You did what?
I took performance-enhancing drugs, in the form of the steroid and hormone that is testosterone. For about a year.
Lordy. Why would a regular guy take steroids?
A few reasons: Because I’m a longtime journalist who believed that there was more to be said about living with such drugs than I’d read in many two-dimensional accounts about doping (that literary canon is full of longwinded accusations and denials). Plus I’m human: I’m middle-aged and wanted to feel young again, and these drugs are widely used by aging men in search of youth. I also wanted to see how much faster I’d ride in my beloved amateur bike races. Doper is really a coming-of-middle-age tale.
Why not find another lab rat?
I tried. No luck. My research led me to other “citizen dopers,” but they either didn’t fit my profile (middle-aged and a recreational athlete) and/or didn’t want to talk (recreational athlete). Asking a jock—pro or otherwise—if he dopes is like asking men at a bar if they’re on Viagra. Not a lot of hand-raising.
You have a wife and kids.
My wife worried about the project. Would I turn into some raging ‘roid user? Would I be a jerk? Would I become addicted to the drugs? Would my health suffer?
She was right to worry, although I will tell you that I’m now off the stuff and in good health. But she—we—enjoyed plenty of upsides. Like my added strength, and libido. Many men suffer from lowering levels of testosterone as they age—some experts believe there’s a male menopause called “andropause” (I call it Andrewpause). In some ways taking the “T” was like being 18 again. On steroids, I’d get riled up simply by seeing a red Porsche rumble down the street. Our kids, luckily, emerged unscathed from my odyssey. Their safety wasn’t a given either.
OK, you took male sex hormone and often felt randy. We get the appeal. But isn’t testosterone a little, well, passé as a performance-enhancer?
According to records and my research, plenty of athletes—including bike racers—still take the “T.” Supplemental testosterone helps build muscle, and some experts (and I) believe that it aids recovery. By recovering more quickly, I could train harder, and more frequently. Harder training, of course, begets more fitness. This experiment was no double blind, billion-dollar clinical trial. But I know my performance improved. Just ask my cycling coach.
Your coach was in on this?
No. He was in the dark. And mystified by my consistently high level of performance.
So you won bike races?
Never did, but I think that had more to do with bad strategizing than pure strength. I led some bike races, and finished respectably. Full confession: I’m not a great bike racer.
Why not raid the medicine cabinet—take a bunch of drugs, like some pro athletes do?
The name of the book is The Doper Next Door, not Be Like Barry. Other performance-enhancing drugs, like blood enhancers and growth hormone, are only available to healthy folks via the black market, drug dealers, or disreputable physicians. Testosterone, on the other hand, is as close to many men as their urologist. I wanted to “dope” using what’s truly accessible, and I’ve seen supplemental testosterone described as a $1 billion industry, with as many as 1.5 million prescriptions filled annually.
How do the rest of us get the stuff?
Talk to your doctor. Have your blood (specifically, your T levels) analyzed. Ultimately I was prescribed testosterone by an upstanding internist who also has an interest in “anti-aging” medicine. She’s no quack, and anti-aging is a $100 billion business.
Why aren’t you still on the T?
It isn’t Pez. There are still lots of questions surrounding the drug, and some of them continue to swirl around in my mind. Here’s one: Is there something to be said for aging naturally? I debate that one all the time.
Why aren’t you still bike racing?
The authorities didn’t exactly embrace my project. Nowadays I must be available to pee into a drug cop’s cup at a moment’s notice. The price one pays for a story…