Backstory: We have an international doping problem. Technology is advancing, and personal integrity is declining (I imagine), so it is consistently a question on starting lines whether the playing field is even. In 2013, I competed in the 24-Hour World Championships and placed second, so since then, I have been subject to randomized blood tests to make sure I am clean. I'm glad this doping initiative is happening, but yikes, it is a handful.
The process goes like this: Every three months, I go online and complete a Whereabouts Quarterly Filing to USADA—a list of all of the places I plan to go and at what times from then until the next quarter. This quarter, I have to plot down the start and stop times for every location from October 1st through December 31st. I need to provide an address for each time slot, such as for my school, coffee shops, and training facilities (which means, as an ultrarunner, a list of zip codes I intend to run through). Each day, I also need to supply a 60-minute time slot for probable testing. WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) comes during that slot; USADA comes whenever it wants to.
If your schedule changes, and it does, you need to send a text to USADA to update your whereabouts. Otherwise, you might miss a test, which counts as failing it.
|Another thing that I like to do is word the text messages like they are surprises, so it seems like I am always flying by the seat of my pants.|
In my text messages, I go on surprise trips to the grocery store, to staff meetings, and to periodontist appointments. In reality, there is no such thing as a surprise periodontist appointment, and if the world were made up of surprises like that, it would be practically unlivable.
Surprise Parties for One
Last night, I was sitting at my desk in pajamas after dinner, emailing graduate programs, when I received two phone calls in rapid succession from a Houston number. I should have guessed it was my doping agent, but I was occupied and in my head, I assume the IAAF/USADA has the same bifurcated understanding of my life that I do. When I’m training, I am an athlete. When I’m working, I am a teacher/student. The spheres are separate, and I try to do both with single-mindedness and integrity.
|This is me with running: Shout out to everyone who says Cross Country is boring.|
Rule number one of
fight club ultramarathoning: Don't talk about fight club ultramarathoning.
I heard knocking at my front door, and was greeted by two agents. “Hi, Sabrina. Just a blood test.” Like I said, the head agent called me from a Houston number because he lives that far away, and because he has no other athletes to monitor in the surrounding areas of Waco, his trips are always a surprise party for one—me.
I felt stupid sitting there, having my blood drawn in my pajamas, thinking, “I am a teacher. Why is this happening to me?”
Have you taken any glucocorticoid steroids in the past month?
Have you been out of the country in the past two weeks?
Have you received any blood transfusions in the past month?
Have you been exercising the use of an altitude tent?
When was the last time you trained?
I ran twice today—6 a.m. and about two hours ago.
Be more precise. Was it more than two hours ago, or less than two hours ago?
(That is one of the blood indicators—high aerobic activity within two hours of the test.)
Less. No…I don’t know.
I couldn’t remember. I recounted my activities since, and we guessed that it had been slightly more.
The consultation proceeded from there. Daily prescriptions, lots of signatures. The computer told us that Waco sits at an elevation of 432 meters. If my blood-oxygen reflects otherwise, I guess I would be in trouble. The agent takes out a set of 4 sealed vials and 4 sealed containment boxes for the blood samples. My task is to select the one I want to hold my blood, so that there is less of a chance of being swindled with a false positive.
The agent repeats the number of my selection to me again and again and tells me to watch his hands to make sure the same is used throughout. This part of the process seems like a magic act--like I will be watching his hands and suddenly he will pull a penny out from behind my ear. They take my blood. I sign some more things. We shake hands, and they leave.
My relationship with ultramarathon racing is tenuous at the moment. USADA's visits seem like a relic from a past that no longer represents my conception of myself. I don’t have time to feel implicated in national standards and statistics. In moving across the country, I left my training group, which was fine for a while, but it means my participation is abstracted. The relationships I had been building in the ultra community are dissolving over the distance. I am weathered by USADA's monitoring, and I have other commitments. All of this is sad, because when the horn sounded at the World Champs and I broke the American Record, I knew (and I still know) that I could run further. I'm not done yet.
I love the discipline of running and the tangible sense of an investment that pays its dividends in racing, and I appreciate the adventure it affords me. I just don't know if I can be an ultrarunner over the long term.
But if nothing else, I am tremendously grateful that running made me a coach. My team has made my life richer and brighter. They are some of the greatest people I have ever met.
This weekend, I again have the honor of participating as an elite mentor at the Team RWB Trail Running Camp on the Nueces. It was a definite highlight of my last year, and I am eager to return. And next weekend, I will race the Big Cedar 100 in Dallas. I promise I will not take a single mile for granted. I will gobble them all up. Then, I don't really know what will happen. I'll let you know...after I text it to USADA.