’s all the information that has been released at the moment but twitter is rife with speculation that this blood doping would have taken place at the IRONMAN World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.

What is blood doping?

noun the injection of oxygenated blood into an athlete before an event in an (illegal) attempt to enhance athletic performance.

My (very basic) understanding of this is as follows: Our blood is made up of roughly 45% cells (or haematocrit) and 55% plasma (the fluid part). The red blood cells contained in the haematocrit carries the oxygen around our bodies from our lungs to our muscles. The more red blood cells we have the more oxygen that travel to our muscles. More oxygen means the better the muscles perform and the slower they get tired.. In other words increasing our red blood cells can increase our aerobic ability (vo2 max) and endurance.

Blood doping is when someone illegally and artificially increases the amount of red blood cells in their blood stream. The human body holds 8 pints of blood. In the most basic form (and what appeared to be happening with the skiers mentioned above) this is done by the athletes removing their own blood (about a pint), storing it for 3 to 4 weeks whilst the body naturally replenishes the amount of blood in their body back to normal levels then they put that old blood back in. The body now has 9 pints of blood instead of 8 and an extra pint’s worth of red blood cells to carry the oxygen.

If the athlete has more than usual blood = more then usual red blood cells = more oxygen getting to their muscles = better performance.

Ych a fi – that sounds pretty horrible to me. It can be dangerous too. If you increase the percentage of cells or haematocrit in the blood then you are decreasing the amount of plasma (liquid) which makes it harder for the blood to move through the body causing all sorts of problems including stroke or sudden death.

This isn’t the only way you can dope or cheat. Other examples include taking EPO, testosterone, steroids or even motor doping (hiding a motor on your bike)

How can blood doping be detected?

Blood doping can be detected by regular testing of the blood. This can be done by a simple finger prick. They then keep a record of the percentage of haematocrit v plasma in the blood.

If the percentage of haematocrit suddenly increases then this suggests that this has been artificially increased by blood doping.

Athletes can avoid their results showing the increase in haematocrit percentage by drinking a lot of water just before the test. This will increase the percentage of plasma temporarily until the athlete urinates the water back out. So it is very hard to prove, unless of course you are caught in the act with a bag of blood attached to you – which is what happened to the Skier.

My reaction

Now I must admit that up until fairly recently I was pretty naive to the methods used by triathletes to gain an unfair advantage over their rivals. Of course I had heard the cycling and athletics stories but it didn’t really occur to me that triathletes would be at it too. Or at least not the ones I looked up to. Maybe I just didn’t want to believe it. Of course – who is doing what is all hearsay but it is fact that there are professional athletes competing today that have served bans for doping in the past. There are also a lot of rumours, hearsay and suspicions in the world of triathlon about certain athletes. This story has certainly not come as a surprise to most.

For me it has certainly taken a bit of a shine away from these big events such as Kona. I have stayed up (well tried to) late into the night for the past 2 years watching the athletes compete at an incredible level and I have dreamed of being able to perform at even half their ability. Now, it’ll certainly be crossing my mind “who is racing fairly? are they cheating? are they doping?”. I am really reluctant and very sad to think that way because it is not fair that if someone does well or exceeds expectations we immediately become suspicious but unfortunately this is something that we must accept is a part of our sport. I really hope that it is just a small minority that do it. I feel really bad for the clean athletes who are competing against these cheaters or are even having fingers pointed at them unfairly.

You might think to yourself this is all well and good – yes of course it is disappointing that some of the pros are cheating but this doesn’t affect my race.. It doesn’t affect my triathlon. Unfortunately this may not be the case. Doping or cheating is also prevalent in age-group triathlon. In 2018 the Ironman Age-Group World Champion received a four year doping ban and an American age grouper in the 60-64 age group received an 8 year ban.

The examples above weren’t blood doping (as far as we know) but the question is, if they were, how would we know? Age-groupers (all athletes who are not professionals) are only usually tested if they win. Which leads us on to the other question – how many age-groupers are out there that have not been tested who are cheating?

What’s going to happen next?

The big question is are we going to find out whether the Hawaii blood transfusions took place at the Kona World Champs and who the athletes were that received the blood?

If so, what is IRONMAN going to do about it? Other professionals have already been commenting on the matter and suggesting that they may be owed prize money should it transpire that people who finished ahead of them are cheating.

What’s important to note is that if the alleged individuals doping at Kona are identified they were not caught via IRONMAN testing. The evidence has all come about after a tip-off which led to the raid.

As for the age-groupers, do you think IRONMAN is doing enough by only testing the winners? Should more athletes be tested? I understand that it would have cost implications but lets be honest – IRONMAN charge enough for their events. The athletes deserve to know that they are doing something to try and make the event fairer.

Another suggestion would be to increase education about the risks involved both with the blood doping but also with the other methods of cheating.

I am aware that this blog has only scratched the surface on this topic but I thought it would be interesting to raise the subject and I would be interested to know what my fellow athletes make of this, especially my fellow age-groupers. Do you think this is something that affects us and should the race organisers be doing more to test and educate their athletes?

Special thank you to Dr Roger Cole who helped me with this blog.

My triathlon journey so far…

My triathlon journey began in late 2013 when I met David Cole. He was already an Ironman at that point and I began my triathlon journey as a spectator.

The first event I watched him race was Mumbles Duathlon 2014 which was his first ever duathlon. To think he would go on to represent GB in duathlon in 2015 and become European duathlon champion in 2016 just shows how quickly he progressed.

Anyway, back to me. That summer I watched David complete Long Course Weekend and win that famous fourth medal. It was definitely a case of completing not competing for David then.. again how times change.

Sorry, I digress, again. I loved watching Long Course Weekend. I especially enjoyed the fact that you could pick and choose your race distances and the fact it was similar to the Ironman Wales course.. it made the distance approachable somehow.

I started training – very little amounts. About an hour or an hour and a half per week. By 2015 I had entered my first super sprint triathlon and completed my first half marathon.

Surprisingly however, I can’t say I was really enjoying myself and in 2016 I only ran 2 races.. a 10km and 4 mile. My bike, a Pendleton Initial road bike affectionately known as Peggy had been in hibernation since the super sprint of 2015. This changed during that 4 mile race at the end of the summer of 2016. At the race I got chatting to another girl called Bryanie, I didn’t know her that well but she was the girlfriend of one of the boys who trained and raced with David. She was thinking of buying a bike and did so shortly after. That was the beginning of me really enjoying cycling and we would ride together often.

By 2017 I decided I wanted to give triathlon another go. In January I ran my first race for my triathlon team West Coast Tri at the team pursuit in Crymych followed by Neyland duathlon shortly thereafter. I upgraded my bike (soz Peggy) and invested in a Liv Envie.

My main event that year was to be Long Course Weekend here I was to do half an Ironman over 3 days. I loved it. That was me, well and truly hooked. Lots of go-tri’s, a sprint and a standard triathlon finished off the year.

That Autumn a very special magazine landed on the doormat. I had won a place in the London Marathon ballot. I had never run a marathon before and I decided to make 2018 even bigger by entering Ironman Wales.

And so in 2018, the training began for my first ever endurance event. It started well-ish with a bit of bursitis in my hip which I quickly recovered from. Even the Beast from the East couldn’t keep me from my long runs. However, disaster struck in the Mumbles duathlon where I picked up a hamstring injury. Having plodded through Jan, Feb and March I stupidly thought I’d do a sprint duathlon with no speed training. With the already big mileage in the legs something had to give and that something was my hamstring.

I managed to hobble around a sweltering London Marathon in a time of 4.36. I was hoping for nearer 4 hours but between the hamstring and the shock of the heatwave which was a huge contrast to my snowy training runs I was just happy to get my first marathon under the belt in preparation for the larger target of the year – Ironman Wales.

I had just under 4 months to get myself ready. A cycling holiday to Majorca kicked things off nicely but unfortunately had to pull out of the Slateman Standard distance triathlon in May as the hamstring definitely wasn’t ready for that brutal trail run at the end but I slowly introduced more running. Slow running, but I didn’t care as long I was able to get the miles in.

We had a sunny summer filled with long bike rides but more bad luck came when the half ironman I had entered, the Sospan Sizzler, was cancelled due to bad weather. I’d never done more than a standard triathlon and it was too close to Ironman by now to enter anything else so I decided I’d have to do it myself… I did my own half Ironman in a day. The thunder and hailstones certainly made for an interesting run that day but it was another tick in the box in the run up to Ironman Wales.

September arrived and soon enough the big day was here! It was certainly an experience I will never forget and I loved it! I successfuly tamed the dragon in a time of 14 hours and 16 minutes. I am now an Ironman! If you want to read my Ironman Wales race report you can find it HERE.

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Ironman Wales 2018. Swim 1.14 Bike 7.28 Run 5.09 Total = 14.16 Can safely say my time would not have been anywhere near that if it wasn't for the incredible support out on route. From our families @nicolaagarethdavies @caryshdavies @helencochyn friends – too many to name!, fellow athletes in particular the WCT gang and all the WCT spectators and all the other hundreds out along the route. Diolch yn fawr I bawb. The cherry on top is that I have raised Β£1982 for Myeloma UK and Alzheimer's Research. Thank you to everyone who has donated. Special thank you to my family and David's for their help and support, @bryanie_jade @meldavies56 @sianadavies for being my top cycling buddies this year (I felt very lonely at times during the bike without you yesterday!), Bryanie for keeping me company throughout the run, and finally @dctriathlon for being my mentor, coach and inspiration! 2018 has been immense ❀️ I AM AN IRONMAN πŸ™ŒπŸΌ

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