Fun facts about life after 50, gender fluidity and femme footwear choices, and balancing all the injuries

I love this Louis CK thing about midlife injuries and physio and his “incurable shitty ankle,” especially the bit where the doctor tells him that it’s just this thing you now have to do for the rest of your life. Sometimes I laugh, sometimes I cry. But it feels real to me. It feels very real to my complicated knees. See Bad knee news for the back story.

But I think he needs to redo it for us over 50s because the real complications come when it’s not just one injury but two or three. Knees, back, and feet anyone?

My plantar fasciitis is back. (Did you know it’s also called “policeman’s heel”? That was news to me too. Thanks Google.)

I’ve got a good doctor on the case, Colin Dombroski. See his book on plantar fasciitis here. He’s the foot guy at my university’s sports medicine clinic. I like that clinic a lot since their goal is to keep people active and moving and doing the things that we love.  See Aging and the myth of wearing out your joints.

One thing that hadn’t occurred to me though was that my injuries might be in competition. The orthotics that help with knee pain might not be so good for my plantar fasciitis. So I now have one set for everyday use and another set in my running shoes. The everyday orthotics are in these fancy new Blundstones, and my lovey favourite Fluevogs are on the back burner or for limited party use only for while.

My Blundstones look like this:

Blundstone Super 550 Series Boot

My Fluevog Odettes (“an homage to every misrepresented Witch of the West there ever was”) look like this:


Now my life, my personal style, my gender roles have room for both the Blundstone and the Fluevogs. They might just represent the range from “sporty femme” (as my friend Ingrid once dubbed me) to “party femme.” But for this winter, I’ll mostly be the Blundstone person. That is, when I’m not wearing bike shoes, ski boots, skates, or running shoes.

(I’m way off topic here but if this stuff interests you, you might want to read my papers Fashion and Sexual Identity, or Why Recognition Matters in Fashion – Philosophy for Everyone: Thinking with Style edited by  Jessica Wolfendale and Jeanette Kennett  and “Those Shoes Are Definitely Bicurious”: More Thoughts on the Politics of Fashion (in Dennis Cooley and Kelby Harrison (ed.), Passing/Out: Sexual Identity Veiled and Revealed (2012).)

Thanks Alice, for this!

Okay, seriously now, back to sports injuries. I’m stepping back from fashion, and gender, and shoes.

So there’s this tension between the knee injury, which isn’t really as Louis CK gets right, an injury at all, and the recent flare up of heel pain. It’s not a knee injury because it’s more the way my knees are for the rest of my life. They won’t get better. The exercises don’t make them better. They allow me to keep moving. Thank you sports doctors and physiotherapists.

But that’s not all of it. There’s also a tension between heel pain and my much loved standing desk. See Celebrating my standing desks. If I stand too much it makes the heel pain worse, but if I sit too much I hurt my back. So I’m back and forthing more than I usually do between sitting and standing.  Let’s just say there’s a lot of moving and stretching and changing of footwear in my life right now.

I’m hoping this is me come spring!

Bracebridge Duathlon Race Report (August 7, 2016)–Guest Post

This was my fourth duathlon and first international distance race (10k run – 40k bike – 5k run) of the 2016 season.   I was very active in duathlons from 2008 through 2013, including competing in three national and two world age-group championships.   In the time since then, I have been dealing with injuries (a concussion and plantar fasciitis in both feet) as well as life upheaval and menopause.  When I returned to training, I had lingering symptoms and was carrying an extra 20 lbs which is very detrimental to racing speed, especially running.

My main goal for 2016 has been qualifying for the 2017 world championships.  The qualifying race would be held on August 24th, at the international distance.    This distance has typically taken me 2hrs30 to 2hrs45, depending on the course.  I knew I would feel more confident going into my goal race, if I completed one prior.  The Bracebridge race was only 17 days before August 24th, but I decided to do it and treat it as training.   I also did a full week of training leading up to the race and did not allow myself a taper.  This was going to be a test of endurance, not of speed.   I’ve used this strategy before and it takes a good deal of humility, especially when you know your less-than-stellar results are going to be posted online for everyone to see.

This was my first time doing the Bracebridge course.   I have done the hilly Multisport Canada (MSC) Gravenhurst and Huronia (Midland) races in the past, and was told that the run course would be flatter than those, but the bike course would be harder due to longer hills.   I debated changing the gearing on my bike but in discussion with others, opted to stay with my existing gears.

I drove up to Bracebridge the night before and was able to get to the race site with plenty of time in the morning.   I stick primarily to the MSC series as their races are very consistent in their organization.   I quickly had my bike racked and transition area set up, including a second pair of running shoes.  With my plantar fasciitis still bothering me a bit, I opted to do Run 1 in my cushioned training shoes and Run 2 in my racing flats.  

For my warm-up, I did about 5 minutes of easy jogging, in contrast to the normal 20+ minutes I would have done in the past.   I knew I was going to do Run 1 at an easy pace, so I didn’t need a long warm-up.  As well, I didn’t feel that I had any endurance to spare!  My legs felt good with no hamstring or calf tightness.  My nutrition was good, my stomach was settled and all the bathroom stuff got taken care of in time.  I have had some stomach upset (runner ischemia) in the past so I have now started taking two Imodium after my final bathroom visit at races, and this is working well.

Run 1 (goal 6:00/km, actual 6:09/km) –  We started out on grass and headed up a small hill.  Within the first 10 metres, I was in last place of all 24 participants.  At first, I was very disheartened about this, but then I realized that it took all the pressure off of me as there would be no one for me to try to stay ahead of.    

I always view the first 10km of an international distance duathlon as a mental challenge.  I try not to think about the fact that I am only in the first 10km of a total of 55km that I need to cover.  I need to go hard, but not so hard that I am exhausted for the bike.   When I am fit, I usually aim for 1-2 minutes slower in total than a stand-alone 10km race.   That would put me at about a 6:00/km pace at my current level of fitness.   The run was an out and back on a Muskoka road with cottages on one side and a river on the other.  It was partially shaded, which helped as the day was already quite warm at 8:30am.   My feet were tingly within the first couple of kms, due to lingering plantar fasciitis symptoms, but I knew this would improve as I carried on.  By about the 3.5km mark, I started to see the fast men coming back towards me, followed by the women around the 4km mark.   Lots of encouraging words back and forth, as many of us in the duathlon world know each other.  There was a young woman volunteer on a mountain bike playing “sweep” who was following me as I was in last place…. That’s a first for me, but she was also encouraging.  I plodded on, keeping my pace just below 6:00/km, but I faded in the last 3km and finished up a bit over that.

Bike (goal 24km/h, actual 24.8km/h) – a fairly quick transition, then out on the bike course.  It started out fairly flat but at km4, there was a very big uphill.  I had to go into my easiest gear, and stand up, but I got up it fine.  After that, there were quite a few more ups and downs, but none as big as that one.   In retrospect, staying with my existing gearing was the right decision.  Mentally, this one-loop bike course went on forever.  I had done a number of solo 50-60km rides in training, but my total bike mileage year-to-date is very low and I had not done any 40km time trials as I had in past years.  I just kept telling myself to ignore my speed and get through it.  The second half of the course had more of a tailwind than the first half, which was motivating.  Finally it was over and I was back into transition.

Bracebridge bike

Run 2 (goal 6:30/km, actual 6:30/km) – Ideally, I try to keep my second run to within 15-20 seconds per km of my first run.  Any closer than that means I haven’t worked hard enough in my first run.   Any slower than that means I have gone way too hard on the bike portion.  I headed out of transition feeling my normal amount of quad pain after a 40km bike ride, but was pleasantly surprised to find that my legs were ok after the first km.   I got into a good running rhythm and started to feel very happy, knowing that I was going to finish the full distance in a solid manner.


I headed in towards the finish area and became quite emotional, realizing that I had met my goal of getting back up to the level of fitness where I could finish this race distance.  I was thinking of all the life stuff that I had dealt with since the last time I did a full duathlon, especially the sudden cancer death of my dear friend Shirley last summer.  I was very down for many months and for a while I thought that I would never compete again, let alone at this distance.  Shirley’s cancer was completely unexpected and it threatened my previous assumption of my own health.  The feeling of relief and gratitude when I crossed the finish line, was suddenly overwhelming.  

It was pretty easy to collate my results….. 2nd of 2 in my age group, 8th of 8 women, 24th of 24 overall, and 3hrs18 total time, my slowest for this distance by about 25 minutes.   Last in every way and a personal worst time, but it just didn’t matter.   What a relief to know that I had met my race goal of finishing this distance.  

Here are some random pics with my pal Shirley.  Yes, she did 50 half marathons by the time she turned 50!  She is very deeply missed.




Okay, I’ll go there: Morning running/riding/racing and the poop scheduling problem

I’ve got a friend who I’d like to be weight training with. We’ve both got university gym memberships. It’s quiet there in the morning. I suggest we meet there at 7,-before work, lift for an hour, grab a quick bite to eat, and then off to work. She makes a face and declines. “I’d have to get up at 5 am,” she says. But why? I mean I was planning on a 6 am alarm and could probably snooze once or twice and still make it. The reason was delicate. Bathroom scheduling.

Nat isn’t so delicate. I once suggested doing something at 7 am to her. I can’t remember what or why. It must have been good. She laughed. “No way. That’s poo o’clock.”

A few friends on the bike rally like the later start, 9 am, because you get up at 6 and start riding three hours later. Plenty of time for breakfast and bathroom. That seems like a lot of time to me. My life is simple that way. I get up, I drink coffee, I go. There. Done.

Life isn’t so simple for everyone. I get that. There are sometimes lengthy discussions in the breakfast line at the bike rally about what foods are and aren’t good for regularity.

My suggestion of just stopping en route is often met with disdain. But stopping for number two, is worse again if it’s a race.

I know it’s an issue for runners who race because I see a lot of stories about this in my newsfeed:

So what’s your story? Is it an issue? What if anything do you do to make sure it happens before you race, run, or ride?

And hey, here’s Canada’s favourite emoji, only all rainbow coloured and sparkly! They had stickers like this, rainbow poo emoji, at Pride. I don’t get it. But then, I’m more British than Canadian in some things.

A morning with Mara Yamauchi – Part One (Guest post)

File:Mara Yamauchi 2 new.jpg

I recently attended a Project 500 Networking Day for female sports coaches called: Women in Sport – The next steps.

(Project 500 is an initiative to address the imbalance of female to male coaches in England – you can read more below, or on their website).

A major highlight of the event was the opportunity to hear a presentation by guest speaker Mara Yamauchi.

Just ahead of Mara’s presentation, the day opened with a screening of the new Project 500 More Women Better Coaching promotion. This powerful video was launched on 30 March 2016, and you can watch it here

The message of the video is that many women are using coaching skills anyway (at home and/or at work) – so why not extend that to sports coaching . . . ?

Presentation from Mara Yamauchi

Mara is a retired British long-distance track and road running athlete, and the second fastest British woman over the marathon ever.  She spoke to us about her experiences as a female athlete, and her more recent move into coaching.

Mara’s background

We heard about Mara’s exciting childhood in Kenya and Oxford (where she was always outside and playing sports!) and her entry into serious athletics training once she started university.

After graduating, Mara joined the civil service (working in both the UK and Japan) for ten years, while training in her spare time, whenever she could fit it in. However, since she was a little girl, she’d always really dreamed of competing in the Olympics. Around the age of 30, Mara realised that time was passing her by, and that she had to pursue her dream – or lose it forever. She therefore dropped down to part-time hours in her job – and went for it.

Mara didn’t make the GB team for the 2004 Athens Olympics, but she kept at it, and in 2008 she came sixth in the Beijing Olympic Marathon. Her dream of being an Olympian had come true!

In 2009, Mara also achieved Runner-up in the London Marathon in 2:23:12. This is still the second fastest marathon time ever by a British woman

Lessons learned

Mara retired from professional running in 2013 and decided to use her talents and experience as a coach. She shared with us what it felt like to go from being an elite athlete, to being quite a “beginner” in the field of coaching, and some of the lessons she has learned along the way.

For example, she’s come to question the popular belief that to be a great coach, you have to have been a great athlete. In fact, Mara explained that in her view, coaching requires a completely different skillset.

As an athlete, your life can be very regimented, and you’re “told what to do” a lot of the time. But Mara has found being a coach completely different. It’s more creative and personal, and takes a lot of “softer” skills such as motivating and engaging people.

Mara has also discovered through coaching, that people’s motivations for doing sport are really diverse – and can be surprising. Often, they are nothing to do with the sport itself, but are more to do with relaxation and escapism from a stressful job, or a demanding family life.

Culture and social support structures are really important. Mara has no doubt that an important factor in her success was because she lived in Japan. Japan has a rich, gender-balanced marathon scene, with up to several thousand athletes training full-time at any given time, as opposed to just a handful in the UK.

This means that runners can access a lot of mutual support, and opportunities to share knowledge on training regimes, diet and so on.

After Mara’s presentation, she led a group discussion on ways to engage more women in sport. Watch out for part two of this post, which outlines the topics we covered . . .


About Project 500: Project 500 started life in 2013 as an exciting initiative in the South East of England, to help address the imbalance of female to male coaches by recruiting, developing, deploying and retaining 500 female coaches.

Research from sports coach UK shows that just 30% of sports coaches are female and of newly qualified coaches each year, only 17% are women.

The initial two-year pilot was really successful, and recruited and retained over 530 female coaches across a variety of sports.

In celebration of this – and with an eye to the future – Coaching Hampshire and Active Surrey held a women-only networking day on 13 March 2016, which I attended on behalf of my dojo. Mara’s presentation was part of the day’ programme.


Kai Morgan is a martial arts blogger. You can read more of her stories and articles at, or follow her Facebook page at:


Image credit: Mara Yamauchi at Mile 24 and a half of the 2009 London Marathon, along Mid Temple right by Temple Place. By Mara_Yamauchi_2.jpg: SNappa2006 derivative work: Omarcheeseboro [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Black Diamond (Guest Post)

Slalom 3

When my friend Pamela heard her name announced for a gold medal in a national US slalom race last month, she was overcome with joy. She’s 55. She decided to start skiing again when she was with a group of women celebrating her 50th birthday, and raced for the first time since she was a teenager 2 years ago. Now she’s on the podium for the NASTAR championships.

Pamela is one of those people who can put her head down and accomplish anything she sets out to do, creating three books and a successful consulting and teaching life since she finished her PhD 10 years ago. She’s always been fit, but what she describes as a “leisurely exerciser,” with lots of walking, spin classes, weight training and riding her bike on Sundays with her wife along a lakeshore bike path. She certainly wasn’t racing — and then suddenly, in her 50s, was hurling herself down sheer ice on a black diamond run in Colorado, through giant slalom gates — and winning.

One of our recurring friend conversations is our relationships with our bodies as we’ve gotten older, and I’ve watched with awe and curiosity as P shifted from leisurely biking to  “I like knowing I can keep up with the 30 year olds in boot camp class” to “I just spent a lot of money on a speed suit.”  I asked her a few questions about this transformation — why racing, not just skiing, when you haven’t been a competitive athlete since you were a teenager?  How do you handle the fear?

“Why racing, why not just skiing at 55?”  she said.  “I love skiing, I love everything about it —  I love the equipment, I’m a total gear geek, I love packing, I love the research on the resort and studying the trail maps. It’s not just about the skiing, it’s about who you meet on the chairlift, talking about where you plan to go for dinner, hanging out in the hot tub . . . so many times I just stop in the middle of the run, and take in the vastness of the mountains, the cold, the sun.  

“I get so invigorated from a week of skiing – it clears up any muck in my life, being out there in the mountains – even up at the little ski area where I race on the weekends outside of Chicago – it’s just a trash heap they put artificial show on – even that is invigorating.  That’s skiing.

“Now racing…  if skiing is the wide angle lens, then racing is absolute narrow focus. The level of preparation and precision is so much sharper to compete.  You have to be able to turn where the gate is – it’s all strategy, tactics, skills.  A lot of people can look pretty going down a wide open run — but can you ski on a course?  I love going fast and it gives me an excuse to do it.  When you ski fast recreationally, not only do you leave your friends behind but you can get your lift ticket revoked.

“Competing keeps me in an aspirational mindset. It pushes me to work out more. I watch a lot of pro world cup racing videos – I’m always thinking about ways I can improve, work on my technique, form. Women seem to be more coy about being competitive – like, we’re secretly paying attention to how we did.  It’s not as socially acceptable to really care if you win.”

Now, I’m pretty adventurous with my physicality, but the idea of a vertical ice rink scares the crap out of me. Skiing, for me, is one of those things I don’t do because I’m afraid I’ll hurt myself and not be able to do the things I love, like cycling. I’ve been trying to understand how P handles that fear, especially after she had a concussion from a fall at the end of the season last year.

“For the championship, I really had to negotiate a whole new level of fear — it was a steeper course than I’d ever raced on. It’s water injected, and one that the US development teams use, so it’s meant to be icy so the course holds up and it’s very fast. It’s basically an ice rink.

“I’d never raced a black diamond in Colorado.  The night before, I couldn’t sleep. I was thinking, I have no business doing this, I could be seriously hurt, have I deluded myself into a really stupid idea – if I really hurt myself, people would be kind but they wouldn’t have a lot of sympathy. It’s not like I’d be hurting myself feeding the poor in Afghanistan – I’d be hurting myself doing something of my own volition that was stupid for a middle aged lady to do – there’d be some sorrow but not really sympathy.”  She laughed.

“The first morning of the championship, I had to put all of that out of my mind – I had to trust how much preparation I had done, had to think, I can totally do this. I strategized how to approach the trickier turns. I put the fear out of my mind.  One of the things I talk about in my work about organizational agility is the idea of “anxious confidence” — you have to embrace this in the starting gate. You’re confident because you have the skills, experience, knowledge. But you’re also anxious because you have to deal with the unknown — a set plan is not going to work for you.

“You have strategy and tactics – it’s having a plan but holding that plan lightly. My first run, I took the advice of all of the race coaches to just go – don’t leave anything on the table.  I got up some good speed, then hit a gate that was sheer ice, and I had a rather spectacular crash.

“It was my first run, total crash. I started to think, maybe I am in over my head. I wasn’t hurt but I was shaken. And you have to get up, ski down to the lift, get back up and get back in line, and race again so you qualify to continue the next day.

“Here’s what shifted the fear for me. After I wiped out we gathered just outside the finish area. Some of the women in my group who’d gone before me had wiped out in the same place. We started talking about ‘it’s steep, it’s icy, I went too fast.’ That little ad hoc group of women made a huge difference. Together we commiserated, regrouped, strategized and encouraged each other. We focused on ‘we just have to get through the next one.’

“On the second time down, we had already formed a few connections. We would cheer each other on as we slipped into the start gate, “okay Jane, go for it, ski fast – a little bit more, you go, you got this.” We started creating a holding space for each other. When you’re in a team that happens all season. For this race, without a team, we created it on the spot. 

“The championships were a stretch experience, I knew I was up to the stretch, and the challenge became how do I manage my fear and uncertainty?”


Pamela ended up with a bronze in the giant slalom.  And then two days later, raced in the slalom competition that she had no expectations for — and ended up with the gold.

“That gold was just giddiness and pure joy.  There’s such camaraderie, the two women I shared the podium with, the crowd clapping – that moment was complete embodied joy and fun and realizing that it really was a result of an incredibly intentional year. Physical work, coaching, training, practicing.   It’s so fun to be in a community of equally crazy people – to race at my age,  you really have to work to find people in that tribe. And you see the people in their 70s and 80s who are still out there, who have every invitation from our culture and their peer group to chill out.  It’s incredibly joyful.”

(This is Part 1 of my conversation with Pamela — on Friday Pamela will talk about how her relationship with her body has changed since she started racing).

Pamela Meyer is an author, educator and organizational consultant living joyfully in Chicago and skiing wherever she can. Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who works as a consultant and teacher in the space of strategic system change in academic healthcare in Toronto, focusing on creating sustainable, socially accountable healthcare communities. She also co-leads a learning and development project for orphaned and vulnerable youth in Uganda, and takes every chance she can to explore the world. She also blogs at

Amazing is the New Realistic (guest post)

The devil is in the details, or so they say, and it can certainly be true of sports. Both because athletic achievement takes many hours or years of dedication and training, but also because of the multiple ways we have of measuring ourselves, evaluating our progress (or lack thereof), and assessing just how well we stack up against others. From within this framework, it becomes quite difficult to appreciate—or even see—one’s own accomplishments. There are so many folks who are faster; heck, even our younger selves were faster! Women are usually quite proficient in spotting our own shortcomings; we can be less good at applauding our hard-won sporting expertise.

Last year I was reminded of this when I registered for a mountain bike race I have done several times in the past, but that nonetheless seemed impossibly intimidating on the day.

I’ve been a bike racer of some sort or another for almost 20 years: I believe my first bike race was in the fall of 1996. It was a collegiate mountain bike race, and I finished somewhere in the middle of the B women.  After that I did road racing somewhat seriously for several years and less seriously for a few more, then reverted to mainly mountain bike racing in around 2007. I have now been competing in the amateur “expert” (Category 1) division for several years. I have won some races, but generally I average mid-pack. I don’t mind this. If I were always winning the expert field, I would just upgrade and get my butt kicked at semi-pro. There is always someone faster. There is always someone more skilled. But I love racing nonetheless. It pushes me, focuses me, makes me take a few risks, and gets me to ride places I wouldn’t otherwise go.

But I am “realistic” about my performances: occasionally a non-biker (or non-racer) friend will say something to me along the lines of, “that’s amazing that you race for such a long time,” or “I can’t believe you go over rocks like that.” I’ll thank them, but I’ll secretly believe they’re wrong: nothing amazing about it, I think, plenty of us do it, and I don’t do it particularly fast. (Those people who beat me: now they’re the ones who might actually be good. Or those who didn’t beat me, but who only recently started riding. Well, you get the picture…) Also, I might think: it’s just bike racing. It’s nothing really important.

But maybe those friends are right. Last year, I cut back on racing and even more on training, plus I started it all late in the year. I had a new focus: I was trying (still trying, along with half of Boston, judging by the popularity of creating writing classes) to write a novel. Of course, undertaking this has exposed me to all sorts of different ways in which my efforts are lacking. There are new experts; new heroines. When you’re trying to write a novel, you’re awed by novelists—they are the ones who have beaten the odds and realized that dream.

This meant that I arrived at a favorite race of mine (for those who know the circuit, it’s the Pinnacle) last year feeling severely out of the swing of racing. It was already June, but it was my first race. Most others had a few under their belts by then. My bike had a couple of small “issues” I had forgotten about (because I hadn’t ridden it much). I wasn’t trained. I hadn’t stopped riding: my commute is long and makes it reasonably easy to fit in road rides during the week, but I hadn’t really done much more than commuting. The course is a pretty tough one: laps are 5-6 miles up and down a big hill (it’s called “pinnacle,” after all), with several technical sections. I would have to do three laps. Even on my best day it would be over two hours.  I remember arriving at the venue, registering, looking around at my fellow racers, all of whom appeared to be fit, ready, with fully functioning bicycles, and thinking: I don’t know if I can do this. I’m not ready. I’m too much on the racing fringe right now. I’m getting too old for it.

I did complete the race, and actually enjoyed it, mostly because I love the course. But in some ways it wasn’t too pretty. I did have to lean heavily on my years of experience to get me through: technique, pacing, and tenacity. It really brought home to me that this sort of racing takes serious commitment, training, and skill. Those are not things you develop overnight. There aren’t too many people who could just show up and ride the way I’d ridden (I shall breezily ignore the preternaturally talented). I thought, maybe having the ability to do these long, grueling, difficult races actually IS kind of amazing. (I also have a new-found admiration for those who have been side-lined, for whatever reason, and who fight to get back into their sport.)

I’m still busy pursuing my writing goals and weekends this year have already taken a turn unlike years past, in that I spend a great deal of time plonked in front of the computer and much less on my bike (I try to fit in more rides midweek). This is good news, I suppose, for any potential novel, but I miss the weekends that used to be a blitz of physical activity. I feel it: my body feels less conditioned and much less challenged. It’s led me to wonder: how would life be for me now, mid-forties, if I hadn’t discovered a sport I love? I suspect it would be much worse. Those who have known me a long time will attest that I’m not a particularly “sporty type”; I’m pretty happy lolling around reading or writing, preferably with a beer. But biking has its claws in me and I’m very thankful it does.

Most of us at this blog have at least one sport or activity we’re committed to and that makes us happy. I say: don’t forget how amazing that is! (Stop exercising for a while and then be daunted by what you were doing if you need to!) You probably didn’t just roll off the couch and do it. You’ve probably been at it for a while. You rock. Celebrate it, and what it’s done to enrich your life!

Fittingly, or perhaps ironically, I can’t decide, after I was done writing this blog post I got today’s mail, and found this had arrived:

efta championship 2015

The Pinnacle is part of a series, and I won the series for my division last year! “Participation points” play a role for sure, but it’s another nice reminder that my sweat and toil added up to something!

Rachel is in-house counsel for the City of Lowell, MA. She was formerly a philosophy professor, and likes to think she remains a philosophical thinker. She rides all sorts of bicycles, but her true love is mountain biking. She races for (which sadly fails to have an analogue at

Would you like some EPO with those Cliff shots?: Doping and everyday athletes


It’s happened again. Another year, another Gran Fondo, another doping scandal. Really, cyclists, really?

Oscar Tovar from Colombia, the winner of the 2015 Campagnolo Gran Fondo New York and first annual GFNY Championship, tested positive for synthetic testosterone use during the in-competition doping controls administered by US Anti Doping Agency (USADA) at the race. Tovar has been banned from any competition under World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) rules for two years and by GFNY for lifetime at any GFNY World event.

Tovar wasn’t alone. One of the women, Yamile Lugo of Colombia, who finished in 3rd place overall in the women’s field also tested positive for banned substances. Tovar and Lugo are serious cyclists but the doping in cycling isn’t restricted to competitive athletes.

A few years ago I was shocked to read about the rise of doping among amateur cyclists.

See Wider Testing Reveals Doping Among Amateur Cyclists, Too.

Two amateur bicycle racers tested positive for the blood-booster EPO at the Gran Fondo New York bicycle race on May 20, organizers said earlier this week. Since the beginning of 2011, eight other amateur cyclists have committed doping infractions in the United States. Five tested positive for banned substances, two were sanctioned for refusing drug tests, and one, the author Andrew Tilin, admitted to using banned drugs as research for a book.

These aren’t professional cyclists. They aren’t elite athletes. In the case of cycling they’re mid-life men, bankers, lawyers, and accountants racing to win a pair of socks. There’s no big prize money nor an athletic future at stake.

See a more recent piece from the BBC, Doping in cycling: Why are the amateurs ’emulating the pros’? It looks at a report published by the International Cycling Union (UCI).Written by independent experts and based on a year’s worth of interviews with senior figures from the sport, the Cycling Independent Reform Commission tackles the issue of doping in the amateur ranks. 

“The commission believes doping in amateur cycling is becoming endemic,” the report said.

“This was confirmed by amateur riders, as well as professionals, managers and anti-doping personnel who had exposure to it.

“It has been caused by a combination of ease of access to drugs via gyms and the internet, the reduction in costs, a spread of knowledge in means and methods of administration, and a lack of funding for regular testing at the amateur level.”

Circ’s authors continued by outlining a depressing scene where amateurs sell doping products to pros, and vice-versa, “middle-aged businessmen” charge up on cocktails of prescription drugs to win age-group races, and cheating is now rife in youth cycling as nobody has the resources to police the sport that far down the ladder.

“Some professional riders explained they no longer ride in the gran fondos [timed, long-distance amateur races on closed roads] because they were so competitive due to the number of riders doping,” the report stated.

But according to Susan Backhouse, a world expert on sports psychology and doping, there’s an increasing culture of dangerous performance enhancing drug use among regular everyday athletes of all stripes. I heard Backhouse speak at a sports ethics conference I recently attended, sponsored by the World Anti Doping Agency.

According to Backhouse there are two distinct groups of amateur athletes into doping:

  1. Endurance athletes such as runners and cyclists
  2. Body builders who want to build muscle and lose fat, particularly men.

Why do we care what amateur athletes do? There’s a few reasons, it turns out. Backhouse argued in favour of clean competition at all levels, citing health and fairness reasons, but she’s also worried about amateur doping spilling over into elite sports.

Right now we have a culture where elite athletes are policed regarding drugs but everyday, amateur athletes get a much freer environment.

Imagine a world in which the amateurs start beating the pros due to their doping advantage.

Imagine a world in which you train and train to compete in amateur events and yet you don’t have a chance of winning unless you dope.

Is that the world we’re soon to be in? What measures should we take to avoid it?

Education, sure, but I confess I’m enough of a fan of civil liberties to be dismayed about the infringement of freedom that would come about if we brought the big guns of national and regional anti-doping agencies to bear on amateur sports.

I’m not sure what to think. How about you?