Faster! Stronger! Higher! ….. Harder?

Three weeks ago, after I had finished my 12th and final laser-and-ultrasound therapy to cure the Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITB) injury I sustained while running, my fear was that the pain would recur when I ran the 2008 Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon. And so, when I asked a good friend and top Cebu physician what medicine he recommended to help prevent such injury from revisiting during race-day, his answer caught me dumbfounded: Viagra.

Yes. The blue pill. The one tablet that’s used to aid men with problems related to you-know-what. What??? I screamed at my friend. I’ll take Viagra? Then run? I had just bought a pair of Adidas shorts that are tight-fit, I told him, in-between endless minutes of laughter….. I thought he was joking. It turns out, he wasn’t. And, as it turned out seven mornings ago when I completed the 42K at Singapore, no pain hammered my knees and I didn’t have to swallow that blue pill. (Not that I purchased one; but I did bring along another type of anti-inflammatory medicine, just in case.) But, true enough, while I suspected my doctor-friend was playing some kind of prank on me, what he said was true: Viagra is used by elite athletes and, in several tests, it has helped. The New York Times, the world’s leading authority in investigative reporting, published an article last Nov. 22 entitled, “New Suspect In Sports Doping Is, No Joke, Viagra.” Written by Jere Longman, here are excerpts of the article: “Viagra, or sildenafil citrate, was devised to treat pulmonary hypertension, or high blood pressure in arteries of the lungs. The drug works by suppressing an enzyme that controls blood flow, allowing the vessels to relax and widen. The same mechanism facilitates blood flow into the penis of impotent men. In the case of athletes, increased cardiac output and more efficient transport of oxygenated fuel to the muscles can enhance endurance.” How does it work? “The active ingredient in Viagra helps to relax blood vessels in the body and this can help to provide a more efficient blood flow and use of oxygen by the body,” says Dr. Marc Gittelman of The Miami Herald. “Logic holds that it may improve blood flow and oxygenation in athletes to increase exercise capacity.” Continues the New York Times piece: “Even if Viagra increases athletic stamina by a small amount, it could have a significant effect on results in sports like distance running, or cycling and Nordic skiing, whose events can be held at altitudes of 6,000 feet or above, Dr. (Kenneth) Rundell said. He noted that the time between first place and fourth place in the 15-km. cross-country ski race at the 2006 Turin Olympics amounted to a performance differential of less than 1 percent.” Maria Cheng of the Associated Press in “Does Viagra give athletes a competitive edge?” adds: “Some preliminary studies have shown that cyclists taking Viagra improved their performances by up to 40 percent. If you have more oxygen going to your muscles, that’s more energy and that makes you a better athlete,” said Dr. Andrew McCullough, a sexual health expert at New York University School of Medicine. ‘Even if it only gives you a 10 percent increase, in peak athletes, that is enough to win,’ he said. “McCullough said Viagra is only likely to help athletes like runners, cyclists or skiers—sports where endurance and speed are key. Viagra does not work directly on muscles, so will not make athletes physically stronger.” So, based on all these studies, it does appear that this drug helps athletes. The big question is: Will it be banned? For now, there’s no word yet from the World Anti-Doping Agency, although they have funded a study to determine the final verdict. But, given the preliminary tests done thus far, it’s clear that it does help athletes. As for me, good thing I disregarded the doctor’s advice. Imagine swallowing a soon-to-be-banned performance-enhancing pill? It’s not worth it… even if it helps one run hard.

John Pages

By John Pages

I've been a sports columnist since 1994. First, in The Freeman newspaper under "Tennis Is My Game." Then, starting in 2003, with Sun.Star Cebu under the name "Match Point." Happy reading!

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