Ultras are one of the most physically-demanding sports in existence. We push our bodies to the absolute limit… then we push some more. Sleep deprivation, hyper and hypothermia, destruction of muscle tissue, extreme stressing of the endocrine and immune system… it’s all part of the game. Under these extreme conditions, the line between success and failure is minuscule. We continually experiment to find the tiniest edge to help us reach the finish line… which may steer us into ethically-questionable territory.
News of another runner death from a cocktail of “supplements” sparked a heated social media debate. Should runners be ingesting supplements, especially ibuprofen (or other pain killers?)
Personally, I have a VERY strong opinion about pain meds and running:
If you need drugs to deal with the pain, you shouldn’t be running that distance at that intensity.
In fact, I’ve ranted about this topic several times here at BRU, including giving some excellent alternatives to drugs. Still, we have to decide where we draw the line. The issue of unorthodox self-experimentation as a means of improving performance was one of the major themes in my trail and ultrarunning book. What if we find ibuprofen improves our performance AND we take the necessary steps to reduce the potential risk?
That’s when we enter the gray area of running morality. Where are we willing to draw the line between what IS acceptable to improve performance and what’s NOT acceptable to improve performance?
Where do you draw the line? Are there particular shoes that cross your own personal line? How about clothing? Foods? What about drugs?
Many will draw the line at legality- if the law allows it, it’s fair game. There’s gray area in that approach, too, though. Most people are okay with caffeine consumption (me included… Red Bull and Monster are a staple for my hundos.) Most would also say cocaine wouldn’t be acceptable. Again, I agree. But what about amphetamines or ADHD drugs? Both are legal via prescription… but not intended to help keep you awake when running stupid long distances.
The same argument can be made for steroids. Recovery after a race is critical for ultrarunners, and juicin’ up would certainly speed recovery. I would say ‘roids are illegal… but what about hormone replacement therapy for dudes going through andropause? Legal? Yes. Ethical? You tell me.
Pain killers are perhaps the best example. I’ve witnessed people popping pretty much every pain med under the sun during ultras, from the tame acetaminophen to the slightly more dangerous ibuprofen to harder stuff (codeine and tramadol) to some pretty hard stuff (oxycodone), to flat-out stupid (fentanyl, usually used to treat severe pain in cancer patients.)
The last one was based on a conversation I overheard between a runner and their pacer. I’m not sure they knew I was there (in the dark running in very quiet minimal shoes.) She instructed her pacer to only give her “pain drops” if she was in danger of DNFing the race. He asked what kind of pain meds she had. When she answered, I thought I misheard her… but the ensuing conversation confirmed she had did indeed have fentanyl lozenges. Disregard the legality or ethics issue- using hard core pain meds that could easily be fatal given ultrarunning rigors is ridiculous.
Okay, so the vast majority wouldn’t turn to such drastic measures, but am curious. Where do YOU draw the ethics line? Leave a comment, and feel free to discuss any specifics besides just pain meds, such as:
- Do barefoot runners consider shoes of any type to be performance-enhancing gear?
- What about clothing or devices like a cooling vest in heat or electric heating elements in cold?
- As far as foods- are there any foods that would give a competitor an unfair advantage?
I want to hear your opinions!