Of Beards and Doping

Sometimes I take the long way around. So bear with me on this one because, I promise, if you have any interest in any of the following topics you will ultimately be entertained. At least a little. But, you should know, this trail is a long one, with steep climbs and slippery descents. So, make sure you have plenty of calories in your ruck, double check that you remembered your blister kit, and let us begin.


This afternoon, after successfully getting my little one to take a much needed nap, I started looking for something to write. I’m feeling a little stuck on the couple of projects I have open at the moment and frankly I did not want anything challenging. So, I headed over to Trail Runner magazine ostensibly to see what the January symposium topic might be and to find out that my December contribution actually got mentioned (which is pretty darn cool).

“Meh,” I said when I realized the topic. But then an audible “Oh,” issued from my lips when I noticed the add in the right hand side bar. “Dude has an impressive beard.” Funnily enough both beards and drugs have been on my mind alternatively all day long.

Perhaps, in the interest of full disclosure, now would be an excellent time to divulge one of the many bones in my closet. I say this standing before you as a proud, competent, and comparably masculine person of penis. I have always wanted to grow a big, thick, lustrous beard. But all attempts at achieving such facial follicle fulfillment have been thwarted by a genetic heritage which leaves my face little more than scruffy and pokey. I can grow facial hair, even a fair approximation of a meaningful mustache (the “State trooper” is a favorite), but a big bushy beard? Not a capacity I possess. Each and every time I have tried the result has been that I look positively deranged, about twenty years older, and often end up sleeping alone.

My beard fascination has been getting front burner treatment lately because of all the attention that the young hipster set has been receiving the result of their enviable male facial growth patterns and preening habits. Start with this article by Nicki Daniels. Arguably I am in possession of many of the attributes she associates with bearded men, but I am none of the things she derides. I don’t wear horn rimmed glasses or bow ties and I own and know how to use, and regularly employ two full sets of Allen wrenches. But I fear, she will never find a clean shorn guy, such as I, any sort of “looker.”

Then there was this video, posted by the Pacific Crest Trail Association on Facebook this morning, in which Kolby Kirk takes selfies of his summer traverse of the PCT set to music.

As if completing all 1,700 miles of the trek from Southern California to Canada weren’t enough Kirk rubs my face in his many other accomplishments at about 2:06. Yep “Epic Beard Gained.” And good on ya Condor; I’ll die a little death of envy right now.

Mostly, I have become comfortable with the facts of my situation. Unless braided nose hair, Gandalf styled eyebrows, and the cultivation of unusually long ear hair become the fashion I will be a fashion failure. I have come to accept this fact, I’ve gotten good with it over time. I can appreciate the luscious facial growth of other’s, but I cannot obtain this for myself.

And so, now let’s talk about drugs for a minute. Drugs have been occupying the other front burner of my attention of late. Colorado just made possession and personal use of up to an ounce of pot legal. Washington State is soon to follow suite. John Stewart of Daily Show fame does and admirable job of covering this latest development.

And while I applaud Colorado for following the will of the populous and completing decriminalization I think its important to note that there are a lot of competing interests out there intent on overturning these kinds of progressive social endeavors. If you watch the entirety of the two segment Daily Show piece you’ll see what I mean.

However, the fear mongering and histrionics of Fox News talking heads highlighted by Stewart is merely the frost on the top of the iceberg. There are ill-meaning and malicious efforts by socially corrupt organizations such as the Koch funded Foundation for Government Accountability who are systematically manipulating both the system and you and me in an effort to line the pockets of oligarchs. That’s right, I know, you read that and thought “oh, he’s a conspiracy theorist,” but no, I’m not. There’s nothing hidden or conspiratorial about this situation.

My opinion is that people, you and me, should be free to make up our own minds about how we live our lives. Want to marry your best bud, I believe it is your right to be able to. Like to smoke a bowl after a long day at work? Strike a match and inhale deeply. In my opinion, these are activities that should not be thwarted by policy or law. You may suffer consequences, but you should not be denied equal treatment or access to services under the law. Ever.

An excellent example of what I’m talking about occurred last year when Florida tried to drug test Welfare recipients. Backed by the Foundation for Government Accountability a legislative effort to make social services contingent on testing negative for use of illegal substances was pushed through the state legislature.

Lets ignore the fact that it cost the State of Florida spent an alarming amount of money discovering that their poorest citizens were “clean” and focus for a moment on why this State and others are pursing this policy as a means for denying social services. These sorts of policies, while lauded as a means to achieve government efficiencies, are not much more than a means to enforce an economic prejudice. From the “Myth of Welfare and Drug Use“.

“If stopping waste is your goal, then drug screening should be mandatory for anyone receiving cash from the government, which—in one way or another—is most people. But Republicans haven’t proposed testing for church clergy or oil executives. Instead, they’re focused on the vulnerable, with schemes that would embarrass a Bond villain.”

And, at least in the case of Florida, the courts have ruled that everyone, even poor people, have Constitutionally guaranteed rights. From the December 31st ruling from Judge Mary S. Scriven of the United States District Court in Orlando which struck down the law in that state.

“The court finds there is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied.”

So how does drug testing of welfare recipients tie back in with my beard fixation, sports in general, or trail running in particular? Let us begin with the generalities that lead to this kind of scrutiny. Be they broad testing of the economically disadvantaged or high performing athletes. The assumption, at least in my mind, seems much the same: the poor are tested because of the persistent myth that they are caught in a “hammock of dependency” which often includes heavy and detrimental use of narcotics and other controlled substances. The implication is that these people are poor because of their use of drugs.

The implication that performant athletes must necessarily be using performance enhancing drugs is similarly applied in all sorts of sports. If baseball players and pro cyclists get their chemical pump on than obviously we must assume that anyone who is excelling in other demanding sports must likewise inject to win, dope to climb, and will likely be hiding some secret leverage that gives them the win each and every time.

But in both assumptions the idea that there are economic barriers preventing access to these substances/procedures or their use never seems to play into the belief. The material fact of most poor people’s lives prevents them from ever obtaining narcotics. They’re trying to meet much more basic needs, and that is why the discovery rate for illegal substance abuse is always lower than the norm within this population.

The economics of trail racing are not conducive to performance enhancing drugs either. If race sponsors offer anything more than a certificate, belt buckle or bottle opener medallion, most trail races have very small cash purses for winners. You can get legal blood doping, or Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy used to help an athlete repair damaged tissue, for around $2000 a treatment. At three to six treatments before you can expect to see any sort of improvement at the site of an injury you’re going to spend $6k to $10k on something your insurance likely won’t pitch in for. So if you’re hoping to recoup costs by winning your next trail race you’re going to be sad holding that $250 check, a box of energy drink in a flavor that no one likes, and a six pack of beer from the local brewery when you’re standing on the winner’s podium.

Illegal blood doping? Oh man, you’d better be independently wealthy and have a serious running fettish because your shoe sponsor and that ultra successful vegan diet book aren’t going to cover it. From David Walsh’s book, “From Lance to Landis“.

“Though no one disputed the performance-enhancing effects of transfusing blood, it wasn’t as straightforward as injecting r-EPO. Because the process was labour intensive and involved trained medical people in a time-consuming, unethical, and illegitimate practice, it was also far more expensive.

“Over the last five years, doping in cycling has become sophisticated and the preserve of those with the financial wherewithal to spend anything between $60,000 and $100,000 on a season long program. That constitutes the annual salary of a regular equiper and stops him from even considering blood-transfusions. Doping became a rich man’s sport.”

So what about beards? Well currently poor people cannot be tested unless they do something suspicious. They have to “appear” to be using something. Again from the New York Times article cited earlier.

“For example, some states are now screening applicants and require drug tests only of those who appear to be drug users. ‘The decision is not that you can’t drug test applicants,” Mr. Bragdon said. “It’s that you can’t blanket drug test all of them.’”

Well, let us apply a similar “appearance” based litmus test to the field of racers to see who we should be tested.

Trail running, at least in my book, has never been about speed. Let me say that again, trail racing is not a test of speed. Rather, it is a test of discipline and you ability to prioritize your mania above many other things in your life. On any given weekend I can drive over to Green Mountain and I will likely get passed by Tony Krupicka. If you walk through the parking lot you’re likely to see how he sacrifices other things in his life for his passion. His truck, for example, is a hooptie at best. But the dude has both passion and in ample amounts. Amounts I will never posses.

Drug testing at trail races is a sure fire way to do two things. First, much like Florida, trial head drug testing will unnecessarily inconvenience racers while simultaneously failing to find any significant positive test results. What are race officials going to find, a couple of pot heads at the cost of stereotyping in the most insidious of ways? Second, and perhaps more importantly, it will likely push the passion and the beards out of competition. Why would anyone pay for the privilege of competing while enduring such a blatant and unnecessary intrusion?

Yep, this is a Trail Running Blog Symposium post

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