Endings and beginnings aplenty
From Zane Robertson's EPO bust, to Camille Herron's 48-hour world record and the first-ever Totnes parkrun, there's been a lot happening this week
So much has been happening this last week, I don’t know quite where to start. It was sad to wake up on Wednesday to the news that New Zealand runner Zane Robertson had been banned from competitive running for eight years for taking the drug EPO and then trying to blame a Kenyan doctor, saying he thought he was getting a Covid vaccine. Robertson later admitted that the whole ‘doctor giving him EPO instead of a vaccine’ story was a lie.
Anyone doping is bad for the sport, but I had met Zane a few times and had interviewed him on my podcast, so it felt very close to home. In Iten he once invited me around to his house, and I had tea with him and his now ex-wife - the person he now seems to be blaming for giving him the EPO.
The reason he invited me around, incidentally, was to ask me to ghost write his autobiography, which I’m glad I never signed up to, as it would probably be just about written now, and just about to be sent to be pulped.
In case you don’t know his story, here’s a quick summary: aged just 17, Zane and his identical twin brother, Jake, sick of life in New Zealand, where they seemed to face a lot of bullying, left home and travelled to Kenya to start a new life among the fabled Kenyan athletes. With little money or life experience, they ended up living in such dire conditions that they both got so ill they almost died.
But little by little they made their way, living with the Kenyans, training with them, racing them and occasionally beating them. When I arrived in Iten in 2011 they had been there for around two years, and they seemed like two rap stars driving around scowling at the world in their sunglasses and backward caps and nice cars, music blaring, and a posse of Kenyan athletes around them wherever they went. They were obviously seriously good runners, too. I mostly felt too intimidated to approach them. When I ran the Nike Discovery Cross Country in Eldoret, where I was lapped by half the field before I dropped out, Zane finished in the top 30 - an impressive result in a fierce Kenyan field of around 400 runners.
They both went on over the following years to set national records in the 10K, half marathon and marathon, with Zane becoming one of only a handful of non-East Africans ever to run a half marathon in under 60 minutes. It was a brilliant story of taking a chance on life, following your dreams, not listening to the doubters, but toughing it out, a story of dedication, and of brotherly love. A story that is now in tatters.