Wednesday, November 21, 2012
The Face of a Doper (read the pain on that face)
With all the doping admissions following on the coattails of the Armstrong Affair, it seems a doping admission is the next step to padding your cycling resume as a badge of disgrace. The rock and the hard place has started to become something of a guilt deflecting fortress for some of the bigger names of the Pro Tour.
If I want to feel totally pro, I guess it is time to come clean on my own misadventures with coincidental doping.
I am one of the millions of asthma sufferers around the world, and it was only through my move to Taiwan that I actually discovered that I had asthma. I am an American, and in the United States we have become so accustomed to avoiding the doctor due to the lack of insurance coverage and astoundingly high co-payments, so I really never wanted to risk maxing out a credit card with a common"cold".
I had always assumed my seasonal allergies led to a seasonal cold... that would drag on for weeks. The kind of deep cough that rewards you with little sticky gobs of progress to keep you finding new and creative ways to cough at the right angles and intervals to hit new, un-coughed locations in the lungs. I have become a bit of a coughing virtuoso in this regard.
This was a lot of my childhood. I was a fit, athletic kid. A natural athlete. I was just routinely sidelined with allergies. Growing up in Washington State and being allergic to molds and pollens, I really never stood a chance. Washington state is the wettest, drippiest, slimiest, most overgrown cesspool of allergens you can imagine. I even went as far as regular allergy shots, which are like methadone for allergy suffers. You go in and they load you up with allergens to the point your body builds up a tolerance and you can then live a normal life unaffected. After two years I had to stop as I would be 18 and kicked off my dad's state healthcare program.
After moving to Taiwan and getting over my irrational American fears of the doctor, I was finally diagnosed with asthma after a brief trip to the USA when the cool, damp air triggered my asthma to go out of control. Sometimes it is allergies. Sometimes high humidity or cool air. My immune system goes into overdrive to quixotically fight off imaginary threats.
A visit to the doctor in Taiwan is far different than in the USA. It is cheap, for starters. They also tend to prescribe enough medication to make Dr. Gonzo blush.
With the Taiwan National Health Insurance program, doctors often prescribe the every possible pill plus three that could be used to treat the condition.
The doctor prescribed several asthma medications: Xanthium, Procaterol, Prednisalone, an emergency inhaler, a maintenance inhaler and a few other drugs.
The Emergency Inhaler: opens up the bronchi to restore full oxygen capacity.
(Xanthium) Theophylline: has a similar profile to caffeine and was first discovered during research on tea leaves. It is an intropic drug that helps the smooth muscles like the heart and lungs work more efficiently.
Procaterol: prevents bronchial spasms.
Pednisalone: is a steroid. It is not an anabolic steroid like the type A-Rod used to hit home runs, but rather, it is a glucocorticosteroid for anti-inflamitory uses. I later learned that these drugs are banned by the World Antidoping Agency for its ability to benefit endurance athletes at maximum effort.
Of course I was taking this, what Elvis Presley referred to as an, "attack", of pills to bring my asthma under control after a week of deteriorating into puffing on an inhaler every hour to catch a breath. Still, in the back of my mind, I could see the potential for a little boost in my performance in the coming 2010 Tour of Changhua. I was taking the medicine on doctor's orders and my intention was not to perform better.... But if I did perform better due to my asthma medication.... I was curious for the sake of curiosity and decided to continue my prescribed regimen of pills through the event.
On the up side, I had an attack of pills that could potentially help my heart and lungs perform more efficiently while reducing muscle fatigue and an energy boost like an eight shot espresso.
Then there were the potential side effects:
insomnia, nausea, muscle cramps. fluid retention, dizziness, increased heart rate, more insomnia.
For me it was, in the back of my mind, an experiment. I asked the doctor about riding and she told me not to overdo it.
Let's face it... doping with prescription medication is to PEDs as the meth house is to designer drugs.
On race day I was still feeling a bit rattled after a week of insomnia. I was a Scooby Doo zombie at work. Now I was going to hit the road and pedal my ass off.
The opening was a typical mass start race opening in which the faster guys hope to overtake the field and have a clear shot to the hill climb without having to pick through a field of pukers or getting gored on some mountain biker's bullhorn bars.
I felt amazing. I was buzzing from the pills. I am taking them again now after a relapse last week, and the feeling is a lightness and jitteriness; an electric tremor throughout the body. I feel like Alex P. Keaton the the special two-part episode of Family Ties where he experiments with speed.
The opening hill climb was a breeze. I was passing everyone. I hit the top and kept a good pace near the front. I was cruising along in a small group with just a handful of fast riders along the top of Bagua Shan. I was feeling great.
Then... the first cramp started. An ache in my right calf. I tried to shake it off, but finally I had to get off the bike. I stopped in for some water bananas at the first feed station. Then I hopped back on the bike and hoped the bananas and water would take care of the cramps. I was still feeling good as I plunged down from Songboling into Tian Zhong. Then, my super powers started to fade. As we raced along the flats the cramps returned. My left quad. I tried to unclip, but then my left hamstring clenched tight with an agonizing pinch. As I pulled off to the side of the road, my left quad cramped. I nearly fell over unable to stand. I coasted long enough for the cramping to stop and after a few minutes limped toward the finish line at 20kph.
I was completely sapped of any strength. I felt as though I had never been on a bike. It was an embarrassing feeling to be passed by all those flat-bar mountain bikers and their tiny cranks.
The punctuating moment of this entire misadventure with asthma medication as a doping agent when I was forced to stop at a convenience store for a couple bottles of sport drink. I could feel more cramps coming on and took to dismount.
As I swept my leg over the top tube, my muscles balked in the most agonizing muscle cramp I have ever experienced. I was locked with my leg at a 90 degree angle over my top tube. I was completely locked up; frozen in the most unnatural pose like a dog taking a piss on his bike. I was stuck for almost a minute and only regained a full standing position at considerable and lasting pain.
In over four hours and forty minutes I limped over the finish line. I was feeling exhausted and wracked with tremors-- exhausted and spent.
The whole idea was stupid.
Of course, it was under doctor's orders, but in the back of my mind I wondered... and I learned the harsh lessons of potential prescription performance enhancing drugs.
I kinda' doped, but I didn't win anything-- I guess no harm, no foul.
Now, as I sit here writing this with two sleepless nights for the week after taking the same attack of meds.... I have to wonder what the hell was I thinking.