Drugs. In the world of fitness – and by extension – sports, they have become an issue impossible to ignore. Even though most of us amateur runners, cyclists and other athletes will never deal with steroids personally, we are constantly barraged by allegations about or confessions by the names we admire: Lance Armstrong, Mark McGwire, Florence Griffith-Joyner, Bill Romanowski…the list goes on for miles. If we think about it, we realize that these are names not of gods and titans, but of humans just like us – straining to hit the ball harder, pushing to top that hill faster, struggling to shave an extra second off that lap time. Those who use steroids want to be the best and make for themselves a name to surpass the heroes they admire.

          Author and extreme amateur athlete Stuart Stevens began taking steroids in 2003 as research into the mental and physical effects of steroid use, and he wrote about his experiences in Outside Magazine. (Read it here.) Stevens relates how his body changed into a muscle-bound machine that wouldn’t quit, but more interesting than the effect it had on his body was the effect it had on his mind.

“You confuse what these performance enhancing drugs are doing to you and yourself,” Stevens told NPR’s Michele Norris in Oct. 2003. “You start to think pretty quickly, ‘Well, this is me. I can ride three hundred miles and the next day, I can feel just fine. Aren’t I impressive?’ ” (Hear it here.)

With steroids, we could all be bigger, faster and stronger. So why don’t we? For me, it’s a combination of reasons: the prohibitively high cost, the dangerous health risks and the lack of any real need. But there’s another reason I’ve chosen to take the hard road to fitness: to me, using steroids defeats the whole purpose of being an athlete.

“Sport is about individuals competing against individuals, not about individuals competing against other individuals’ doctors,” Stevens says. “… There’s something about it that is tremendously dishonest. The athletic endeavor should be one of the purest endeavors that we engage in in life.”

I have been running and watching my diet for about five years, and I’ve lost more than 70 pounds in that time. I’ve run two half-marathons, gained self-confidence and greatly lessened the health risks I’ll face later in life. Sometimes I imagine just what I could have accomplished if I had taken steroids. I could have done two full marathons, and I could have a chiseled physique to show off. But I’ve come to realize that wouldn’t have been me. I may be slow, weak and a bit pudgy, but I’m better off now than ever before. And I’m proud to say I did it the hard way.

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