Western States Endurance Run Announces Zero-Tolerance Doping Policy

Runners tackling Western State's first climb up the Escarpment as the sun rises in the background. Photo: Matt Trappe

Following growing concerns and conversations around doping in ultrarunning, members of the Western States Endurance Run Foundation Board of Trustees on Saturday voted unanimously to adopt the following new performance rule, now known as “Performance Rule 18,” which reads:

“The Western States Endurance Run has a zero-tolerance policy regarding the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Any athlete who has been determined to have violated anti-doping rules or policies, whether enforced by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), or any other national sports federation is ineligible for entry into the Western States Endurance Run.

“The Western States Endurance Run reserves the right to conduct pre- and post-competition testing for any and all performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) listed on the current WADA Prohibited List. Any athlete who refuses to submit to anti-doping controls, if selected for testing, shall be disqualified and subject to a lifetime ban from the Western States Endurance Run.”

The announcement comes two months after the uproar surrounding Italian trail runner Elise Desco’s participation at The North Face Endurance Challenge Championships. Desco failed a drug test following the world mountain running championships in 2009, testing positive for EPO, and subsequently served a two-year ban from the IAAF. That ban was up in August 2012 and she has been eligible to compete since. At the TNF50, Desco’s participation was scrutinized by athletes and fans alike on social media. On race day, fans hounded her along the course before she eventually dropped out.

“My final thought is races like The North Face Endurance Challenge need to have the anti-doping tests, at least for the podium finishers,” Desco told competitor.com in December. “The few money for this it’s only an excuse, because it’s enough to cut some prices and eventually add 5 dollars at the entry fee of anyone to find more money. But maybe it’s easier to pull me out from the race and let people run that you never know if they run clean.”

Less than two weeks after Desco’s participation at the TNF50, disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong’s win at a low-key 35K trail race in California only added gas to the doping-fueled fire. Armstrong, who is serving a lifetime ban from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, is slated to take part in a Western States training run in Auburn, Calif., on Feb. 13.

“I think it’s going to be funny to watch and see how people react,” five-time Western States champion Tim Twietmeyer, who is also a board member for the race, recently told the Sacramento Bee regarding Armstrong’s participation in the training run.

Per Western States’ new policy, Armstrong will never be allowed to compete in the actual Western States race, but unofficial, untimed training runs do not appear to fall under Performance Rule 18’s jurisdiction.

Western States “Performance Rule 18” is similar to the World Marathon Major’s anti-doping policy regarding convicted dopers, which states, “In addition to any punishment imposed by the IAAF, national federation or any national anti-doping agency or government, any runner who has been found by such body to have committed a doping offence (at any competition or out of competition) past, present or future, shall be disqualified from the Event and lose eligibility for and has been subject to a ban of 3 months or more, shall be banned from all AWMM Events for life unless otherwise agreed by the AWMM and be ineligible any time to receive any AWMM prize money or AWMM points.”

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