Can of worms! Desco, EPO, PEDs and TNF50


It is the TNF50 this weekend in San Francisco. iRunFar as per usual did a race preview and what a line up! The $10,000 prize money a huge incentive to attract top runners for a last big push before a well earned end of season rest.

The iRunFar article was updated on Nov 27th with a last minute entrant: Elisa Desco from Italy.

I firmly believe that many in the San Francisco race would not know who Elisa was unless they followed WMRA (World Mountain Running) or Skyrunning. Elisa in recent years has performed exceptionally well in Skyrunning and in 2014 was crowned Skyrunning World Champion for the SKY distance in Chamonix.

iRunFar went on to say:

[Added November 27] Italian mountain runner Elisa Desco was just added to the entrants list. I don’t believe she’s raced longer than 46k before, I do think this is her first race in the U.S., and I know this will probably be the flattest trail race she’s participated in, but she is a likely podium favorite. She’s been a regular on the international Skyrunning circuit for years, and this year she finished third in the Sky division of the Skyrunner World Series, including a win of the just-over-a-marathon’s-distance Matterhorn Ultraks. From 2010 to 2012, Elisa served a two-year ban from the IAAF after she tested positive for EPO at the 2009 World Mountain Running Championships.

I was well aware of Elisa’s positive test and lets be clear here, since 2012 I have spent a great deal of time with Elisa and her husband, Marco De Gasperi. De Gasperi himself a 6x WMRA champion and legend in the world of mountain and Skyrunning.

Many a long night talking with Marco discussing the positive test. (I would like to be clear here and state that I am being as impartial as I possible can.) It’s a story of how Marco tried to fight to clear Elisa’s name, a story of what he considered major flaws with the testing procedure and a fight for honour. One that he eventually had to give up on. He wrote an article in 2011 on his own website. I provide a Google translation of that article, obviously this is not a perfect translation but you get the gist! HERE

From a USA perspective, Facebook exploded with a series of very angry posts. Ethan Veneklasen in particular commented on multiple channels:

I am DEEPLY disappointed to see that Elisa Desco (Italy) was added last week to the start list for this weekend’s North Face Endurance Challenge and is widely considered a favorite for the podium. From 2010-2012, Desco served a two-year ban from the IAAF for testing positive for EPO at the 2009 World Mountain Running Championships.

For the last several years, we have speculated about whether doping has arrived in our beloved sport. If there was any question before, let me be clear…that day has arrived! This is VERY, VERY sad indeed. 

On a related note, I am delighted to see that US Skyrunning is taking proactive steps to move the International Skyrunning Federation toward enforcing lifetime ban for convicted dopers.

The can of worms was well and truly opened. No bad thing! It’s good to get the PED debate out in our sport and ensure at this very early stage that PED’s are not tolerated or accepted in our sport.

I 100% agree that I do not and will not tolerate drugs in any sport and of course, in particular the sport I love, watch, follow and photograph.

However, is Elisa getting a fair deal? Has this turned into a witch hunt?

The facts are when Elisa tested positive, no lifetime ban existed for doping. She was sentenced for 2-years, she did her time and she is now back. This of course does pose the question, ‘should runners be allowed back?’

Elisa has been drug tested 2-times in the last 18-months (maybe more) and both tests were clean. To clarify, one of those tests were made at the Skyrunning World Championships in Chamonix where she was crowned world champion.

Elisa may very well have taken PED’s? The ban would suggest so but Marco and Elisa 100% say not! Of course, Lance did the same and look how good a liar he was.

Should athletes receive lifetime bans? Yes, if we are 100% sure that they cheated, then yes! But I would want those tests to be 100% secure. I am not sure that is always the case and this has been discussed elsewhere. Questions have been raised about Elisa’s positive test! This is not a post to fight for Elisa, not at all. It’s a post to say that we sometimes need to take a step back and this case provides a great opportunity for debate and a catalyst for change.

Today, 5th December, Runners World have posted an article HERE and the headline says:

Ultrarunners Want Convicted Doper Out of Weekend Race

Powerful headline and some of the contents in the article make for interesting reading. 2014 race winner, Magdalena Boulet says: “I guess the kind way to say it is that I’m disappointed that the race organization allowed her into the elite field,” This was followed up with, “I don’t care if a doper served their ban and are technically eligible to race. If they still want to run for the love of the sport, they are welcome to, but I guarantee that they would slowly go away,”

Fellow podcaster, Eric Shranz commented, “For a sport that values camaraderie and inclusiveness, Desco will be on the outside of that group due to her past, and that’s a place she’s earned,” Schranz said. “But then again, maybe we need her to podium this weekend to really force an honest conversation about how we want to grow as a sport and how we’ll handle the PED problem.”

On publication of the Runners World article, Ethan Veneklasen who was very vocal on social media said via his Facebook page, “Very glad to see Runners World covering this important issue! Thanks to all who have contributed to helping get this discussion going. ‪#‎cleansport‬

I agree. This is a discussion that almost certainly needs to take place. Elisa unfortunately is now at the centre of this debate. Her presence in San Francisco is now compromised and should she decide to run, I can’t help but think it will result in an early withdrawal. This debate and all the negativity will have a huge impact on her and many reading this will say; good!

Four points are raised:

  1. Are The North Face making a mistake in allowing Desco to run? (TNF50 does not have drug testing or a policy re convicted dopers.)
  2. Should a positive test, irrespective of when that happened, mean that a runner should be banned of life?
  3. How do we confirm that a positive test is 100% positive?
  4. The ultra community have a voice, they are saying in this scenario, “Sure the rules say 2yrs and back in, but the community doesn’t!”

I often tell a story, when I was cycling at elite level. Caffeine was a banned substance. If I had too many espressos or too much Coke, I could run the risk of being positive in a test so I had to be careful. Now caffeine is okay and even gels are rammed with the stuff. You can take as much as you like and it does boost performance. But it’s legal now. What is okay and what is not ok becomes cloudy; my advice is stick to the rules. The athletes who really want to perform/ win will always look for an advantage. I just want that advantage to be a legal one. Of course in Elisa’s case the drug in question is EPO, you don’t accidentally take EPO! It would require planning, deception and money. Ultimately this is a completely different story and I firmly believe why the reaction has been so severe.

The positive test is what everyone jumps on, I get that. A definitive proof that Elisa doped!

Like I said, we all make mistakes and I get the ‘one strike and out’ scenario. However, my bank took £22 out of my account years ago. I told them they were wrong in no uncertain terms. ‘No!’ they relied. “It’s not possible for us to make this mistake.’ I battled on for 3-months. It wasn’t the money that was important, it was the principal. Eventually I had a letter from the bank confirming an error had been made due to an ‘anomaly.’

In the above scenario it was just £22. With drugs in sport and PEDS it may well be a ruined career and life ban. Of course, if we can 100% confirm that someone was cheating, lets ban them. I just want a ban to be 100% – are we there yet?

Ian Sharman, race director for the U.S. Skyrunner Series, is pushing for life bans for convicted dopers for all Skyrunning events globally: “This isn’t a reaction to an individual, but a response to the widespread doping uncovered recently in athletics in general. We can’t change our rules at this point without the rules being changed for the entire International Skyrunning Federation, so that’s where we’re aiming to make the change so we can send a clear signal that cheating isn’t acceptable,”

Anthony Forsyth commented on a Facebook in response to a comment I made:

“From my perspective the frustration is not towards Elisa, who is doing what she can, but towards TNF that are allowing her to race. There is a general consensus that we want a clean sport – on this we agree. But there is also a general consensus that those who have cheated, who have stolen prize money and results from other athletes, have had their opportunity to be a part of our sport, of our family, and have crapped with contempt on that opportunity. They are no longer welcome. The term witch hunt refers to the guessing of guilt. Guilt has been proven. Sure the rules say 2yrs and back in, but the community doesn’t. As I said, my vent is with TNF. In allowing her to race they have misunderstood our sport, our family and our values. They need to educate themselves. And people need to stop buying their stuff until they do.”

The above is a powerful statement and one that I get. Anthony is clearly saying here this has nothing to do with if ‘doing the crime, so do the time!’ It is so much more, it’s about how the community are not prepared to accept back someone into the sport even though they may now be clean. It is very much the scenario, one strike and you are out!

On a final note to add fuel to the fire. On December 2nd CONI posted:

The Public Prosecutor’s office of NADO ITALY defers 26 athletes and asks for two years of disqualification. Dismissal is suggested for another 39 cases

Read the article HERE

Dismissal for 39-cases including

DE GASPERI Marco for the disputed accusations (art. 2.3 and art. 2.4 of the Anti-Doping Sport Code);

DESCO Elisa for the disputed accusations (art. 2.3 and art. 2.4 of the Anti-Doping Sport Code);

What are your thoughts? Would love to hear them.

Read THIS by Scott athlete, Andy Symonds. He nails it for me!

UPDATE 18th December, ELISA DESCO speaks with HERE

73 thoughts on “Can of worms! Desco, EPO, PEDs and TNF50

  1. Ian, a very balanced and fair article.

    On the subject of lifetime bans – David Millar made the point that a very young, immature and malleable pro could be steered into PED useby an unscrupulous coach, but it is the athlete tested, the athlete banned, and a lifetime ban would impact on the vulnerable individual more than more devious breacher of his/her duty of care.

    We also need to have a sense of what is going on in the wider world of sport: athletics is now a mess with institutionalised doping suggested at national levels, Arse Wenger is suggesting widespread and whitewashed activity in football, and whatever happened to the tennis players suspected in Operation Puerto. We also see governing bodies guilty of other forms of cheating (in the financial arena) as witnessed by IAAF and FIFA. How can an governing body presume to take the high moral ground over athletes, until its own house is in order? Finally, whilst I neither respect nor like Floyd Landis, there are important issues around the testing procedure and its independence and robustness that do need to be addressed.

    We engage in a sport which is reasonable accessible and democratic (in the sense of access – I cal run the same courses on the same day as an elite). How would testing be managed in this environment? Should I have to pay a testing fee to run UTMB and run the risk as you point out, of a trace banned subtance on a list I can’t understand being in my personal food chain?

    Our sport is about freedom, spaces, nature and the environment, not about massive winnders purses. If we wish to assure ourselves it’s clean at the top, this starts with statements of how it will be tested, by whom, at what level, who will scrutinise and who will pay. It needs engagement with “dirty” atheletes as well as clean in order to understand the hows and whys of PED abuse. And this can only begin with truth and reconciliation – lifetime and retrospective bands, scapegoating, and self-righteous athlete-shaming will only slow us from getting there.

    • Good points. I am human, I have made mistakes in my life (never drugs, PEDs or anything like that I must add). I am divorced, I feel as though I let me son down and so on. But my son forgives me, I have done my time and tried to put it right. I am over simplifying I know. But are we all perfect? Should we be allowed a 2nd chance, to put it right…? Maybe deep down I think the best and I am deluded?

      • ian, i am glad you have written this article and shone light on what was going on. The only thing i will address is the positive test and subsequent ban. I totally understand that people can make mistakes and whilst it is great that she passed two recent doping tests, i , in my heart of hearts feel that if someone is taking performance enhancing drugs such as epo that they should be banned for life – no ifs or no buts. She was bound to know the seriousness of taking something like this. I think that it has gotten to the point that a clear message needs to be sent out to those who cheat across all the various IAAF disciplines that it is now a zero tolerance approach. It probably wont happen, especially with that clown Coe at the helm, nevertheless that is my opinion.

      • Dave, don’t confuse my post with sympathy for EPO users. This is two separate issues. My post relates to TNF50 and what I consider to be retrospective justice. To clarify.

        Desco was found guilty, given a 2-year ban in 2010 and she served that ban to 2012. After this she was cleared to race. Fact! She has done her time as the rules were applied and that is it.

        Now runners in the US have decided that it’s not fair… hold on, rules are rules. We can’t have the ‘mob’ decide the justice. Yes, the mob can influence new procedures and protocols.

        To clarify again:
        1.Desco has done her time, paid the price. End of the story.
        2. YES. Lets have a zero tolerance to drugs, PED’s cheats and all those who abuse the system with a ban. However, that has to be something that is brought in with a set of rules and procedures.

        (2) can’t be applied to Desco, in my opinion, her treatment at TNF has been sad to see, guilty or not.

      • I dont think you have sympathy with epo users at all. As regards her treatment at TNF 50 all i can say is what did she expect when people would find out that she had used epo?? You are right that she now cant be given a lifetime ban as what she did is in the past.

  2. I think the only point that really matters is what the rule was, was the punishment given, was the sentence applied? anything beyond that (“the rule says, but the community doesn’t”) is nothing short of street justice and public shaming: might have the best intention in the world, might be very well justified ethically, philosophically and everything, but is not the place of the people or the community to judge and sentence, unless they are fully educated to 1) ethics 2) the law 3) the case. Which they are likely not.
    Yes the system might be flawed, but tar and feathers is no better deal. No way.

  3. Ian, this is not a witch hunt by any meaning of the word, and it is not about Elisa as a person. It’s about a system of lukewarm sanctions that obviously isn’t working. And it’s about sponsors, race directors and media who look away as long as it serves their goals.

    I firmly believe everyone deserves a second chance in life – just not in professional sports. You don’t take EPO by accident, and the long-term benefits of PEDs exceed any two or four-year ban.

    I respect your opinion, but I wish you’d take a clearer stand on this issue.

      • Hendrik, I have a very clear stance and I don’t look away. I am 100% against any drugs and PEDs and I agree in one strike and out providing testing is 100% secure.

        However, my post is specifically about TNF50 and the treatment of Elisa Desco.

        Desco was found guilty in 2009. Marco her husband tried to prove her innocence. In 2010 after a year of legal Elisa was given a 2-year ban, the maximum at the time. A ban was only applied for 2 positive tests. Elisa served that ban to 2012. After this she was cleared to race as per the rules and regulations, like it or not. Fact! She has done her time as the rules were applied at the time and that is it. Of course she is tainted.

        Now runners in the US have decided that it’s not fair… they don’t want to race with a convicted doper, they want a ban applied to convicted dopers! Great, I agree.

        But hold on, rules are rules. We can’t have the ‘mob’ decide the justice retrospectively. Yes, the mob can influence new procedures and protocols and I hope that is what comes out of TNF50.

        To clarify again:
        1.Desco has done her time, paid the price. End of the story.
        2. YES. Lets have a zero tolerance to drugs, PED’s cheats and all those who abuse the system with a ban. However, that has to be something that is brought in NOW with a set of rules and procedures. in conjunction with brands, sponsors and so on. For sure, if a race has prize money; drug testing should be in place as standard. Think Speedgoat 50k, Run Rabbit Run, TNF50 and so on.

        Point 2 can’t be applied to Desco at TNF50 as these rules don’t exist. For me, the treatment of Elisa at TNF is sad. I get peoples frustration, anger and desire for a clean sport but using Elisa in this way has been a negative, not a positive.

        However, I am sure the actions at the weekend will influence change and I support that change 100%.

      • Chris, you are confusing your moral standpoint with the rules. The rules say that Elisa served her ban and therefore she is clear to race.

        From a moral perspective, I understand your point of view. It is this point of view that will influence the change in our sport that we obviously need.

        Strict testing.
        100% testing procedures.
        One positive test = ban.

        I agree with all the above. It’s time race organisers donated money to testing, it’s time that the brands contributed to drug testing procedures, it’s time for out of competition testing and so on and so on. I think we all agree on this.

    • Thanks for your clarifications, Ian. I think we all agree on those two points!
      PS: I did not mean to imply that you were looking away. But you and I both know that there are brands, race directors and media who do.

  4. A lifetime ban is the only answer. The threat of a lifetime should be enough to deter all but the incorrigible. It also protects the clean athletes from those that doped and may now benefit from the carry over effect of their doping (e.g. steroids).

    As for what the participating atheletes want, I am pretty sure that they don’t want to race against cheats or people that have cheated. It’s a great fraternity and people that cheat do not fit in and they disrupt the great cameraderie. Our sport is quite unique in that respect and we must keep it that way otherwise it’s not that sport any more.

    As for “are we 100% sure they cheated”, the answer is yes, the bar for the level of proof and accompanying protocols is set very high so that there can be no doubt. For those caught but feel wronged, challenges can be made through CAS the independent body, there is always the right of appeal.

    So to conclude, a lifetime ban is the only answer, anything else ruins the spirit of the sport.

  5. Hi Ian, to update what you said about additional tests, Elisa was tested in competition 3 times this Summer – at the Italian Mountain Champs, Sierre Zinal and at Limone Extreme. She was clean in all three tests. Also, in the article from CONI, hopefully it is clear to people that both Marco and Elisa had their 2.3 violations dismissed and so are clear of those. I only want to mention that as I have read in some other places (which I think was the result of people not understanding an article written in Italian) that they saw their names in the article so they thought they were charged and not cleared.

  6. Failing a drug test is almost like an intelligence test. Look how many times Lance, Marion, and the others have passed tests. This is why out of season testing is necessary and evading the testing is considered a ban. Frankly, 2 passed tests in 18 months should not be held up as evidence of being clean. Marco’s response that EPO is 1) hard to find and 2) expensive 3) she would test normal 10 days later is equally unconvincing. I want to be compassionate, I really do, but these similar arguments have been laid out some many times in so many sports that it makes it hard to have sympathy for someone that failed a drug test that is easy to beat.

  7. Failing a drug test is almost like an intelligence test. Look how many times Lance, Marion, and the others have passed tests. Frankly, 2 passed tests in 18 months should not be held up as evidence of being clean. Marco’s response that EPO is 1) hard to find and 2) expensive 3) she would test normal 10 days later is equally unconvincing. I want to be compassionate, I really do, but these similar arguments have been laid out some many times in so many sports that it makes it hard to have sympathy for someone that failed a drug test that is easy to beat.

    • Agree 100%.
      I actually think that whether Elisa was positive or not counts. She was found guilty, I accept that. No question.
      What I question and dislike is the retrospective ‘justice’ that Elisa has received at TNF.
      From my perspective, the rules for Elisa as stipulated by the governing body in 2010 was a 2yr ban.
      Elisa has done that. Therefore she is clear to race.
      If races, the governing body, ITRA, UTWT, Skyrunning or whoever bring in a rule moving forward that says, ‘Any athlete with a previous conviction is banned from racing.’ Then, Elisa can’t race!
      As it currently stands the rules say she can race and therefore her treatment as TNF is inappropriate in my opinion.
      Lets be clear, moving forward, clear rules with no ambiguity:

      In and out of competition testing.
      Fool proof testing procedures (100% guaranteed)
      Found guilty? = BAN

      It’s actually quite simple! Implementing it and financing it is something quite different. I’d like to see Nike to start the ball rolling with a cash investment to get the ball rolling… after all, they made plenty of money from Lance wearing Nike eh?

      • You keep saying that the rules say she can compete. I disagree 100%. A number of Diamond League events and others in track and field have already banned past convicted drug cheats. Even Lance has been banned from competing in events that are not under the jurisdiction of the banning organization.

        Is TNF even obligated to abide by sanctions? Events, sponsors, and the media can (and SHOULD) hold athletes to a higher standard than our governing bodies do. Think about other professional athletes that get banned due to criminal justice issues that are beyond the scope of the sports league. You make it seem like there is no precedent for external pressures to play a role in who is in and who is out. It’s simply not true.

        Bureaucratic organizations don’t always reflect the will of the spectators or fellow athletes and so-called public shaming is the only way for them and other stake holders to pay attention. Say nothing and nothing will get done.

      • Your comment is a dodge to the true issue. The World Marathon Champs: “Doping Violations:​ Under AWMM rules, no athlete who has been found guilty of any antidoping rules enforced by the IAAF, World Anti­Doping Association (WADA), National Federations, or any of the individual AWMM races is eligible to win the AWMM championship title. Athletes must comply with the AWMM Code of Conduct.”

        TNF does NOT have to let past convicted cheats in. This is what the community is advocating for and while perhaps unfortunate for Elisa that she is the example here perhaps she never should have put herself in that position in the first place. I have also yet to see any apology or admittance of wrong doing. Ian, if you add it up it is not a person that we want to see at our events and we have the right to express our disgust that such people are allowed to compete with the hope that TNF will adopt stricter rules in the future.

        It’s sad that our sport has to adopt such rules, but we should go above and beyond trope of “you paid your time for crime and you are free to compete again”. This TNF example is just the can of worms to encourage such policies. Don’t you agree? Or do you really think our sport should follow the WADA/IAAF punishments?

      • Matt, No dodge whatsoever and please don’t confuse that because I know Marco and Elisa this is some fight for them, not at all, it’s me giving my thoughts as I see them. I would be saying exactly the same if it was Ellie, Megan, Jo, Aliza or any of the runners, male or female in this situation. The reason WHY you can provide this quote: “Doping Violations:​ Under AWMM rules, no athlete who has been found guilty of any antidoping rules enforced by the IAAF, World Anti­Doping Association (WADA), National Federations, or any of the individual AWMM races is eligible to win the AWMM championship title. Athletes must comply with the AWMM Code of Conduct.” Is because this is a rule and policy clearly laid out either via legal documents, on the race website or whatever. If a previously convicted athlete wanted to run The World Marathon Champs they couldn’t because this rule says so. So, if Elisa wanted to run, she would be informed that she couldn’t; simple!
        At TNF50 no policy existed whatsoever… no rules re PEDs, doping or even guidelines. So Elisa ran the race; fact!
        You don’t like that! I get it, I do get it 100%.
        Therefore, you now have a platform for change and Elisa’s presence at TNF50 may well be the catalyst for that change and that is good.
        But once again I come back to the facts and the rules. Elisa was positive, sentenced, done her time and is clear to run at TNF50.
        What happened in my opinion was unacceptable and I stand by that…
        This is not about if am I in favour of drugs. I am not, I am 100% against drugs. But I am for rules and clear procedures and currently WADA/IAAF punishments apply. If we don’t have those (however wrong) the floodgates will open and we will have chaos, as what happened at TNF50.
        So, ‘the community’ now has that opportunity to change the rules. Until those rules change, the current rules stand and this was the case at TNF50.
        You are a scientist Matt yes? I am not. So I may well be over simplifying the process and if you’d like to come on Talk Ultra and talk it through, I’d welcome it. I am pretty sure we may have a great deal of PED talk on the coming shows.

      • Ian, sorry for the somewhat aggressive tone. I’ve had the flu and been stuck in bed with nothing better to do than stir the pot. I actually think that we agree. Lance could have run, Elisa even when banned could have run, because of the lack of rules put forth by TNF or a majority of other ultras. In fact, if she had finished and podiumed that may have provided even more impetus for races to have much clearer guidelines.

        I hope that ultra races will establish clear rules that essentially provides lifetime bans. The science says that there might be lifetime benefits from PEDs and we need a strong disincentive to keep our sport clean. Convicted dopers might be welcomed back at IAAF events, but we (as a community) can keep them from racing at our marquee events.

      • Matt, I welcome the debate. Debate makes us all think and certainly many comments, yours included, have made me take a step back and ask myself is ‘my’ stance correct? Ultimately, I think you and I agree…
        1. In and out of competition testing. (For example we could start with the top-100 men/ top-50 ladies ranked by for arguments sake; ITRA)
        2. Positive test? Must be ratified by a B sample and ‘all’ testing MUST be secure, guaranteed and fool proof.
        3. Found guilty = Ban.
        4. Athlete must be allowed to appeal – always difficult one but we need to be fair.
        I think this is what you, iRunFar, Ian Sharman and so on want and hope for. This was obviously brought to a head at TNF50 due to Elisa’s late entry and then the disclosure of her previous positive test.
        This for me is where the issues and problems rose as Elisa was entitled to run… if it was a good idea, ethical, or whatever is irrelevant because the rules said she could as per her conviction and sentencing via WADA.
        Of course, had TNF50 had a PED policy re previous convictions, this issue may well have not happened?
        BUT it’s very clear that we ALL WANT a very clear PED policy and WE WANT to stop drugs in our sport.
        I think that process is now happening at pace…
        Thanks for the input and thoughts, I welcome them!

  8. Ian, I’m glad this issue is starting some really good discourse. I feel lucky that, at my peak, this issue wasn’t really on the ultra radar. Yes we were tested at World Cup 100k and UTMB. And yes, there had been a few early convictions at Comrades, but I honestly believe there was very little doping going on in the early and mid 2000’s. And I frankly believe it remains extremely rare today. I know I may just have chosen to bury my head in the sand because I view my sport as one in which my fellow competitors and I share a common passion which unites us in a culture of extreme physical challenge, a love of running, and a love of one of the purest forms of competition in all of sport. However, doping clearly does occur to at least some extent in our sport, and this fact erodes the purity of what is otherwise a simple test of one human against others on the same course, in the same weather, on the same day, with only food, water and shoes to aid the athletes in their quests.

    I do not know what the solution is. But I do know the existence of PEDs causes problems much more far-reaching than clean athletes losing to those who use PEDs. People who run/bike/swim to fantastic results always have someone asking, “I wonder is she’s using drugs.” Athletes on the USADA/WADA out of season testing lists have to endure the onerous task of letting their federation know of their whereabouts for one hour of every single day of the year. Testing is expensive, and may well be behind the most recent doping technology out there. Basically the existence of PEDs simply ensures that everyone loses to some extent: legitimate performances are questioned, great athletes lose to athletes who cheat, money which could fund athletes, events or research must be redirected to testing, and the list goes on.

    I believe in and out of competition testing are critical to catching those who cheat, but I don’t think even wide-scale testing would solve the problem. The only thing I can write with certainty is that, painful as it is, open discourse on the problem is imperative if we are to have any hope of regaining the purity of ultramarathon, and helping athletes and fans to recover from the damage the use of PEDs has inflicted and continues to inflict on sport.

    • Nikki, I don’t disagree with anything you say. I 100% agree. What I find regrettable in ‘this’ scenario with Elisa is the mob mentality. I get that trail running in the US and worldwide wants:
      Clean sport
      Regular drug tests in and out of competition
      Positive test = Ban.
      Great, I can agree to the above. However, this can’t be retrospectively applied to Elisa just because the mob decide so… Elisa was convicted, sentenced to a 2-year ban, she did her ban and is now clear to race. She did what she had to do and the rules say it’s ok for her to race. I believe in 2nd chances and in the last 3 tests Elisa has been found clean. These are facts.
      What I have seen at TNF50 is regrettable. I would have liked Elisa’s presence t create a debate that was balanced and one that could have even included Elisa to provide thoughts moving forward. Instead she has been alienated, the mob has gained momentum and it has got ugly.
      Many have said that Elisa is the first convicted doper to run trails in the US… this is not true! Their is somebody we both know, who is high profile, who has raced in the US and is in a position of influence. I wonder what will happen when that information gets public knowledge? It was tweeted yesterday…. just a matter of time!
      Lets move forward from here. Set guidelines and then those guidelines can be applied. TNF50, Run Rabbit Run and Speedgoat 50k in many respects should lead the way… the big bucks are available at these races.

      • Ian, I totally agree. I think it is unfortunate that one athlete is receiving so much negative press from this issue. I do not believe in retroactive justice, and I do feel she has served her time as was the stated punishment for the violation at the time. She does not deserve to be vilified. My main point is that the good coming out of this is the discourse it sparked. I think also that discussions over the internet can become heated in a way that would not occur were we able to discuss the same issue in person. Unfortunately that often results in insults (intended or not) to specific people or points of view. In any of my comments regarding PEDs, my intent is to discuss the presence of PEDs in sport and what can be done to curb it. It is not my intent to vilify any individual.

        Doping is deeply multi-faceted issue and, though I can judge the use of PEDs as bad, I am in no place to judge a convicted athlete beyond that. In fact there are otherwise great people who have cheated using PEDs. I recommend The Secret Race, by Tyler Hamilton (Athens Olympics gold medalist later convicted of doping), to anyone who is willing to dismiss Elise or any other athlete as simply a bad person. Tyler was a high school cycling and skiing teammate of mine, and throughout my years riding with him, he showed nothing but care for fellow riders and good sportsmanship. He later made a very big mistake. And now he is doing what he can to clean up a sport he loves. I know that some people would totally disagree with my defense of Tyler, but I stand by him. I do not stand by the blood doping he did, but I absolutely stand by the person he is. I do not know Elise, so all can can say is that I disagree with her choice to use EPO, but I have no negative or positive opinion about her personally. And I fully agree with you that she does not deserve to bear the entire weight of this issue.

      • That is a great post Nikki. I’ve read Tyler Hamiktons book and he comes across as you’ve described. He made a mistake, we all do and who are we to judge personal mistakes. Elise has done her punishment, let’s stop punishing her.

  9. Lifetime ban, PERIOD. Enough of those cheaters. The questions is : Do we want to end up with a sports like cycling ? Isn’t the Armstrong case not enough to convince us not to do the same mistakes ?
    Sure we can debate night and day about whether she was really doped or not but in the end the community doesn’t make the decision. She was banned, she got caught, OUT! BYE! CIAO!

    • Frederic, she was caught and banned for 2-years. She served that ban and is now cleared to run! That was the rules applied at the time and Elisa adhered to those rules.
      Just because you and the mob would like her to be banned for life, doesn’t apply here. We can use this scenario as a catalyst for change. I am all for that, I want a 100% clean sport.
      But this retrospective bullying is wrong. TNF50 doesn’t even have a policy on PEDs and that is crazy for a race that offers $10.000 prize money.
      The sport should use this moment to move forward and set rules for the future which all the runners MUST adhere too. I don’t think I or anyone disagrees with this.

      • Me and the mob ? retrospective bullying ? That’s harsh to read.

        I understand that she served her ban….but like I said above, I have zero tolerance, I dont think trail running can afford to have little tolerance or the story will repeat itself.
        My belief is that we should show examples with previous dopers like her to express that we don’t want THIS at all to happen in our sport.

      • You can’t change the rules Frederic.

        Do the sentence.

        That is how it was for Elisa and how it stands until the rules change.

        If you want to clean up the sport (just as I do), lobby for new rules, new testing and one strike and you are out providing that we can guarantee 100% testing.

        For Elisa, she was tested, found guilty, did the time and is now clear. What happened at TNF was not appropriate. TNF didn’t even have a PED policy, crazy for a race with $10.000 prize money.

        I’m just stating facts and I once again confirm, I am against drugs, PEDs and I welcome testing that leads to a ban if guilty providing we can guarantee the testing procedure.

  10. Skyrunning now has a major opportunity to lead the way and bring in a set of rules which deal with doping effectively. They should take the opportunity with both hands and show the IAAF how to do it because that organisation has no clue and there will be no serious reform whilst theu current leadership remain in place.

    • Dave, the ISF have been testing for years. But do you have any idea how much it costs? It needs financing and then needs a commitment from all the brands, sponsors, teams and so on. Key is out of competition testing not just in competition.

      • Fair enough but what im saying is that they should implement a much stricter set of rules regarding what happens when someone is caught – lifetime ban in other words. Yes the brands etc should get on board as they have the revenue streams to do this.

  11. Ian, thanks for your efforts to keep a balanced dialogue going. I am just a simple mid-pack runner that goes out and tries his best, loves the vibe and community. However what I have read here and elsewhere is simply shocking- this is an irresponsible and scary mob mentality that does not back down from self-righteously maligning a cleared athlete (as stipulated by the rules at the time!). This is all the more incredible as very little testing (if any?) is carried out at US races. Easy to have a clean sport when you never look…
    The “real” story here is the behaviour of the ultra-running mob – do I want to share the mountains with people who are so arrogant and self righteous?

  12. Ian- Thanks for the lively conversation. A few things:
    –First, and with all due respect, it’s very hard for you to talk about this objectively when you are so close to the subject, but do you think she knowingly used EPO or not? Yes or no?
    –I support lifetime bans, but at the very least, we need to get all major races to agree that if an athlete is *currently* serving a ban, they’re not welcome at MUT events, domestically or internationally, sanctioned or not, and whether they’re contesting the test or not. I’d hope we could all agree to that.
    –I also stated a few days ago that I believe Desco be allowed to run yesterday. At the time of her registration, there was nothing disallowing her entry. It’s tough (and inappropriate) to change the rules after the fact. Again, I think we agree there.
    –Now, at yesterday’s TNF, despite being under the microscope, so to say, they were STILL cheating. I saw it. Others saw it. Race management saw it, and it was clear what was going on. At least one mile from an aid station, Marco was handing/switching her bottles while running the race, so she was able to blast through aid stations and shave time off of her competitors. It’s irrelevant whether or not she finished the race. The official rule book for the race outlaws muling, common practices at other races don’t allow it, and Skyrunning doesn’t allow it. There is ZERO defense, as this happened numerous times. They’re fucking cheaters, Ian. Currently. Please don’t sacrifice your integrity by defending them or their actions.
    Of course muling and doping are on different levels of cheating, but what it shows is a blatant disregard for rules, her competitors, the race, AND common sense. For god’s sake, if you’re being watched closely, DON’T CHEAT.
    What’s important is that we keep this conversation going, but what’s *vital* is that actual changes are enacted SOON.
    Again thanks for keeping the conversation alive. I was drinking whiskey with Koop last night and arguing the same points. Wish you’d been there for the lively conversation. 🙂
    Beer time,

    • Eric, I wondered how long it would take you… a good debate to hard to resist.
      1. I didn’t know Elisa in 2009. I only met her and Marco in 2012. I wasn’t aware of her conviction till later. So I would have to say having spoken with Marco in-depth no! But the facts say yes, so I will say yes, she did take EPO because that is what the facts and the law says.
      2. Agree, if they are currently serving a ban, they should not be allowed to race ANY race.
      3. Elisa should be allowed to run TNF50. She has done the time and was clear to run, the law says this. And I am NOT for retrospective sanctions. To be clear, should we say on the 1st Jan 2017 that a positive test equals a ban, great. But that worked from 1st Jan 2017 going forward and does not backdate.
      4. I can’t comment on that other than if that happened, it should have beed addressed under the race rules. Simple.
      5. I’m not sacrificing my integrity! Actually it is the opposite. I am giving a thoughtful opinion based on the rules (as they currently stand) not my head or my heart. Unfortunately what I witnessed around TNF50 was the opposite, I saw the head and the hearts of the ultra running community go against the rules and I witnessed the mob bully and isolate someone who in the eyes of the law (and TNF50 race rules) was allowed to run. My knowing Elisa and Marco just adds an additional dimension to my knowledge.
      6. We have a catalyst now which we can all work with but change will not come quickly. Education is as key as testing and banning. As for a beer with you and Koops, that I would have relished. I think we would have had 3 very interesting points and I would really welcome Koops to be vocal and provide a viewpoint. I am sure that I don’t need to tell you that ‘Carmichael’ was mentioned on many a thread over the weekend.
      Finally, I love the sport. What I often feel is so different about ultra, trail and Skyrunning to other sports is our (my) proximity with all the runners. They are my friends. Would I want to hear that one is positive? No, of course not. But if they were, so be it, the law comes in to play and they must pay the price. No ifs or buts.

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  14. Here is something a bit interesting and may or may not be insight into who Elisa and her husband are. I ran TNF 50 this past weekend and at the end of one of the early downhill sections (still dark out, everyone under headlamp) I was directly behind two runners, man and woman that appeared to be speaking Italian. I’ve been to Italy a couple times but by no means speak the language. The man was clearly muling for her, as I witness him handing her a bottle to take a drink. Mind you, this was all in the dark, so I cannot be certain it was Elisa as I didn’t look at her bib but the pictures of her seem to fit what I remember. Could I testify to seeing her do this? No, I couldn’t because I’m not 100% sure it was her. But, whoever it was, was defiantly not following the rules of no muling. Like I said, may or may not speak to who they are as people.

    • Jeremiah, this is something that Eric Shranz also commented on. I quote, “Now, at yesterday’s TNF, despite being under the microscope, so to say, they were STILL cheating. I saw it. Others saw it. Race management saw it, and it was clear what was going on. At least one mile from an aid station, Marco was handing/switching her bottles while running the race, so she was able to blast through aid stations and shave time off of her competitors.”
      Of course this is unacceptable if the rules specify no muling or feeding outside a particular zone. This is something that the race should address and comment on.

    • The alleged muling is a totally separate issue and kind of getting away from the pointof this discussion. I am not surprised that some runners acted in the way they did as they are wanting to protect their sport from doping but what i agree with Ian on is that there is no place for bullying in our sport either and on that front the actions of those involved with the bullying are unacceptable

      • Dave, thanks for the comment. I have to say that Jeremiah and Eric are using the ‘muling’ issue as evidence to ascertain the character of Elisa and Marco. Yes, it obviously does not relate to EPO use in 2009 but does it confirm that what is right and wrong is questionable in the minds of the two?
        I’m happy for people to make that comment and based on the two scenarios provided by Eric and Jeremiah, it certainly appears that questions need to be asked. Considering the spotlight that was on Elisa, it certainly does appear to be a crazy thing to happen – not that I am in anyway questioning it did happen.

      • I certainly would not judge either of them based on this muling issue. For me this could be a genuine oversight on their part. I seem to remember a few years ago that Killian cut the switchbacks on the Speedgoat 50k. Everyone took him at face value when it was clear that he did not know this was not allowed in the US race

    • Okay, so I was curious on the RULES at TNF50, as far as I can see, no mention about muling or am I wrong? I’m not trying to be argumentative or controversial, I just want to ensure that we have the correct facts.

      Race Officials have the right to remove any runner from the course deemed necessary for their safety and the safety of all others.

      All participants/attendees/pacers/crews must adhere to the following rules: :

      1Numbers must be visible on the outside and front of runners’ clothing.
      2Any runner dropping out of the race must notify a volunteer at a manned Aid Station. The athlete will be responsible for paying a large bill if a Search and Rescue team is sent out on their behalf and they are not on the race course.
      3All Runners: It is your responsibility to check in at each Aid Station.
      4Absolutely no littering. If you or your pacer abandons anything (e.g., drink cups, gel packets, banana peels, clothes, etc.) on the race course, you will be disqualified and banned from entering any future Endurance Challenge events.
      5Bury human waste at least six inches deep, 200 feet from water sources and 50 feet from any trail.
      6Recycle bins, trash cans and bathrooms are readily available and accessible throughout the course.
      7No weapons, personal alcohol, glass bottles, smoking, illegal drugs or pets will be permitted on the premises.
      8Only attempt to pass another runner when it is safe for both you and the other runner to do so.
      9When passing another runner, make every attempt to pass on their left, unless it is unsafe. Announce your intention to pass by saying, passing on your left (or right, if it is unsafe to pass on their left).
      10Provided it is safe to do so, you must yield to any runner who announces his/her intention to pass, by stepping off the trail.
      11Be prepared to share the trail with runners coming from the opposite direction.
      12No smoking is allowed at the Endurance Challenge Aid Stations or Finish Festival.
      13Each runner must complete the course under his/her own power. No physical aids are allowed including ski poles, walking sticks or crampons.
      14There will be no unofficial runners allowed on-course.
      Violating any of these rules will result in runner disqualification.
      – See more at:


        Page 11: “RULES FOR PACERS
        – Pacers are not allowed on the course prior to mile 27.0
        – Pacers cannot meet runners at locations other than those designated
        – Pacers must check-in with the aid station captain and sign a release waiver before joining their runner
        – Pacers must wear the provided pacer bib at all times
        – Pacer bibs must be visible on the outside and front of clothing
        – Runners can be accompanied by only one pacer at a time
        – No “muling” (carrying runner’s gear or nutrition/fluids)
        – No vehicular or bike pacing”

      • Futhermore, in the same course guide it states:
        – Crew access is only permitted at designated aid station locations (see pace chart and map)
        – Crews must check-in with the aid station captain for direction on where to assist runners
        – Crews may only assist runners within a 100 ft radius of the designated aid stations
        – A traffic cone will signify the allowable parameters for crew assistance
        – Crews are limited to one vehicle per runner at designated aid stations
        – No smoking is allowed at any of the aid stations
        – Littering of any kind is strictly prohibited
        – Runners are responsible for the actions of their crew”

      • Stan, where is his guide, is this on the website? Didn’t see these in the RULES that I saw. Maybe it’s a downloadable PDF? Thanks

  15. Hi Ian, I completely agree with you. I don’t know Elisa but it’s clear her punishment was the 2 year ban, which she’s served. Anyone who believes in lifetime bans should lobby the governing bodies for them, rather than trying to whip up antipathy against individual athletes in advance of events they are intending to run. I hope this doesn’t become a regular occurrence in ultra circles; to me it feels like plain and simple bullying.
    Cheers, Simon

  16. Here is an interesting thought for you. I just discussed the PED issue with Karl Meltzer for the next episode of Talk Ultra. He has been running ultras for 19-years, he has won 36 (yes 36) 100-mile races and has NEVER been tested for PEDs either in or out of competition. Makes you think huh? In addition, when I asked about his race, Speedboat 50k (which has good prize money) he said his rules (or lack of rules) are just like TNF50. He openly said; if Elisa wanted to run the race she could! But he also agreed that he is 100% against PEDs and that the time is now to start to make the changes.

  17. I have no strong opinion about the specifics of the case, but there’s a pretty big “rules” issue here that everyone seems to have glossed over. The point that “rules are rules” is completely spurious. Elisa tested positive and served a two year ban under IAAF rules. After the ban she competes (and rightly so) in IAAF races (including WMRF races). TNF races are not conducted under the auspices of IAAF and in no way bound by IAAF rules.

    An analogous situation might be if the United States were to deny a tourist visa to someone convicted of drug trafficking who already served their sentance in Mexico (they can, and do). TNF (along with Speedgoat and other non-IAAF races) are free (morally and legally) to make their own decisions about who may compete in their races.

      • That’s right, although by the same logic there would have been no “rule” inconsistency had they chosen to revoke the entry.

        Personally for the future I think a policy similar to the NYRR’s NY Marathon policy makes sense: NY marathon allows anyone to run, but specifies that anyone who has ever served more than a two month doping ban is ineligible for prizes. Given the inability to test in most ultra events, I think strong penalties are necessary. On the other hand doping positives arise from a variety of complex situations and shouldn’t necessarily prevent people from enjoying the sport (much like the rest of us who are not in competition for podium spots).

  18. So the same Chris carmicheal is training d bo and kaci from ultras and many others in our sport the same as Lance .
    you have lost my support and everyone I tell in our sport Wil know or carmicheal s involvement .

    • Jason Koop is coaching many of the top elite US based runners such as Dylan Bowman, Timothy Olson and so on. Yes, he works for Carmichael Coaching that was heavily involved with Lance Armstrong. However, to say: “So the same Chris carmicheal is training d bo and kaci from ultras and many others in our sport the same as Lance .
      you have lost my support and everyone I tell in our sport Wil know or carmicheal s involvement.”

      Your above statement is as bad as what I witnessed at TNF50. No athlete coached under the above system has tested positive, no question marks have been raised re Jason Koop and therefore you are just slinging mud based on a past reputation. Lets stick to the facts and if you would like Jason Koop’s thoughts, listen to my interview with him on Talk Ultra podcast, we spoke for 1-hour.

  19. Disclaimer: I do not, will not, ever advocate PED’s in any form or fashion. From an ethical viewpoint, it is wrong to have an unfair advantage in any form in any competitive sport, period.

    If I may, from the getgo state that my opinion will be unpopular but ultimately fair. I, for one, agree with Ian. I have no ties and do not know the couple in question personally. We have governing bodies for a reason, so that as a society (cultured and law abiding), we adhere to said bodies rules and regulations. This is set so that as a participating society we adhere to such policies and adhere to them and not create our own arbitrarily. If we, as a collective body do not agree with policies/regulations set in place, we must have them changed. This logically, means we must communicate directly with said governing body and voice our discontent. I am merely addressing the doping in question. What happened during the race is a matter altogether different, which should be addressed with the TNF organization. The person in question was tested, caught doping, was convicted on a serious charge, and was punished according to the current standing of WADA. She could not compete for two years under such a ban placed by WADA. What she decides to do competitively after those two years is up to her. What I , Ian or Eric (I sympathize with you Eric!), or any of us believe in, doesnt hold water until WADA changes such policies.😦 She has paid her dues according to WADA, period. Publicly shaming someone will not help the issue, unfortunately as a running community we have become a Lets Run forum ourselves with all this. I mean no disrespect to anyone. Let me ask this, and ask yourselves this, has anyone bothered to contact the couple in question? Has anyone talked to them directly? It would be nice to hear both sides of said story. And WADA? Has anyone contacted headquarters, or a representative of WADA? Thats where the real change is made! Contact your local representative and put real pressure on those making the policies, we are better than this.

    • Well said Fernando. My points exactly and I have asked for a comment from WADA, Skyrunning and Marco and Elisa. I have received a comment from Marco re the ‘muling’ issue, however, he did not give me permission to make that public.

    • Just to clarify: she was punished by IAAF, not WADA. Unlike in cycling or track where there is a hierarchy with a single governing body (UCI and IAAF) ultrarunning is mostly independent. TNF is not governed by IAAF. Furthermore TNF (to my knowledge) does no testing, nor is it really financially feasible for most ultra races to do so. It’s both within their rights and completely reasonable for TNF to ban races who have served shorter IAAF bans.

      You say “we must communicate directly with said governing body and voice our discontent”. That is precisely what racers did. In this instance TNF is the governing body, not IAAF. Indeed IAAF could not prevent TNF from allowing runners to participate, to the contrary TNF could allow runners serving IAAF bans if they wanted to.

  20. I agree, Ian, we need to move the discussion beyond the people that prompt it. The punishment has been fulfilled. Any further anger/effort for change should be directed to future policies. I have a few other thoughts for the future. 1. Focus on recovering past and removing future prize money from convicted dopers rather than the right to participate. Big money and temptation to use PED’s go hand in hand. The funding for prize money and drug testing can be tied together that way too. 2. If the last 10 years has taught us anything, it is that test results mean nothing without the 100% integrity of the entire governing body, national and world anti-doping bodies, team officials, and sponsors. In order to instill that kind of systemic integrity, uncovering doping must not be seen as a negative. Everyone (fans, participants, coaches, officials, etc) should not be afraid of short term negative consequences of catching dopers, even when they are believed to be positive role models. Most importantly, the professional figures in the sport (athletes, coaches, and officials) need to champion the effort. It’s sort of a small and close-knit party at the top of the sport where there might be some PED use. Chances are for every offender, there are several people around them that sense it happening. What happens in those people’s minds is critical. What will they make a stand for? Do they value the integrity of the sport’s finest performances and fair play? The effort to shape that culture must be won in order to win the war on doping.

    Every person in any role can do something to help. Sponsors pledge to not support convicted dopers, Race Organizations can clearly state they won’t be eligible for awards and prize money, and the Athletes can publicly boycott passive companies and races, and pledge support for in and out of competition testing instead of complaining about it.

    • Thanks for the great article(s)! I’d be extremely interested to hear what Skyrunning (and UTWT for that matter) have to say on the topic. Now, unless they’re busy preparing detailed statements, their silence seems strange.

      Related to this: there currently seem to be many rumors flying around of convicted dopers (you mention some Twitter posts, Sage Canaday has often talked about how repulsed he is when he has to compete against convicted dopers, etc.). The effect of all this is that people start speculating on who those individuals are, and in the process many clean athletes may get suspected of things they are innocent of.

      This begs the question: is there a particular reason why no ultra running media wants to publish those names?

      • Hi Eric, Skyrunning is well aware of Elisa Desco’s conviction and they follow WADA rules. WADA provided a 2-year ban to Elisa and after that ban she is allowed to run. Of course that creates the debate of is this right or wrong? As rules go, Elisa is allowed to compete. To be fair, Skyrunning is far more proactive in testing. For example, Elisa has been tested 3x at Skyrunning events in the last 2-years and each time the results are clear. Yes I am well aware that out of competition testing and blood passports are the way forward but at least Skyrunning have something in place. I can’t speak for UTWT as I don’t fully know the policy that they use.
        Re ‘convicted dopers’ I am only aware of one other person currently in the sport who has a past conviction.
        In regard to Sage’s comments, it may well apply to marathon running or Comrades – you’d have to ask him.

  21. Thanks for a quick response Ian, and on your insight into Skyrunning’s side of it. Would it be totally unreasonable to ask who that one other person is? In mainstream sports journalists generally don’t shy away from such matters, as can be seen, e.g. in MarathonTalk’s discussion on athletics’ ongoing doping scandal.

    Re: Sage’s comments, they can be found in iRunFar’s doping story from July:
    Sage’s comments ran thus: “There have been people caught in trail/mountain running and not just at the road events listed above so it is a prevelant in all aspects of MUT Running” and ” I’ve ran in races against guys that have been caught doping…makes me sick”.

    I would assume that Sage isn’t willing to name any names for reasons of his own. I think it would be good if the MUT running media that us runners follow would proceed in the matter, maybe jointly, as individual athletes obviously and understandably are reluctant to do it. Would be great to see an even more thorough discussion regarding current developments and future trends, maybe on your excellent podcast, and/or, e.g. at iRunFar. That said, I do understand the limited resources, etc. that you journalists who cover our niche sport deal in. Thanks again for your excellent work on this matter.

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