One of the nation’s largest road racing organizations plans to expand its testing for performance-enhancing drugs to include the top runners in its local races, not just those in its top-tier events.
For more than a decade, the organization, New York Road Runners, has tested elite runners in the New York City Marathon, its largest and best-known race, and its other professional events. Runners found to have cheated are disqualified, and their prize money is withheld. Runners who previously tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs are ineligible to run.
The new effort, scheduled to begin in the spring of 2017, will test the top local and club runners — the tier below the level of full-time professionals. It is part of the organization’s efforts to ensure a level playing field at more of its races while increasing awareness of the dangers of using performance-enhancing drugs.
“It’s meant for guys running up front in the local races,” said Peter Ciaccia, the president of events at New York Road Runners and the race director of the marathon, the largest in the country. “The idea is to just throw out a wider net.”
New York Road Runners already spends $100,000 a year testing its professional runners. That money covers the cost of setting up secure areas to obtain samples and shipping them to laboratories to be analyzed, a process that takes about six weeks. The organization’s officials also monitor race results to see if any runners run noticeably faster over a short time.
The group will spend another $100,000 or so in the first year to expand its testing program. As it does with its professional runners, the organization will pay the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to randomly select a small group of top local runners to be tested at races. Road Runners awards about $130,000 a year in prize money to members and club runners in its local races. Any runners in that category who test positive will forfeit their prize money.
When they register for races, runners must sign waivers in which they agree to be tested, if chosen. Runners can appeal a positive test result. They can also apply for a therapeutic-use exemption if they take medicine that may contain banned ingredients.
Ciaccia said the decision to expand testing had not been driven by a specific instance of a runner’s being caught taking a banned substance. Instead, he said, his organization wants to alert runners of all ages to the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs.
“It’s not just about the brand integrity, but also the educational component so young kids understand what they might get themselves into,” he said.
Anti-doping experts applauded the effort.
“It’s always worth extending the testing experience, that’s for sure,” said Dr. Don Catlin, the former director of the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory. “There’s a limited number of tests done for events, so it’s always best to increase the numbers and get runners tested more.”
In a statement, Travis T. Tygart, the chief executive of USADA, said he hoped more sports organizations would follow the club’s lead.
“It’s fantastic and shows great commitment and leadership to ensuring a level playing field, where clean athletes can compete clean and win,” he said.
Club runners in the New York area said that the hassle of extra testing was a small price to pay to weed out potential cheaters, no matter how few there were and how little the prize money.
“I very much think drug testing has to be part of the sport at almost every level,” said John Roberts, the president of the Central Park Track Club, who was briefed on New York Road Runners’ plans. “It’s unfortunate that that’s where things have gotten. But I can’t think of any reason not to do it, except inconvenience.”
The extra time spent analyzing the test results, though, is likely to increase the time it takes to distribute prize money, something that concerns runners who already wait for months to receive checks from the club.
“It takes months for them to pay out $500 in prize money, so it will now take longer,” said William du Pont Staab Jr., the president of the West Side Runners Club. “Our runners, they can use their money for their rent.”