My best time for the marathon is 3 hours, 27 minutes, 58 seconds. If someone offered me a product to guarantee I got home in 2 hours 59 minutes, would I take it?
Oh, and I’d have to tell no one about it.
If you came of age as an athletics fan during the 1988 Olympics, you’ll have words like ‘drugs cheat’ and ‘anabolic steroids’ seared into your consciousness. Public shame and scorn is heaped on anyone caught using banned substances, and rightly so.
Then there are the health factors – heart attacks, slushy blood, and those stories of Eastern Bloc state-sponsored drug programmes in the 1970s and ‘80s, with women athletes becoming more masculine. That would surely dissuade anyone from drug use.
And yet élite athletes are still being caught for using illegal performance-enhancing substances. Given that top-flight runners are still chancing it, what about those of us lower down the food chain? Search for ‘EPO buy’ online and you’ll find plenty of sites marketing dubious products to endurance athletes. Business looks healthy, even if the products don’t.
If you’re not an Olympic-level runner, the risk of exposure as a drug cheat seems slight. Your 2:59 is not going to win or place in any marathon, so you wouldn’t be tested during training or after the event. Is it naïve to think that in the general throng of a city marathon there’s no one using some banned substance? Who cares about a 3-hour finisher injecting mail-order EPO? Who would ever know?
(Perhaps one day each marathon will require you to give a pin-prick of blood when you collect your number, so that a computer can scan cheaply and quickly for drugs.)
To answer my initial question: No, I wouldn’t take anything that I thought was illegal, immoral or just plain wrong. Aside from the health risks, the reputational risk is just not worth taking.
And even if nobody else might know, I’d know.