The ugly side of running

After the layers of Lance Armstrong’s legend had been peeled away by the overwhelming facts of doping, it only seemed fitting to question whether performance-enhancing drugs were widespread within endurance running circles.

We’ve seen many world class athletes stripped of their world and Olympic titles, suspended or banned from track and field sports for decades. Almost without exception, that type of punishment hasn’t involved endurance athletes. That is, until recently.

Two of the world’s most dominant women marathoners, Rita Jeptoo and Liliya Shobukhova, were suspended late last year for positive tests related to doping. Combined they had won 5 of the past 6 Chicago Marathon races. Jeptoo also has won 3 Boston Marathon crowns. Both have appealed the suspensions.

At one time, I simply marveled at all the fast times being clocked within an ever-increasing field of fast marathoners.

In 2010, after reading the magazine article titled The Confessions of Eddy Hellebuyck, my perspective changed.

A few years later, the evidence from the Lance Armstrong saga, which continues to play out in federal court, provides Exhibit A that performance-enhancing drug use and sophisticated cheating methods permeate endurance sports, too. It is sad, if not abundantly clear, that sophisticated and stringent drug testing is required in the world of elite cycling and running.

Earlier this week, Propublica and BBC Panorama partnered to report claims against Alberto Salazar, who coaches elite runners for Nike’s Oregon Project. Salazar refutes the claims.

But, if you follow the world of elite running, something is clearly going on here.

Kara Goucher, the Minnesota-born runner with NCAA titles and one of America’s best female distance runners, is among the athletes and associates who talked to investigative reporters. She and others bring significant credibility to questions about Salazar pressuring athletes to take medications, including to improve performance or lose weight.

In unrelated allegations, this scathing piece accuses Salazar of using his status — he won the New York City Marathon three times and edged Dick Beardsley at Boston in the famed “Duel in the Sun” race — and influence to pressure judges in appeals against athletes.

There is an ugly side to running.

Nearly all runners participate in the sport for the right reasons. Many of the world’s best athletes, concerned about the sport’s reputation and their own, want drug cheats and strong-armed tactics out of the sport. Unfortunately, I suspect we hear more suspensions and stripped titles. We’ll hear more about the claims against Salazar, and the athletes he’s coached must now defend themselves and their performances.

They are all innocent until proven guilty. But accusations rise to suspicions in the arena of public opinion.

Hopefully, the allegations won’t tarnish those athletes who compete cleanly. On the other hand, athletes who have skirted the laws of good sportsmanship must be caught and punished. All the more reason for comprehensive and sophisticated testing for all world-class running and cycling events.

A day of running

It’s time to go wild again.

Today marks the first of this summer’s Wild Hog Wednesdays, a group open to runners of all levels, and the 7 p.m. kickoff at the Wild Hog Smokehouse coincides with National Running Day. The group offers routes of various distances and a chance to mingle with like-minded every day athletes.

Over the past several years, National Running Day has aimed to join all runners. According to Running USA, it “allows longtime and beginner runners alike to celebrate the sport and build connection and community between fellow runners of all ages and abilities, as well as attracts new participants,” and encourages runners to encourage each other in their healthy pursuits.

“National Running Day is a time to celebrate healthy, active living together as a community. Running USA, along with our members, are excited to celebrate a fun and inspiring day with runners across the country,” Rich Harshbarger, CEO of Running USA, said in an email.

You can also connect with runners participating in National Running Day through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Also, Altru Health again is promoting it’s 30 Days of Running program, designed to help community members stay active and commit to a healthy lifestyle. The month-long program features partnerships with Grand Forks groups to promote activities six days per week, including training runs in collaboration with Wild Hog Wednesdays, Scheels All Sports and Red River Runners. Activities are free and open to the public.

Last month, Running USA released its annual marathon report for 2014, and the overall number of finishers continues to go up. There were more than 550,000 marathon finishers in more than 1,200 marathons last year. Both numbers represent record totals. The average finishing times, for both men and women, were the slowest of any year since 2005.

The 2014 half marathon report, released yesterday, showed more than 2 million finishers — the first time eclipsing that milestone and more than double the number in 2008 — for the 13.1-mile race. The average finishing times for both genders are the slowest on record.