Frank Lara on the strange case
of a victory delayed
Words by Mary Cain
Photography by Benjamin Weingart
On March 7th, Frank Lara of Boulder’s Roots Running team, raced the USATF 15K Championships in Jacksonville, Florida. On September 28th, Frank Lara was declared the USATF 15K champion.
You read that right. Over six months after the race, a champion was declared. How could this happen? Sadly, it’s a not-too uncommon reason: the athlete who crossed the line first failed a drug test. Runner X (who we won’t name - we believe attention should be directed at the clean athletes) had previously served a two-year drug ban back when he was competing for Morocco in 2013-2015. He is now serving an eight-year ban.
After the race, running’s social media exploded. Athletes spoke of their frustration at having to compete with someone who had both served a ban and not been accepted into the elite field. Sponsors, such as Brooks, declared they would exclude the winner from the rankings when determining their athletes’ prize bonuses. The conversation of making bans more severe and doping in sport erupted online. But then COVID hit and the conversation quieted. Until six months later when news that surprised no-one finally broke: Runner X had failed another drug test.
For Frank Lara, placing second on the day but ultimately claiming victory was the first time he had knowingly been affected by doping in sport. “I personally had never been affected by (doping) and always saw people be really angry about it and I'd understand why they would be. I'm just not the one to voice my opinions angrily about things like that.” he says, speaking to us from Boulder this October. “Having it first hand affected me was challenging.” The social media attention following both the race and his official win has made Frank grapple more with this dilemma of how to create a more fair sport. This is how he would like the sport to evolve:
Stop history from repeating itself:
“I think the sport, along with cycling, has such a long history of doping. It’s a thing that seems ok to people now because, before, everybody did it and if you didn't do it you were going to be behind. How can we reconstruct the image of the sport so there’s no reason to do it anymore?”
Testing is good, but changing culture is better:
“I think that the anti-doping agencies are doing everything they can, but a lot of the time the resources that they have just aren't enough. I think that the best thing for the sport is to make the whole idea of doping horribly, horribly wrong: make it seem like the worst possible thing that somebody could do. It’s too hard for it to be stopped at the testing level only.”
Look at the whole team:
“People think that it boils down to the athlete but there are a lot of enablers around that potentially could be leading them to thinking, ‘Ok this is fine to do.’ Whether that be coaches or anyone trying to help them be the best that they can be. So I think it's just a matter of finding a way to not only promote (being clean) to the athletes themselves but also to the people that are in charge of the athletes.”
Keep the conversation open:
“I think that USADA is doing their best in everything. It's just about keeping these conversations open and hoping for laws governing bans and everything to be shifted a little harder. The only way to do that is to keep the conversation open and keep people talking about it, because it's hard to directly tell (USADA), ‘Hey you guys are doing it wrong,’ without having the kind of community support for all of that.”
Not just performancing enhancing, it’s unhealthy:
“Another thing that people forget to acknowledge is that (these) banned substances are harmful to the athlete. I think another thing would be education on why this stuff is not good for you, outside of the performancing enhancing side of it.”
After being named the winner of his first USATF race, Frank wasn’t only musing over the impact of doping on sport. He also took time to celebrate: “My birthday was the next day,” he says, “so we had a little celebration of some friends over. It was already planned but we had an extra thing to celebrate.” Following that, Frank hit his next long-run hard; an out and back on Magnolia Road, it was a way to feel closer to his win. “I made a point to really crush it. Like, I really deserved this win,” he says. “I don't want to dwell on this victory since I want to focus on what I’m doing now. So that’s been a bit of a challenge, to not get complacent because that was so long ago.”
The hard training he’s done since March is setting him up for more wins and fast-times in the future. This summer, he focused his attention on the 10K, and was rewarded with a new personal best of 28:10.64. He hopes to continue to hop into more events, but is eyeing one race in particular: next year’s USATF 15K Champs. When Frank was officially reached out to by the meet’s elite race coordinator to declare him the winner, Frank replied by saying, “Thank you. I’d love to be back and make this a better tasting victory.” Let’s hope 2021 gives him that opportunity.