Following the online uproar around Lance Armstrong’s participation in a low-key trail race in the Bay Area on Dec. 13, trail runners Paul Kirsch and David Roche decided there needed to be a resource that showcased clean athletes who are committed to being positive role models in the sport of Mountain, Ultra and Trail (MUT) running. The result was the launch of runcleangetdirty.org, where athletes can fill out an online form committing to the following pledge:
I am committed to being a clean athlete. In addition to any punishment imposed by the IAAF, a national federation, or any national anti-doping agency or government in any sport, I pledge that if I am found by such body to have committed a doping offense (at any competition or out of competition) past, present or future, and I have been subject to a ban of 3 months or more, I agree to a lifetime ban on receiving any prize money, points, other form of prize, or a position in the competitive rankings of any race.
We caught up with Kirsch this week to discuss the impetus behind the new initiative.
Why—and when—did the idea for runcleangetdirty.org come to be?
The website came about this past weekend after running the idea by David Roche and a few others. It was inspired by Zach Miller’s “Light It Up” blog post. I have read a lot of the recent discussions online about Lance Armstrong and previously about the North Face 50. Although there were some really good constructive discussions that occurred, it also seemed to be an online snarkfest on social media that kind of turned me off. I want to keep the sport clean but I also want to make sure we have discussions and debates about it in a positive manner. That is why Zach’s blog post excited me so much; his whole focus on the light—and not the dark—side of things.
How has the response been to this point?
I am really excited about the response so far. In the first 12 hours after the Trailrunner article, we had 2000 hits on the website and [as of this conversation] close to 80 runners have taken the pledge—including some big names like Ellie Greenwood, Kilian Jornet, Max King and Kasie Enman.
What type of change or action do you hope the initiative can promote?
As a dad and also as someone who works with young runners with the U.S. Mountain Running Team (Kirsch serves as the junior team’s manager), I realized that, for all the discussions on doping, if the next generation wants to find positive role models who are clean and are successful runners, there is no place to go. If all they see is a bunch of adults talking about the negative—and in some cases being mean and snarky—that to me is sending out the wrong message. I hope the site serves as a showcase of clean, successful runners. That it becomes a place that the next generation of trail runners and those observing our sport see as something positive.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not thinking that a website of pledges to stay clean will be the one thing that resolves doping in trail running. But I do think it’s an important part that we celebrate the clean athletes. Although the site is not legally binding, the athletes are publicly taking a pledge to voluntarily remove themselves from the sport if they are convicted of doping. I think that says a lot.
As you said, some big names in the Mountain, Ultra, Trail community have signed up so far, but what does it say—if anything—when not everyone gets on board?
At this early point, I don’t think it means anything as I have to remember that not everyone lives online like I do. It will take a while before word spreads. Honestly, right now I am just excited we have the number we do. My biggest fear was, the 15 or so people I initially emailed about it would be the only ones who signed on. Having five times that already is exciting.
I think that there will be some people who choose not to sign because they think it’s meaningless relative to more testing or other initiatives. Or they may not have faith in the testing process, who knows. I am not going to spend a lot of time speculating on why people are or aren’t signing it. Instead I am hoping those that do realize it’s a chance to send a positive message hopefully change some of the conversations around doping in the sport.