There’s no real system for catching dopers in ultrarunning. A few races might test here and there but truly effective testing comes down to a year-round program, including out-of-competition testing. In cycling, they have an impressive “biological passport” system. Almost any doping system is expensive, hard to administer and often fraught with varying levels of absurdity and corruption. There are no perfect systems, and often cheaters go undetected. Just look at the NFL and you’ll see a league bulging with ‘roiders and very few positive tests to show for it. Much of the time, testing programs are a joke—a façade.
That said, some high-profile elite road runners have been busted, including Rita Jeptoo. In the sprinting world, it seems tons of athletes have been caught. So, testing does work now and then. Some people are busted, but many go undetected because they’ve figured out how to beat the system, the system failed or (probably most commonly) they were never tested at all.
In ultras, you have none of that. You have no real governing body, which means you have no testing system. And you have no money. Some people say money is coming to ultras. Really? In the grand scheme of things, those $10,000 prizes that just went to the top man and woman in race X are a drop in the bucket for big companies who just want to promote and market their brands.
The reality is that most ultras are volunteer-driven and organized by a guy or gal who’s operating on a shoe-string budget and is just hoping he/she doesn't lose too much money when all is said and done.
So what you have in ultra is a Wild West situation in which participants can, in theory and practice, do whatever they want as far as performance enhancing drugs—EPO, HGH, you name it—and get away with it. I do believe the vast majority of us don't dope and instead train and race the right way. But a few do cheat and that's concerning.
And this isn’t just about the "elites”; it’s also about less than scrupulous age groupers who might have good enough jobs to finance their PED use, which comes down to satisfying their own ego and impressing others. People will cheat to impress others. It’s naïve to say people will only cheat to win money or fame. People break the rules all the time and justify it one way or the other. Never underestimate the allure of impressing others. I don’t get it, but there are lots of people out there who want praise. A little EPO might help in that regard.
From where I’m sitting, until the bona fide running elites start racing ultras, there will never be big money in the sport—which means no testing system. What do I mean by bona fide elites? Well, in Kenya they have over 30 men who can run a 2:05 marathon. In American ultrarunning, and maybe worldwide ultrarunning, there’s not a single man who gets even close to 2:05 that I can think of. So in a sport where you don’t have the fastest long-distance runners in the world competing, how can you expect money to make its way into the mix and a testing system to form? Neither is going to happen.
So we find ourselves in a “sport” lacking organization, a testing system and real money to get anything done.
As naïve as it may sound, the best we can hope for is for ultrarunners to train and race with integrity. It’s possible a few high-profile races can implement testing (and that would be great), but the prospect of a comprehensive testing system is bleak unless ultra evolves in ways few of us could ever imagine.
Let’s all be honest competitors and participants with integrity.