Non-technical, celiac oriented post follows.
Sunday, I’ll do a double metric with around 3500′ of climbing, up to New Glarus, WI. A year ago, I did this same ride. In a month, I’ll do the Hopkins Park cyclocross race. I did that a year ago, too. What’s different? The day of Hopkins last year, I spent much of the day before the race visiting the lovely restroom facilities of greater Northern Illinois, unbelievably sick. I was a celiac and didn’t know it, and had spent the day trying to fuel with glutenous, dairy-filled substances. It was over the following couple of months of late fall/early winter, 2011 that I first came to understand my disease.
Over the past year, I’ve been slowly…very slowly…working through the seven stages of grief. Shock and denial didn’t really work for me–as soon as I saw that I could avoid horrendous pain and recurrent, unpleasant bathroom experiences by staying GF/DF, I couldn’t really do denial.
Pain and guilt didn’t really work for me either. I couldn’t come up with a reasonable way to blame myself for this, so I really didn’t feel guilty about it.
Anger and bargaining…now we’re talking. Anger, I can do. I’ve spent much of the year angry about dealing with this disease. Mad that I cannot have a piece of pizza. Try going a year without pizza. Try going a year without pizza. Try going a year without pizza. I can’t have a glass of IPA after a hard ride. (For the past week, I’ve been off alcohol altogether. I’m slowly but surely whittling away at all of the foods and beverages that I enjoy). Mad that I cannot put on weight, or build muscle. I’ll try bargaining too…push hard and ride well tonight, and you can feel crappy tomorrow. Hang on to the pack for 2 more miles, and then you can stop pushing. If I can finish this sprint with the group, I’ll take it easy on the next ride.
Depression, rejection, loneliness–sure. I’ve been blessed with an amazing wife and great friends who keep the loneliness at bay (except for the ride of shame into town after being dropped. But which is worse–the ride of shame, or seeing others have to wait for you. Neither is a good option). There’s been plenty of woe is me. There’s been plenty of why me? Plenty of I could ride like them if only…
We’re turning a corner. I’m getting to the upward turn. Sure–I’m still losing things (did I mention no more alcohol?), but I’m gaining things too. For a couple weeks now, I’ve been doping.
No–not that kind of doping. This kind:
For breakfast, a meal replacement medical/protein shake, plus glutamine, B vitamins, Magnesium, probiotics, licorice, chia seeds, and a slew of other wonderous things. It’s going ok. My weight has stabilized in the mid/high 140s. I’m feeling better in the morning. Before Night Bison, I did a pre-ride shake and I think it helped my riding overall.
The shakes + vitamins are a naturopathic approach to celiacs. As of a month ago, I am still dealing with anemia and various imbalances. Taking a traditional medicine approach, I’d be popping pills and shooting up hormones. Those who know me understand that I have a competitive personality. Imagine having a doctor tell you that you can get a legitimate prescription for drugs to boost your red blood cell count, hormones to help put on weight and build muscle, and various other wonder drugs of the sort that would undoubtedly improve one’s cycling. It’s easy to rationalize–a doctor is telling you to do it. It’s the proper treatment for your illness at this point in time.
I’ve already let the cat out of the bag. I’m clean. When my celiac’s was first discovered, it was discovered by a chiropractor who thought my symptoms matched the disease. That was after months of consultation with general practitioners, internal medicine specialists, GI specialists…getting scoped, prodded, biopsied, blood tested. Traditional medicine did not have an answer. And the answer was, in retrospect, obvious. So at this somewhat critical juncture, I’m trying to have faith and I’m going the naturopathic route. That means no rapid recovery from anemia. No sudden muscle growth straining the thigh cuffs on my bibs. It means more time at my current plateau. And that’s a really, really hard thing for me. For my personality, it’s killing me. Knowing that there’s literally a pill I could take that would make me faster, that would make me stronger. A shot that would give me more endurance. And I could have a legitimate prescription for all of it.
But could I cycle with it? Let’s talk professionally, for a moment. Could I enter a sanctioned race and comply with the rules? Well, the drugs I’d be taking would clearly be prohibited (Prohibited Substances and Methods) without a therapeutic use exemption (TUE). A TUE is basically a ruling that, because of your illness, you’re permitted to use an otherwise banned substance within certain constraints.
- The athlete would experience significant health problems without taking the prohibited substance or method
- The therapeutic use of the substance would not produce significant enhancement of performance, and
- There is no reasonable therapeutic alternative to the use of the otherwise prohibited substance or method.
Well, I experience significant health problems, and from a traditional medicine perspective, my “regular” doctor has advised that there are no reasonable therapeutic alternatives. Would therapeutic use of the drugs produce significant enhancement of performance? Yes. Clearly. The question is: would it produce a significant enhancement from where I’m at now, or from a reasonable cyclist baseline. In theory, appropriate dosing would simply put me on a level playing field.
Is it unreasonable to think that hormones and blood boosters could be eligible for a TUE? Well, in other sports, there are already celiac athletes who have obtained TUEs for testosterone replacement therapy and other hormone therapy. Hormones for anemia have already been the subject of TUEs for athletes in a variety of fields, including cycling. I’m not going to go into more extensive discussion, but I don’t think it’s outside the realm of reason to suggest that it is at least a possibility that I could legitimately get a TUE.
But could I cycle with it? We’ve covered professionally. What about personally? If I started taking drugs tomorrow, and in 2 weeks started riding faster/stronger/better–how would that be received by my friends? By the guys on the group ride? It would be a heck of a lot easier if I didn’t blog my health status. They might not even know why I was riding stronger.
But you know what? That’s one of the biggest reasons that I’m going naturopathic. I don’t know if taking drugs would put me on an even footing with the other guys I ride with, or if it would give me an advantage. But I do know that winning by false pretenses doesn’t feel like winning. ”Beating” a video game on the novice level doesn’t feel great. I wouldn’t want to be wondering, in the back of my mind, whether I ‘won’ a city limits sprint because I was riding well, or because I was doping–medically justified or not. So for me…until it becomes absolutely necessary–until it’s a life or death issue–I’m living with anemia, skinniness, and a buttload of vitamins.
So let’s get down to the closing thought on doping. The world of cycling has been aflame with doping talk of late. The world has apparently concluded that Lance doped. I’m equal parts frustration, here: frustrated that he’s been ‘convicted’ without a single positive objective test result, and frustrated that he stopped defending himself instead of confronting his accusers. If they’re lying, say it to their faces. (On the no objective test results, I stand by that assertion. I’ve read everything that there is to read. There are no objective test results showing doping. There are doctors who will say that the objective test results could be consistent with doping. But there is no smoking gun.) For that matter, I’m frustrated that those who participated in and/or saw the doping were permitted to race in the Tour, without consequence. I’m looking at you, Hincapie.
Things look bad for Lance. And frankly, that makes me sad. I can’t “dope”, even with a legitimate prescription, because it wouldn’t feel right to go out in the unofficial, unsanctioned group ride and be using performance enhancing substances. A sprint win would feel hollow. I’d rather ride clean and not win, than the alternative. If a group ride would feel cheap…man. How does it feel to cheat and win the Tour? Seven times? I obviously don’t know Lance. From what I’ve read, he’s a competitive perfectionist. If he did in fact cheat, in my mind, the worst punishment in the world is that which has already been imposed: he has to live with the fact that his wins are not his own. Regardless of all else, he’s got to deal with that, in his own mind.
I’m not deciding Lance’s fate, or what happens to his jerseys, or cash prizes, or anything else. But whatever does happen, some things won’t change. Even before I was cycling, I watched a little bit of the Tour every year, because of Lance. I will never forget the day that he went off the road, muscled his road bike down the steep hill in between a switchback, did a cyclocross dismount/remount (before I even knew what that was), and continued his ride. He will always be Lance.
Coming full circle with this post–I’m getting to acceptance. I’ll always be me. I’m going to keep trying, and keep working, and keep struggling. And in the end, I’ll do as much as I can, ride as far as I can, and be as fast as I can. Insert your own riding against the grain pun here.
Wish me luck on Sunday. I may be skinny, but at 145 pounds, some of the guys will be dragging 55 pounds more than me up each of those 3500 feet of climbing. Whatever I do, I’m doing it clean.