Liar

Why d’you have to lie? Should’ve realised that you should’ve told the truth.
– John Lydon (Johnny Rotten, Sex Pistols), 1977

Here are some of my early thoughts regarding the first part of Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah*. However, first of all, you might like to view this montage of his greatest doping denials, courtesy of msn now.

 

Video has since been removed.

He has now publicly admitted to deliberately taking performance enhancing drugs since before his cancer diagnosis. Aside from the usual implications that this might have, there are more concerns in this instance due to the amount of success Lance has had – i.e. 7 consecutive Tour de France wins.

Indications suggest that these drugs could have caused (or at least enhanced the seriousness of) his cancer, which nullifies the fairytale of a cancer defeating Tour de France champion. Whatever the good that comes from the Livestrong charity, its origins are now tainted.

Lance refers to his current predicament (the ‘truth’ being unravelled) as being ‘out of his control’. The only other time he claims to have felt like this was when he had cancer, stating that he knew he was going to win the Tours. Surely part of the excitement of sport is in not knowing the outcome, and he would have been better applying his determination to succeed somewhere else, in business perhaps.

When asked about Betsy Andreu (former team-mate Frankie Andreu’s wife), who claims to have heard a confession in 1996, Lance refuses to answer. He also limits his comments regarding Michele Ferrari (the Doctor who supposedly helped facilitate the drugs and transfusions). There is still too much that he is controlling about what we know.

When asked about his donation to the UCI, he states that they were low on money, so approached him for help. While this seems possible (if the amount of speculation surrounding corruption in the UCI is true), it requires further investigation as it is certainly not a satisfactory response.

To gain the trust of someone who has lied will always be difficult and this instance is no different. There are currently a number of theories circulating, such as WADA reducing his lifetime ban to 8 years… and he has said the last time he doped was in 2005 (do the maths). I just hope that his genuine motive is for the long-term good of the sport.

This all needs resolving so that the sport can potentially move forward. No sport is without any controversy, but the UCI needs to ensure that the entire truth regarding this matter is discovered, so that people can regain their trust in cycling as a whole. Complete honesty (without secrets) from all parties is the only way this can happen.

However, I am also concerned that there is fairness. While Lance was the one who cheated most successfully, with the biggest rewards, he was not the only one to have cheated. Please do not reward Lance, or any of the teammates who testified against him, or anyone else associated with this mess, as it will not discourage similar behaviours. Giving some of those teammates 6 month bans during the winter is nonsensical. This is the only way that sport can become clean in the future.

*My comments are based upon the transcript from the bbc, having not yet seen the interview.

I could be dreaming

At the end of a holiday and on Sunday nights, I will often have anxiety dreams about the subsequent return to work. They may involve forgetting a crucial item, inadequate preparation, or another similarly important failure, but their reasoning is the same; the stress of the following day is playing on my mind.

Outside of work, I also suffer from these dreams if I pressure myself to perform, typically in the build-up to a race. I have lost count of the number of times I have turned up to the start of a marathon, realised I have forgotten my shoes/race number/vest/lucky socks*, but carried on regardless, and then woken up. Tony Audenshaw (of Marathon Talk’sTony’s trials) suggests this is a good thing as it ensures extra preparation – and those mishaps will not occur during the event itself. However, it is true that I have never** turned up to a race without any of those aforementioned items.

I had a similar dream this week. I had just met the people joining me on my next challenge and we were discussing our preparations. I was talking through some of the things I had brought with me and realised I had forgotten my camera. While I acknowledge this isn’t the greatest of catastrophes, it was obviously playing on my mind.

Further into the dream, it also transpired that I had forgotten any electrical cables, so I wouldn’t be able to charge other electronic devices. This upset me further as I could not figure out how to use my phone to make calls and take photos, as there was no way that the battery would last the duration. Wanting to give no indication of any weakness, I kept all signs of panic to myself.

That was until someone pulled out a map of the route.

For the most part, the route largely looked as I had anticipated. However, further scrutiny indicated a shear drop the other side of the track I would be running along. I would have to spend the duration of the event contending with the fear that one wrong step would result in me plunging to my imminent death***. I couldn’t understand how I had made such a significant oversight.

It was soon after this that my alarm woke me up.

I know exactly why I had this dream, and can analyse every single aspect. It is the natural pressure that I put on myself and the subsequent anxiety that I hope to perform. Nerves are normal and a good thing in that they demonstrate a comprehension of the magnitude of the task in hand. From conversations with other people (well, runners and teachers), I know that I am not alone in these kinds of dreams. However, this dream was different to any other that I have ever had for a single fact that frustrates me.

It is one year until the event is due to take place. Am I seriously going to have to contend with these dreams throughout 2013?

*I don’t even have any lucky socks
** to date
*** the waiver I have to sign states “falling off the trail could cause severe injury or death”, but nothing about shear drops greater than 1000m, as implied by my dream

A new home

Originally posted 2nd November 2012

It has been a while since I last blogged, but not been without reason; earlier this year, I started teaching myself how to design websites (having previously dabbled with html).

Writing prose was replaced with writing code and this website (www.simon-levy.co.uk) is the latest stage of that. This also means the blog has moved from its former web address.

The site has been written from scratch. By me. In notepad*. Everything contained within it is my own, and is currently a ‘work in progress’. There are some aspects that I like and others that I don’t like. I have uploaded some bits to establish if I like them, and others to demonstrate that I don’t like them. Have a look around and let me know what you think**. Test things to see if they work, or try to ‘break’ them and demonstrate that they don’t.

Some features include:

  • Contact form (hopefully with spam filters)
  • Customised error pages (e.g. for going to a wrong page)
  • Different experience based on the device or screen/window size you are using (e.g. mobile/tablet)
  • Race time predictor and mile split calculator (particularly for runners)
  • Galleries (with scrolling and navigation features)
  • Blog integration (although I hope to improve this so that the styling closer fits that of the remainder of the site)

The site currently utilises css, html, javascript, jQuery and php (although I have also been learning python). It needs to be tested on a wider range of browsers and requires javascript support to be fully functional (but should still work in a limited fashion without).

At present, the site doesn’t ‘do anything’ in particular. This may change as it develops. I hope you like it.

*Everything except for the WordPress installation of the new blog pages
**It would be appreciated if you can let me know if you like what you see and/or how you think it could be improved

Quitting is forever

I had always hoped that Lance Armstrong was innocent. He has successfully fought numerous forms of cancer, undergone brain surgery and chemotherapy and subsequently gone on to win seven consecutive Tour de France titles.

His quote epitomises his battles:

“Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.”

His feats are monstrous and his story is akin to that of fairytales; too good to be true.

L’equipe, the French newspaper, and USADA, the US anti-doping authority, have taken this literally and continually tried to find him guilty of drug taking during a period in which the sport was plagued by such corruption.

Lance has protested his innocence throughout, and been supported by the UCI (International Cycling Union) and USA Cycling, while USADA have broken their own rules and have arguably acted corruptly themselves (see here and here for some detail). However, he was given until 0600 this morning to decide whether or not to continue fighting USADA’s charges, and he declined. His statement (here) details the reasons – referring to “the toll this has taken on my family, and my work for our [cancer fighting] foundation”.

Following this announcement, the UCI and WADA* (the World anti-doping authority) are to monitor the situation. This is the same WADA whom the BOA (British Olympic authority) had to conform to in order to allow Dwain Chambers, David Millar and Carls Myerscough among other convicted drugs cheats to partake in future Olympic Games. The fact that the USADA can inflict a lifetime ban, yet the BOA cannot bemuses me.

I maintain that I hope that Lance is innocent. Drugs cause corruption throughout sport and it is very difficult, if not impossible, to keep sport entirely clean. His achievements are still enormous, regardless of the ‘truth’ – he still suffered seriously from cancer and, in the aftermath, cycled faster than anybody else in seven consecutive tours; these are facts.

All of this leaves me with one thing playing on my mind. That is why has he decided “enough is enough”? Referring back to his own quote, above, this is quitting. He will have to endure this pain forever, leaving me to assume one thing: that he must be guilty. I hope to be proved wrong.

Real Relay

On 7th July, I will be bringing the EnduranceLife Real Relay into Norfolk on its leg from Long Sutton to Clenchwarton.

Show your support, see the Real Relay baton, or join me for some of the run, as it follows the entire route of the Olympic Torch around the British Isles. All help and support is hugely appreciated.

The official Olympic Torch passes through during work hours when people will be at work or school; this is your chance to experience the relay. Stage 487 is approximately 10.5 miles, and is currently due to depart Long Sutton at 21.25*.

For further information visit http://www.endurancelife.com/realrelay/

*precise times are to be confirmed as the relay is ‘in progress’

Does the body rule the mind*

At primary school, I would often suffer from fairly frequent ‘tummy aches’. There was not much of a pattern to their occurrence but, sometimes, they would coincide with days that I didn’t really want to go to school – the last day of term being an example that has remained in my memory, when we would go to church to sing hymns. If my mother decided that I wasn’t well enough to attend, I would spend the day at home, in bed – which was arguably more boring than school itself [as a teacher, I’m not sure I should write that, but it was certainly how I felt at the time].

Depending upon the severity of my mother’s assessment, I would visit the Doctor. The most common outcomes were a prescribed course of antibiotics (or similar**), or a possibly unhealthy dose of Calpol***. However, on one occasion, the Dr suggested to my mother that it was possible that I was not ill at all and was, in fact, faking it.

To this day, I don’t know why he came to this conclusion but, as the years have passed, these are what I think were the possibilities [in order of increasing likelihood]:

  • The Dr suspected that I was skiving
  • A ‘stab in the dark’, as there was no evidence of a specific illness
  • My mother sensed I was skiving and/or was fed up with me taking days off school, so got the Dr ‘on side’ to teach me a lesson

At that moment, I didn’t know what to think; I had genuinely felt ill [I am sure of that fact], but now I also felt humiliated. In conjunction with the Dr, my parents spoke to me about suffering from ‘butterflies’ and how that feeling can be exacerbated with increasing pressures. I listened and thought about it, but wasn’t convinced. From then on, whenever I was ill, my parents would always ask “are you really ill, or is it just butterflies?

In hindsight, that didn’t happen very often at all. That might have just been a coincidence, but I suspect that I wanted to be convinced myself that the feeling wasn’t psychosomatic before committing to announcing that I was ill. Throughout my entire time at secondary school, I had very few days absent; my reports show that the number of illnesses I had that involved me having to take time off, from years 7 to 13 (age 11-18), can be counted on one hand. I would be fascinated to compare the total number of days absence between the two schools; it could be argued that I had been cured.

In my entire working life, I have had very few absences as a result of illness – and the last time that I did was February 2007, the final day of the half term. As time went on, I began to notice a pattern as to when these illnesses were developing. They could be separated by a matter of weeks or months, but would always seem to impose themselves after times of increased pressure/stress, and at the start of periods of relaxation. Some examples include:

  • The end of term/start of the school holiday
  • As a period of increased training ends and a ‘rest’ is scheduled

I am fully aware that this is ‘normal’ and has the same impact on many people. However, I have often questioned its frequency. While I can remember certain instances of being ill, I cannot remember them all so, to help my training (primarily), I added an ‘Ill or Injured’ column to my training schedule last summer. The plan was that I could look for patterns and work out when I was ‘over-training’ before it became too late – thus preventing myself from getting ill, if I detected its onset in sufficient time.

The findings are indicated below [they are listed for comment upon their statistical likelihood rather than to garner any sympathy]:

  • June 2011 – 4 days missed training due to illness
  • October 2011 – 7 days missed training due to illness
  • January 2012 – 6 days missed training due to illness
  • February 2012 – 7 days missed training due to illness

24 days in nine months (approximately 300 days) is not statistically significant. On the (presumably incorrect) assumption I have developed an immunity to becoming ill while at work, 24 days in approximately 150 is still significantly insignificant. However, closer study reveals that all of these days were in fact during the school holidays – focusing on the three most recent illnesses gives 20 days out of 34 (58.8%).

In other words, since August 2011, for every five days that I have been ‘on holiday’, I have been ill on three of them. Despite not being a big enough sample size to compensate for coincidence, I find this result surprising; perhaps the Dr would suggest I am faking.

*or does the mind rule the body
**on reflection, it is highly likely this may have actually been a placebo
***sometimes I think I looked forward to being ill – just so that I could have some of the purple Calpol (what do they put in that stuff?). I hated it when I turned 7 and had to progress to the orange version

Kick racism out

There has been much recent discussion surrounding racism and football. Two high profile cases have involved conflicts between Luis Suarez/Patrice Evra (see here) and John Terry/Anton Ferdinand (see here).

In the first case, the Football Association (FA) handed out an 8 match suspension – one of the more extreme punishments in recent times.

In the second, a complaint was made to the police – and it goes to a court of law later in about six months’ time.

The second has additional knock on effects, as JT has been the most recent England captain. Not wanting to be seen to endorse racism, the FA has stripped him of captaincy until the outcome of the trial is known – going against the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ stance of UK law, but in line with suspensions in many other professions while investigations are carried out. This overrules, and subsequently undermines, Fabio Capello (the England manager), who has consequently resigned.

FC was due to leave in six months’ time (shortly before JT’s court hearing) regardless, so this doesn’t come as a huge difficulty, or surprise. However, much has been made of FC being Italian and him never truly overcoming language and cultural barriers. In the aftermath of his resignation, there has also been much support for the next manager to be English.

My only comment on the matter is to suggest the FA need to be very careful that they are not being racist themselves – institutionally or otherwise.