Medication and long-distance cycling: post 600 thoughts

June 19, 2014
Desgrange on a bike

Henri Desgrange rides a Brevet Randonneur

I have written a lot about doping here, especially in relation to competitive cycling. Since I do not race, this is fairly neutral territory, and I can at least maintain a degree of objectivity. Recent discussion of the use of strong pain killers such as Tramadol, and of medical interventions for asthma and other respiratory issue in professional cycling, and my recent encounter with pain and injury has brought this all a little closer to home. Any medication can enhance performance, and the ethical issues here are complex: many athletes could not compete at all without asthma medication, and there are many situations where anti-inflammatory medication or an analgesic would be perfectly reasonable to enable someone to continue with a minor injury. I would suggest that there are three issues that limit such medical intervention in competition, notwithstanding chronic conditions which require maintenance:

  1. the injury or condition should not be made worse by the use of medication;
  2. the medication should not enhance the athlete’s performance above their baseline without such medication; and
  3. the medication should be within the rules of the sport.

Read the rest of this entry »


Performance for 25 Passing Vehicles – John Reid

December 14, 2013

A naked body lies beside the side of a desolate highway, close to a road sign, next to the carcass of a kangaroo. 25 cars pass…

I met John Reid, the Australian artist, at a conference in Bavaria in 2001. His ‘paper’ turned from an account of his early work into a live performance of The fishman of SE Australia. The transition between the two halves was disturbingly subtle, and left me, how shall I put it, freaked out.

Just a man talking, and a slide projector showing some photographs of the wilderness, with something in it…

The earlier work (Performance for 25 Passing Vehicles) of his came to mind when I was considering the effect getting into a car has on our relationship with the environment, with people, with wildlife.


Time to get off…

December 6, 2013

image

So, here it comes: I may need to take a break from cycling for a bit. I have been feeling physically and mentally out of sorts for the last few weeks, and despite some very enjoyable rides the signs are there that I need to change focus: there will certainly be no Festive 500 for me, and I may even eschew the rollers over Christmas. I’ve been here before, and it always amazes me how little riding I did when I was off work with depression – and how little it directly helps my low mood now I am generally better. Cycling has a more background and indirect effect on my health and well-being: prophylactic rather than topical, and like any treatment, dosage needs careful and constant management. There is a constant temptation to increase volume or intensity to fill gaps in life, yet that can lead into a spiral of worsening mood and physical state. It is entirely possible that I’ll feel differently tomorrow or next week, but that’s exactly the point: riding on feel is a reliable way of managing both fitness and psyche once one has learnt to listen to the signs. I am still learning, and it’s a skill I need to remember and practice.

4822 km so far this year, 2539 last year, so a good point to rest!


Cycling and depression: two years on

September 20, 2013

In 2011 I wrote about my experiences of depression, how they interacted with changes in the volume and intensity of my cycling, and introduced some academic literature on exercise and mental health. I concluded that although cycling can play a role in moderating negative mood, and possibly even treating depressive illnesses, it can also contribute to depressive symptoms. A recent paper on exercise and mental health provides a detailed overview of the literature in this area (many thanks to Simon Lamb for the tip).

I have had my ups and down over the last few years, but, partly due to a change in my work role, and some growing up from my children, I have maintained a fairly positive outlook. Another thing that has changed is the amount of time I have spent cycling. Throughout 2012 I rode more often and tackled some longer rides, but managed to talk myself out of entering a number of brevets and sportives, and more irritatingly, entered two 200km brevets that I failed to start. Fortunately, I convinced myself that I was capable of completing the long on-road version of the Mills Hills Sportive, which was a breakthrough in my conversion from self-sabotage to gung-ho risk-taker (a brief ride report for Mills Hills Sportive)!

I am currently riding about 120km per week, three times my 2011 average. All of a sudden, having completed three challenging longer rides (including my second 400km, only 10 years after the first), I can see myself completing Super Randonneur series in 2014 and 2015, and even Paris Brest Paris…

The causality here is tangled. Am I riding more, and more confidently, because I am happier, or vice-versa? I think this is the wrong question…

Almost all my riding is solo, but I have had some fun in the hills with some lovely people: thanks Emma and Tiffany, and the riders and organisers of the events I have ridden. My partner in crime @accidentobizaro has been incredibly supportive and encouraging, and when we get the chance, our velodates are always worth waiting for, whether on the track or in the Pennine hills we call home.


The paradox of internal blood testing

March 8, 2013

One of the more mysterious aspects of recent revelations about the prevalence of oxygen vector doping is the role of internal testing of blood values. One might ask how it is possible such testing failed to identify the level of blood manipulation that is now becoming clear from evidence provided to the Puerto trial. The decision by Armstrong not to enter into an official internal testing programme with Catlin during his comeback is often seen as a signal that his interaction with Catlin was just a public relations game. Of course, Catlin is well aware how internal testing programmes can be perverted into early warning systems that actually facilitate doping, and still possesses in his infamous fridge the evidence that would demonstrate how dirty US athletics had become at at a time of intense internal testing. Of course, there is no paradox here, individuals and teams use blood testing to ensure they do not get caught by the official testers. Rasmussen’s recent interview on NOS (here in English with Dutch subtitles) confirms yet another purpose for such internal controls: to manipulate and maintain internal hierarchies within a team. As we know from the Hamilton book, and from Voet’s book on Festina, access to doping products is often controlled in such a way as to create a hierarchy of performance enhancement, with a group of favoured riders entitled to dope. Of course riders can choose to dope without the support of a team, but this presents logistical problems, and may be seen to be a deviation from a script. This where the Rasmussen interview becomes interesting. He notes that CSC stopped him from racing because his haematocrit was too high, and implies that one reason he switched to Rabobank was to be permitted to manipulate his blood as he saw fit. Indeed his difficulties at Rabobank revolve around discussion of how the team management retained control of blood doping to (probably) ensure that performances did not become too suspicious. In this way, internal testing becomes the enemy of anti-doping, not its friend.

Edited 09032013 to clarify testing of blood values, not for specific substances.


Haunting Malcolm Elliott

October 22, 2012

Kellogg's Tour of Brittain 1988. Winner Malcolm Elliott

Photographs are obvious catalysts for memory. They sometimes deliver more than one expects. Someone I follow on twitter posted some old pictures of the Kellogg’s 1988 Tour of Britain (which spookily include a blurred Jimmy Savile) today. I was there at the final criterium in Westminster,  and my hazy memories are formative in my passion for cycling (this was the first international racing I saw in the flesh). This photo of Malcolm Eliott,  who won that edition, is one I have seen before. However, I never noticed that I was in the crowd in the blurry background until today (unless I am seeing what I want to see)… and indeed Elliott was the first pro I had an on road encounter with (a few years later), in Sheffield, stopped at the lights.


Secret Race vs. Human Race: it’s all about Tyler Hamilton

September 14, 2012

I wrote the other day about why we should resist the tendency to focus on individuals in efforts to combat sporting fraud, especially doping. Instead, I argued, we should focus on the institutions and values that facilitate and encourage such behaviour. Paradoxically, it is individual cases and the personalities of individuals that can be pivotal in catalysing such a change in focus. That is why we should applaud the actions of those that lift the veil, rather than scapegoat and vilify. Here, I want to explore some of the personal qualities that emerge in one such whistleblower.

Tyler Hamilton’s recent book with Daniel Coyle (The Secret Race) might easily be portrayed as a book about doping in general, and particularly as a book about the behaviour and personality of Lance Armstrong and his confederates. Whilst this is a reasonable and accurate response, I think it would downplay a more positive and constructive narrative about an individual who seems peculiarly adept at battling physical pain, but much less equipped to deal with the psychological pain of life and competition. It is this peculiar combination that makes the book much more interesting than pure exposé. If we are to understand doping, I would argue, understanding the mindset of those who are prepared to publicly discuss it is an important step to undertake. Read the rest of this entry »


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