Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Is Doping Pervasive in Ironman Triathlons? This Study Says It May Be As Much as 1 in 7 Athletes...

A recent German study of 2,997 triathletes published in November, 2013 published on PLOS ONE, anonymously asked athletes competing at Ironman Frankfurt, Ironman 70.3 Wiesbaden, and Ironman Regensburg if they used performance enhancing supplements (both doping and over-the-counter) and the results were jaw-dropping to say the least. If the study is correct, as many as 1 in 7 amateur Ironman triathletes are doping in some form, as well as 20% of those competing at the Ironman European championships.

The study made a distinction between physical doping (steroids, EPO, human growth hormone, etc.) and cognitive doping (antidepressants, beta-blockers, modafinil, methylphenidate, etc.), but the results were still eye opening given the sample size:
  • 13% admitted to physical doping (steroids, EPO, human growth hormone, other physical enhancements) ;
  • 15% admitted to cognitive doping (antidepressants, beta-blockers, modafinil, methylphenidate, etc.); 
  • 10% admitted to both physical and cognitive doping; 
  • 20% admitted to physical doping at Ironman European championships Frankfurt.
Holy cheatskates, Batman. One in five admitted to doping at the Ironman European championships?!? That is crazy! Certainly there are a few suspects out there, but I doubt anyone suspected it would be as big as 20% at a big championship. If this is well known underground fact, this sport is as crazy as the must-dope-to-compete world of cycling.

But taking a closer look at the study I can see that the key question in the survey for "physical enhancements" asks if you've taken substances that can "...only be prescribed by a doctor, are available in a pharmacy, or can be bought on the black market (e.g. anabolic steroids, erythropoietin, stimulants, growth hormones) to enhance your physical performance". Now that could be a lot of things, including diet pills, Viagra, Rogaine, organic supplements, you name it. I mean, I've heard that some athletes take these things (ha, ha). So even though one might conclude performance enhancement is pervasive among these athletes, one can't quite conclude that all Ironmen are going all Lance Armstrong on us.

One thing for sure, the path to enhancing the body through substances is a slippery slope. It may not be for a specific race goal, and could just be the pervasiveness to enhance the body. The study ends by concluding:
"The use of substances to improve physical and cognitive performance was associated on both levels of legality (enhancement vs. doping) suggesting that athletes do not use substances for a specific goal but may have a general propensity to enhance. This finding is important for understanding why people use such substances. Consequently, more effective prevention programs against substance abuse and doping could be developed."
What do you guys think...is doping pervasive in Ironman? I've known of a few individuals who went full BALCO to do their best at the Ironman World Championships, but quite frankly, they were the type to skirt the rules of life in general.

And I know about you ultra runners....unless you count Vespa, tattoos, big beards, or an extraordinary amount of aid station Oreos as physical performance enhancers, you're pretty clean. ;-)



  1. Enjoy reading about / watching Ironman Triathlons (especially Kona), but seems too expensive of a sport (all that bike gear and race costs), and you gotta worry about some horrific bike accident - biking in general concern.
    And could definitely do without - apparently per that study/survey - a decent percentage of the knuckleheads around me doping.
    I can get my butt kicked in running already just fine thank you very much... don't need apparently comparatively speaking more people around me doping to get my butt kicked even more.

  2. My thought is that these numbers would be lower in terms of percentages in the running community, even though we might have an equal or greater number of people doping. That is in part because of our greater numbers of people in the sport (IM has nothing like a Bolder Boulder where there are 46000 participants).

    The broader running community is more focused on completion then competition ... there is an element of this in the tri community as well, but my unscientific polling leads me to believe that tri folks are more interested in competition, above and beyond the 'just finish' it thing.

    And there is arguably a bit more discretionary income in tris maybe (that allows for pay for performance)? Those bikes are an evidence of that. Runners can get away with shorts and t-shirts and shoes (well, Hokas cost a lot). If you are more willing to drop 5k on a bike for a few seconds, are you more willing to take a supplement that will give you 5%?

  3. Seriously - are their any sports that aren't awash with some form of doping? Why don't we just make a steroid Olympics - imagine the records that would be set!

  4. I would love to do even just one of the three... will find time for that. You keep it up.

  5. It just keeps on baffling me why certain "athletes" use dope for this sport. I mean, the idea of this sport is endurance right? If they can't keep up with the other participants then they shouldn't have competed in the first place.

  6. My friend ran in such races of an iron man. He began "go crazy" and started taking steroids. It was a bad idea, he began to change, and eventually the doctor prescribed hgh for recovery. It helped him return to competitions, but he never achieved good results.


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