Nearly everyone (except Kip Litton, Mike Rossi, Julie Miller, and a few others) agrees that course cutting is wrong, whether one is an elite or back of the pack (though Jean's Marines would disagree with that last point). But there seems to be a sliding scale in other places.
It's generally agreed to be BAD for an elite athlete to be taking EPO or meldonium (both banned). But arguably OK for an runner to take DHEA, or testosterone, or human growth hormone, or hormone replacement therapy, or any other banned substance prescribed to combat "low T" or hot flashes or menopause or inflammation or fatigue or osteoporosis or lack of sex drive or just-not-feeling-like-a-20-year-old-anymore.
After all, those medications just return us to a normal place, right? If asthma and thyroid medications are allowed, then these drugs, which are also prescribed to make someone "normal" again should be fine too, right? Especially for slower people. Or older people. It's not like we're elites? And it's not like these medications make us superhuman? And it's really unfair to expect someone to have to choose between treating her osteoporosis and competing, right? There's gotta be a line somewhere.
It's generally agreed to be BAD for someone to give their bib to someone else to run Boston. But somehow OK to sell a bib for another race that prohibits transfers. And if you're worried about the results being screwed up, just remove the chip from the bib right? Or give it to someone who is very slow. That should be fine, right? If you didn't have to qualify for the race, and if you're not affecting the results, then what's the big deal? There's got to be a line somewhere.
So, in each of these cases, where should the runner draw "the line"?
Easy. It is not our place as competitors to draw the line. The line is drawn by others. By the person who lays out the course. By the race management, which determines when and how bibs can be transferred. By WADA, which determines what medications are allowed, and which are not.
The definition of competition is that we measure ourselves against each other on the same field. Under the same rules. And those rules apply evenly to all, regardless of one's chance of winning the competition.
We're certainly entitled to our opinions on the rules - to think that a course should be routed differently, or that bib transfers should be allowed, or that a small dose of something prescribed by our doctor that makes us feel better and really doesn't help us run faster should be allowed. But, as runners, it's not our job to decide what rules do or don't apply to us. It IS our job to know and follow those rules.
- To run the prescribed course, no matter how long it takes us. No matter how much we want to impress our friends.
- To know that it's not OK to let someone else run unofficially with your bib, even if it won't affect any awards, or even show in the results.
- To look up any medication that you are prescribed, to see whether it's permitted, and to refuse to race while on it if it is banned. Even if you don't consider yourself "fast." Even if it was prescribed for a specific medical condition. Even if it's a very small dose. Even if it just helps you feel like "your old self" again.
As runners of all levels, we contribute to the corruption of our sport if we refuse to adhere to the rules that we expect the elites to follow. Ethics shouldn't be top heavy. Or hinge on whether a win is at stake.
It's our job to compete. And that should be enough.