You never know who might show up at a local trail race these days.
Former professional cyclist Lance Armstrong ran in the Woodside Ramble in Woodside, Calif., on Sunday morning, winning the 35K race in 3 hours, 36 seconds.
“Can’t remember the last time I had this much fun suffering for 3 hours,” he Tweeted afterward.
Armstrong, who paid for his registration and competed under his own name, won by nearly 2 minutes over Roger Montes of Belmont, Calif., in rainy, muddy conditions. Tim Stahler, owner of Inside Trail Racing and race director for the Woodside Ramble, said he was made aware of Armstrong’s desire to participate in the event five days beforehand by a personal friend of Armstrong’s who is also a member of the Inside Trail Racing team. While initially hesitant of having Armstrong participate in the race after reading negative comments regarding his desire to run in trail ultra marathons, Stahler says that in the end, there were no on-site issues to report.
“In the end, I expected his participation to be well-received and could be seen as a positive thing, not only for Mr. Armstrong but for the community as a whole,” Stahler wrote in an email on Monday. “Based on the reaction of everyone on Sunday, I believe this was very much the case.”
Armstrong’s participation in the event has caused some negative ripples in the trail running community, however, with some top runners speaking up about the admitted drug cheat’s participation in the sport.
Joe Gray, 19-time U.S. national team member and 9-time national champion, took to Facebook on Sunday, writing, “Race directors allowing him into racing need to understand that it’s not because of his doping alone that he is not welcome. It’s because of the things he did outside of doping and the fact that he could influence others to take the negative plunge he once took.” Gray also posed two questions on his fan page, asking:
1. If someone at your job cheats their way into being promoted multiple times, should they be fired? Should they not lose the opportunity to work at that job and now have to find a new job?
2. I hear people talk about second chances for a “particular” athlete (Who is making their way into trail racing). What of the second chances for the athletes who lost their careers due to being cheated by this athlete? They do not get a second chance do they? They lost something that can never be replaced.
Sage Canaday, three-time Speedgoat 50K champion, course-record holder and winner of the 2014 North Face Endurance Challenge Championships, mirrored Gray’s sentiments in an email exchange on Monday.
“Let’s set a precedent here and now for a [more] clean sport,” Canaday wrote. “No more EPO cheats! Lifetime ban to those that have been caught with high profile PEDs. Stop him from entry into MUT Running races and results. He’s had his years of fame and fortune and screwed over countless others in the process. He destroyed dreams and repeatedly lied and cheated his way to hundreds of thousands of dollars. No second chances when one abuses a heavy hitting PED like EPO.”
Stahler said that Armstrong’s participation generated some buzz around the finish area after the race, but he didn’t encounter any negative reactions or criticisms from other runners.
“In fact, most people just thought it was cool that they saw him out there,” Stahler said. “A few people discussed his past actions, but never made a disparaging remark about him running.”
In a post on the Inside Trail Racing Facebook page on Monday, Stahler’s wife, Tanya, wrote that Armstrong did not receive any special treatment relative to the other runners participating in the event, and acknowledged that he shouldn’t be allowed to compete in any nationally sanctioned events at the elite level.
“We completely understand that you and other runners may feel peeved about or offended by him, but we aren’t loosening our values or ethics by condoning an entry, an act which in and of itself does not condone his past,” Stahler wrote. “The trail running culture is quite different than other competitive sports and Mr. Armstrong has not directly violated this community. I did not personally speak with him, but from what I understand, like all of us, we have identities and part of his identity is being active. We do not think that his presence will cause a spike in doping or produce a shift in the attitudes of ultra runners.”
Before admitting a history of doping throughout the majority of his cycling career in 2013, Armstrong was handed a lifetime ban in 2012 from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, preventing him from participating in any athletic event that falls under World Anti-Doping Agency code, including an attempt at qualifying for the Ironman World Championships in 2012. The Woodside Ramble, since it neither operates under the World Anti-Doping Agency code signatory nor recognizes any related sanctions, falls outside of its jurisdiction.
Aside from running the Boston Marathon (2008) and New York City Marathon twice (2006 and 2007), Armstrong has run a handful of smaller running races in the past 10 years, including the Golden Leaf Half Marathon in Aspen, Colo., on a couple of occasions.
Armstrong did not respond to a request for comment at the time of this article’s publication.