At first the TDN series “History of Drugs in Racing” had me ready to look for an anti-depressant. Racing has been one of my great lovers, and I now learned that she’s been cheating on me. But then I thought back to a visit to the Gina Rarick stables in Maisons-Laffitte, where the only American trainer in France introduced me to her horses, elaborating on the different dietary needs of each one, as if she ran a school for chefs. Gina races in a country were race-day medication is prohibited.
I considered that for both animal and human athletes, a thoughtful diet should make a positive difference. I began looking into the diet of human athletes who have some distinction in longevity, stamina or speed. I recalled the great Illinois claiming horse Maxwell G, who raced for 13 years, starting 234 times and winning 47 races. Longtime champion trainer Richard Hazelton reclaimed Maxwell G several times, calling the hard-knocking claimer his favorite horse.
The human equivalent of Maxwell G is Fauja Singh. Mr. Singh was a runner as a young adult but stopped participating in competition for family reasons. After witnessing the death of his son, he started to run again at the age of 90 (that’s not a typo) in order to confront his depression. He moved from India to the UK and worked up to running in marathons, in New York, London and other venues. As a child, Fauja Singh did not have what we call “good conformation”. He had scrawny, weak legs and did not walk until he was five. In his mid-90s he began finishing marathons around the world in record time for a lower age group. At the age of 100 he became the first known centenarian to complete the demanding 26 miles (the Toronto Waterfront Marathon). Singh attributed his longevity to his abstaining from alcohol and smoking, and to his vegetarian diet. He got much of his protein from milk and yogurt, and he says that ginger tea had a positive effect.
Mr. Singh’s story is one of longevity.
Diet-related stamina stories abound, as well. One comes from the UK’s Lizzie Armistead, silver medal winner in the 2012 Olympics of the 87-mile road cycling race. A vegetarian, Armistead explains that she trained with Kenyan champions from the Rift Valley who were vegetarians except for unusual occasions such as weddings and funerals. Armistead makes up for any missing protein by stocking up on quinoa grains, which can be prepared to taste similar to pasta. The quinoa angle hit home for me, since I used to run 10 kilometers at 12,000 feet above sea level in La Paz, Bolivia, and quinoa, in soup or pancakes, was an important staple of my own diet.
Olympic wrestler and zen-practicing vegetarian Christopher Campbell won a bronze medal in Barcelona, 1992, at the age of 37. Today the average world-class wrestling career ends by the age of 24, according to StrengthPlanet.com.
Of course, the vegetarian factor might be a false correlation. The above athlete vegetarians are all thoughtful and conscious of their overall diet. They probably eat wholesome foods in general and don’t hang out in junk food emporiums. The above stories suggest that a thoughtful diet may be a meaningful factor in enhancing athletic performance and longevity: possibly more substantial and certainly more long-lasting than drugs.
Trainer Gina Rarick has resorted to dietary methods to get the best performance from her horses. For example, she mixed garlic flakes in the feed of her filly Turfani to increase blood circulation, and judging by the results, it worked. A $2 flat win bet on all of drug-free Turfani’s races would have returned of profit of over 50%.
In order to convince the racing establishment to stop the drug madness, horror stories about doping can be accompanied by examples of happy alternatives. Let’s look for more.