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Where does doping begin?

Gels, energy drinks, electrical muscle stimulation: today there are many ways to recover faster, boost your energy and perform better on competition day. If there is a list of doping substances that we should not consume, knowing where doping behaviour begins is a much more complicated question than it may at first appear. Where do you stand on all this? Here is some food for thought on the subject...


So, what is doping anyway?

Doping is defined as "the use of substances or procedures designed to artificially enhance an athlete's capabilities. Doping also includes the use of products or procedures which are designed to mask the use of doping substances. The list of doping substances and procedures is updated annually."

People run for many different reasons: lose weight, get or stay in shape, physical exertion, surpassing oneself, or even becoming the best.

The quest for performance is therefore not the only motivation—though it is no doubt one of the most powerful. Whether it's finishing a 10K run in under 40 minutes, or a half-marathon in under 90 minutes, or a marathon in under 3 hours, or simply beating a personal best, these symbolic barriers and objectives can easily become obsessions.

When we're fully focused on expressing our full potential and finding our limits, it's natural to not want to leave anything to chance. Training, recovery, equipment, mental conditioning, nutrition & diet, strategies, running techniques, ... the list of factors to consider is a long one, and that's part of what makes our sport so rich.

It's then that doping may enter the picture. How far can we go in "optimizing" our run before it becomes "doping"?


Where does doping begin?

The legal definition of doping seeks to set bounds on sports practised at a highly competitive level. It aims to ensure a more level playing field and protect athletes' health. That said, it's perfectly possible to artificially improve your performance while staying within the boundaries of the law; this is referred to as "doping behaviour". For example, using a hyperbaric chamber, which reproduces the effects of high altitude on the body, using cryotherapy to recover more quickly, using electrostimulation to build muscle, or taking creatine, all of which remain perfectly legal today.

Conversely, many amateur athletes may test positive even though they had no intention whatsoever of "doping". For example, did you know that ephedrine, a substance found in many cold relief drugs and which can be purchased over the counter, is on the list of "doping substances"?

So the legal definition of doping is therefore insufficient for amateur athletes who aren't worried about "doping". It's nevertheless important to assess one's relationship with "doping behaviour", as insignificant as it may be. It's therefore up to each person to create their own definition of "doping" and to define what they deem "artificial" and contrary to good sportsmanship.

So what's the goal? Run on "pure water" only? Not necessarily, since someone who trains year-round and/or who prepares for marathons or ultra-trails, needs to be able to adjust their nutritional intake in order to stay in the peak of health. It's a fine line!


Find your rhythm, enjoy your run!

One of the harmful effects of doping, or doping behaviour, is that is blurs the lines and makes it impossible to distinguish the performance that you truly attained from that which cannot be honestly attributed to you.

Find your rhythm and enjoy your run, that's the Kalenji code. Take some time to reflect on your purpose for practising this sport and what it adds to your life and you as a person.


For Stéphane Diagana, who is very active in the fight against doping, sports are a way to "discover yourself". "We must each accept our level as it is, as well as accept the level of others." Sports, when practised healthily, are "an excellent way to discover yourself and to develop as a human being." And in conclusion: "before you can conquer the world, you must first conquer yourself."