With prestige and prize money on the rise in the U.S. trail racing scene, so too increases the concern about keeping trail running a performance enhancing drug (PED)-free sport. However, testing is expensive and not always required in a sport with low-key, low-budget, homegrown origins.
Currently, the International Association of Ultrarunners and the World Mountain Running Association test at their championship events, like at the Loon Mountain Race for the 2018 Mountain/Ultra/Trail (MUT) championships held in June and the upcoming World Mountain Race Championship in Andorra in September, and competition testing may happen at any United States of America Track & Field (USATF)-sanctioned event. Also, individual athletes can be put on a list of out-of-competition testing by the previously mentioned organizations.
Non-sanctioned events may also choose to pay for testing to ensure a clean race. In 2013, the Pikes Peak Marathon and Ascent became the first U.S. trail events to test runners for performance-enhancing drugs. The Ouray 100 and Western States Endurance Run began testing top finishers in 2017.
The newly launched Golden Trail Series, founded by Salomon, consists of five established events throughout Europe, with one race, last weekend’s (August 18th, 2018) Pikes Peak Marathon, in the U.S. and the Otter Trail in South Africa as the sixth and championship event. Those participating in the Series have the added incentive of running for their portion of a generous prize purse. Notably, the Golden Trail Series also includes mandatory health policy testing as a parameter for series participation.
The Golden Trail Series health policy includes testing up to 30 days before and seven days after a race, the use of no glucocorticoids within seven days of a race and no therapeutic use exemptions (TUE).
When asked why the health policy component was so important in creating the Golden Trail Series, Greg Vollet, Salomon Global Running and Community Marketing Manager, said via email, “Of course, with Salomon investing time, money, and personal resources into attracting the best trail running athletes in the world to the Golden Trail Series, you must balance that with a strong health policy to make sure that you will have a fair approach to the sport.”
Vollet, who himself had a positive test for banned stimulants and subsequent three month suspension in 2000 (he says it he took it inadvertently in a food supplement), while competing as a professional mountain biker, felt it was important to create new, strict rules to protect the future of the sport.
The Golden Trail Series health policy includes testing up to 30 days before and seven days after a race, the use of no glucocorticoids within seven days of a race and no therapeutic use exemptions (TUE). TUEs are exceptions granted to those with a specific illness or condition that necessitates them to use a medicine on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) prohibited list. Examples would be ADHD medications, asthma inhalers and cortisone cream. So, that’s right, no TUEs. Salomon athlete Megan Kimmel puts it simply, “If you know you are taking a banned substance then do not come to the race.” In addition to the Quartz Program for pre-race testing in conjunction with the International Trail Racing Association (ITRA), Salomon uses WADA (an internationally recognized foundation formed by the International Olympic Committee to fight against drugs in sport) testing post-race.
However, not all testing is the same, and there has been some concern in the mountain running community that the Quartz Program is not a WADA-certified testing protocol. Which means it does not have the same securities, such as collecting both an A and B sample (two samples collected at the same time, one for testing, one for future back-up testing if needed), using a tamper-proof BEREG-Kit (a collection kit that is only touched by the athlete until it is sealed with the tamper-proof closure) and having an athlete monitored during sample collection. For Quartz testing, athletes go to their own doctor or testing facility and are able to submit results themselves.
Vollet contacted WADA two years ago about working with the athletes from the Salomon Team, but currently WADA is only working with federations, not private companies. So Vollet developed a Salomon program with Quartz, and uses it for all Salomon athletes. However, as is stated on the Golden Trail Series website in regards to the Quartz Program, “This program has neither the vocation nor the competence to replace anti-doping rules.” Think of it as an athlete health program, not an actual anti-doping program.
According to Vollet, pre-race testing with the Quartz Program means they are “able to check if a racer has a disease or an anemia or an abnormal blood test.” Subsequent tests are compared for fluctuations in blood values. Sage Canaday, a Hoka One One-sponsored MUT runner who finished first at the 2014 Pikes Peak Ascent, voluntarily joined the ITRA Quartz health monitoring/blood testing program two years ago for the sake of transparency, for the ability to occasionally get his iron levels checked as well as for general health and well being. The Quartz Program is available to any competing athlete who would like to register. “In fact,” says Vollet, “everyone can register for the Quartz program, and write if he or she is using medicine or if he or she has allergies, for example. And during a race the doctors of the organization will be able to consult his or her profile if there is any problem. Of course, the Health Policy is really focused on the best athletes—the ones able to reach the prize money.”
After each of the Golden Trail Series races, doping control for the top three men and women is conducted by WADA, not Quartz. Vollet said this is done because WADA has the authority to apply sanctions to athletes if needed. Looking ahead to the 2019 season, Vollet says testing will expand to the top five men and women in each race.
Even with the increased testing this new series brings, athletes like U.S. MUT-runner Joe Gray, who has represented the U.S. on the National Mountain Running Team seven times, want to see more done to keep the sport clean.
“To really clean the sport we would need to perform out of competition testing by a certified and experienced anti-doping agency for mountain, ultra and trail runners,” said Gray via email. “There are only a handful of athletes globally who have been tested or currently are getting tested out of competition and that number needs to grow to preserve the sport.”
For this year, the Pikes Peak organization handled testing for the Ascent (with a non-WADA certified organization), while the Pikes Peak Marathon had WADA testing for top finishers as a condition of being a Golden Trail Series event.
“We have always strived to protect our iconic records set on Pikes Peak, as well as the integrity of the races overall,” says Ron Ilgen, President of Pikes Peak Marathon, Inc. and Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon Race Director.
According to Ilgen, the Ascent used non-WADA certified testing because they secured a sponsorship with the national chain Any Lab Test Now, that made the testing more affordable for race organizers.
Within the current system, the consensus is that WADA-certified testing is the gold standard as far as being independent, having fail-safes and due process for athletes, which both Nancy Hobbs, Executive Director of ATRA and Chairperson of the USATF Mountain Ultra Trail Council and Richard Bolt, Director of Marketing for ATRA and USA Track & Field Team Staff, say is critical.
As always though, it comes down to money, and who pays for testing in a niche but growing sport. The search for an ideal solution continues, but for now, the Golden Trail Series has raised the bar.
Allison Pattillo, who worked in-house at Trail Runner 10 years ago, is a freelance writer based in Aspen, Colorado. She usually can be found running, hiking, biking or skiing, and loves being on top of mountains, especially when the journey there is self-propelled. You can read more of her writing in Men’s Journal, Health, Runner’s World, Aspen Sojourner and at WEDU.com.