I'd started months earlier with the goal of using the performance enhancers to complete the PBP. Now that it was over, I was relieved. When I got back from France, I immediately quit everything: no HGH, no testosterone, no EPO, and, God knows, no steroids. It was wonderfully liberating to be freed from a routine that had started out feeling illicit and interesting but had become just an annoying daily chore, like taking vitamins.
Since then, I haven't had my hematocrit level checked, nor my body fat, HGH, or testosterone. But already my eyesight is starting to slip a bit and I find myself squinting to read small type. I'm sure my recovery times from a hard workout have increased. Even if I keep training as hard, my endurance will drop. LOOKING BACK On the whole saga, I find myself wondering whether I'd keep taking these drugs if I could afford them.
For me, it would be a quality-of-life question, not a performance issue. If the HGH weren't so expensive, I'd probably continue with it, at least until I had a good reason not to, like some new evidence that it makes you grow extra ears. (The side effects of HGH are reportedly mild—one is fluid retention.) If nothing else, it helped my eyesight, and I had more energy. Lately, I've been reading studies about how endurance athletes suffer from low testosterone, which leads to early signs of osteoporosis, so I'm going to continue to monitor my levels and, if they drop too far, consider boosting them with the cream.
With the EPO, even if somebody gave it away, I wouldn't go down that road. Using it is too much of a literal and figurative headache, and if you get sloppy there's always the danger of nasty results. And I would never touch steroids again, unless I had some specific medical need. It's all just too powerful, too strange, and it's hard to read a list of the side effects and not feel like you're playing Russian roulette.
As for the larger issue of drugs in sports, eight months in the world of the artificially enhanced convinced me more than ever that it's critical for an organization like the World Anti-Doping Agency to succeed. This group, founded after the Salt Lake Olympics by Canadian anti-doping leader Dick Pound, represents the most serious international attempt to come to grips with sports doping. WADA is the logical response to an argument that gets aired from time to time: that since cheating is impossible to eliminate, the only recourse is to simply legalize everything—that way, no athlete has a hidden advantage over another, since everyone would be free to try anything that might increase endurance.
Like a lot of powerfully bad ideas, that one has a certain mad logic. But it would turn every sport into a test of how much damage an athlete was willing to risk to improve performance, and would basically force every serious athlete to cheat and risk his or her health. Athletic contests would have a strange life-or-death quality. If we don't keep drugs out of these events, they become freak shows, the athletes like gladiators—with us playing the role of decadent Romans, urging them on.
Besides, on a fundamental level, drugs ruin the simple joy of competition. With drugs in the mix, it's not about the athletes, it's about the chemistry.
Now that I was off the program, I started to think about what I'd train for next. Probably something shorter than the PBP—say, the Canadian Ski Marathon, a two-day, 100-mile event. I got a calendar out and began to work on the training schedule. I'd done the race before and knew it would be long, cold, and brutal.