I’m pleased to welcome to the show Shelby Houlian—one of the greatest female distance runners in the world.
She is an American record holder at 5000 meters, an 11 time US national champion, and an extraordinary competitor, so it’s going to be great to hear about her dedication, focus, and how she builds muscle mass. You will also hear about a highly-publicized and extremely dramatic setback she endured when she was hit with a doping violation—an ordeal that she has been forced to reckon with, and one that has made her grow tremendously as a person since this injustice has been heaped on her by the anti-doping authorities in global sports.
While we do acknowledge that we have had a massive problem in modern sports with doping and cheating, you will find out in this episode exactly why Shelby is such a unique case, and why she was someone who was a victim of a system, but not a cheater.
Shelby Houlihan is a great athlete who, unfortunately, experienced a major setback in her career when accused of doping. [00:01]
By understanding Shelby’s ordeal, we hope to shed a light on the flaws in the system of the anti-doping establishment. [02:19]
Unfortunately, she bought a burrito. [07:02]
The public hates cheaters and Shelby has had to deal with the distrust in herself and others. [20:17]
She had little recourse in fighting to decrease her four-year ban. [29:10]
Is it possible that some of the members of the anti-doping establishment are in it for the wrong reasons? [40:48]
Having to put her dreams aside, how is Shelby processing this setback? [43:24]
She felt empowered when she was able to say “They can’t take my love of running away from me.” [51:52]
Running by herself has been most difficult. [55:06]
She cannot officially train with other runners as part of her suspension. [01:01:13]
How clean is the world of sport these days? [01:05:12]
As an athlete ages, does the odometer theory come into play? [01:14:51]
How is Shelby supporting herself after spending money on attorneys and losing her sponsors. [01:20:00]
- Brad Kearns.com
- Brad’s Shopping page
- Shelby Houlihan on YouTube
- Shelby Houlihan talking about her case
- Shelby on Instagram
Welcome to the Return of the Primal Endurance Podcast. This is your host, Brad Kearns, and we are going on a journey to a kinder, gentler, smarter, more fun, more effective way to train for ambitious endurance goals. Visit PrimalEndrance.fit to join the community and enroll in our free video course. Hi listeners, I’m pleased to welcome to the show Shelby Houlihan, one of the greatest female distance runners in the world. She is the American record holder at 5,000 meters. She was fourth place in the 2019 World Championships at 1500 meters, 11-time US National Champion, an extraordinary competitor, and it’s gonna be great to hear about her training, her focus, her dedication, her development as an athlete, but she also had a tremendous setback that was highly publicized and extremely dramatic and very disturbing to hear the details of her doping violation. So we are going to talk about her ordeal that she’s been forced to reckon with and come to terms with and grow as a person through this tremendous injustice that has been heaped upon her by the anti-doping authorities in global sport.
It’s acknowledged that we have a massive problem in modern sport. We’ve had it for decades with doping, cheating, gaining an unfair advantage over your competitors, getting busted, uh, having the athlete deny it left and right, and the public being confused, frustrated. And now with a very interesting and distinct case, Shelby seems like a victim of the system that has this tremendous vengeance against, busting, cheating athletes. And so you’re gonna hear a lot of details, but I want to set it up briefly before we even start the show and welcome her, that she tested positive for a banned substance, but it was at a very small amount, and it was virtually i undisputed that she ingested something somehow that brought a trace level of this banned substance into her bloodstream. And, she consequently, received a four-year ban after the smoke cleared.
And it’s really ridiculous and frustrating when you realize that it’s completely undisputed that, uh, the ingestion of this band substance did not confer a performance advantage yet here she stands in the same boat as a confirmed cheater who had, you know, an egregious violation such as with the blood doping, with the drug EPO, or getting high levels of anabolic steroids in the system. And boy she went through the legal system. Uh, she did not get her due process. She’s gonna talk about some of those steps where they kept her in the dark. She had to empty her bank accounts of all that money. She worked hard to earn on the running circuit to defend yourself, which is kind of ridiculous in itself, that you need, uh, massive resources to go against these doping governing bodies. And again, I think the precedent of athletes cheating and lying about it, and the public discussed that’s built and built is something that really didn’t serve her in her own personal case, which has so many different details.
So I wanted to bring her on the show to spread more attention to the plight that she’s been through in hopes that we can, uh, force change even at the highest levels of sport with how we deal with these things and try to deal with them reasonably insensibly rather than these open and shut cases and four year bands. Here she is competing at the top of her career. But you’re also gonna learn from a very inspiring young lady how she has been able to deal with this and try to grow as a person and preserve this positive attitude and this wonderful energy that she has saying that she’s happier and more resilient and better adjusted now than she ever has been. And that’s just so inspiring. I can’t wait till her ban is up, because she’s still running hard and she’s gonna relate how she’s done these time trials in private by herself that are at world class level, which is absolutely extraordinary when you think about the difference between competing in front of the cheering crowd against your competitors and heading out to a lonely track, turning on the stopwatch and going at breakneck speed.
Like we’ve seen her on all the clips. You can find her on YouTube competing at the highest level of world sports. So, please get to know and follow Shelby Houlahan. You can donate to her Legal Defense fund, which I think is a wonderful cause. We’ll put that link in the show notes and see what you think. People, this is gonna be pretty heavy and we’re gonna go on a roller coaster ride of emotions, especially when you watch her YouTube video clip where she, uh, makes her own personal statement after receiving the four year ban. If that doesn’t get you teary eyed and frustrated, I don’t know what will. And boy, I’ll also say I recorded this a day after returning from Eugene, Oregon, having a great trip watching the World Track and Field Championships going on without her wondering what could have been when you watch the great female runners out there off the front, and that she has that type of fitness to be right in the mix with the very best of all time. So it’s a great credit, a great inspiration that she’s able to smile, stay positive, and continue with her passion for running. We’re gonna see her in 2025. Can’t wait. But right now, let’s get to meet Shelby Houlihan.
Shelby Houlahan, what an honor to connect with one of the great champions of American and World Running. I thank you so much for, for coming on. We’re gonna talk about some heavy stuff, but we’re also going to get to know you and your incredible story and your determination and your accomplishments.
Yeah, no, I thank you for having, having me on. I’m excited to talk to you.
So we have this beautiful story of a young athlete in Iowa heading over to Arizona State, um, breaking records, doing these wonderful accomplishments, you know, pursuing these, these big goals and achieving them. You’re 11 times national champion, uh, you’ve made it to the Olympic final as a young professional runner. Uh, the, the first USA woman busted some great American records, uh, in the 5,000, um, then in the worlds in 2019. Um, you’re right there, knocking on the door with the very, very best female runners on the planet, and everything’s looking great. And then you had this bump in the road, uh, that came about, uh, earlier this year, and oh my gosh, it’s, you know, it’s, it’s heart-wrenching for anyone who cares about sport because we, we can see, you know, what you put into this and how hard you work every single day and live and breathe running and, and competitiveness and challenge, and then to have it taken away.
It’s really, it’s really ridiculous, especially, you know, what you’ve had to go through and, and the particulars of your case. And so what I wanna do is kind of share this story so more people can become aware of of what’s going on and, and be an advocate for what’s right, not only in sport, but in, in life and due process and, and legal rights in, in the United States of America and all that great stuff we talk about. So, um, <laugh>, maybe we should start with you had a nice track workout, you went to buy a burrito and then things start to unravel.
Yeah, yeah. I mean, let’s address the elephant in the room, right? Um, no, I mean, yeah, so I mean, the way that day went, I, I like, basically we were gonna watch, I think it was like the Bachelorette that night, so it was like me and a few of my teammates and, I’m like, in my off season, I’m definitely more relaxed. I feel like it’s important for me to feel more like a normal person so that I can like really laser and dial in, um, during the, you know, the main part of the season. Um, so yeah, I was like, I don’t feel like cooking. I’m gonna stop at this food truck. And like it’s, they have great food, it’s not too far from my house. And it was on the way to my teammate’s house where we were gonna watch. And so, I met, actually met her there at the food truck and we got, we got some burritos to go and went to her house and we’re, we sat down and ate and watched the Bachelorette and it was great. We had a great night <laugh>. Um, and then, you know, fast forward a month later, yeah, about a month later and I received a notification that I had a positive test. Um, and
So back up for a second, for those who don’t know, um, the athletes who are involved in, uh, elite level international running, you are subject to random unannounced, year round drug testing wherever you are and you have to report your whereabouts at all times, which is an interesting side note cuz one of our great American athletes got, got busted for not updating the website appropriately, but, so you’re on the clock and you’re sort of accessible to <laugh> knock on the door at any time, day or night. And so was it the next morning that someone knocked on your door and asked for a sample?
Yeah, , so as you’re in two different testing pools depending on, you know, your success as an athlete. And I’m in both of them. So like I have to submit an hour mandatory like testing window where I have to be at this place where I say I am for an hour. And so mine, I always set mine at like 6:00 AM to 7:00 AM and I’ll update it wherever I’m gonna like, be that nighto r in that morning, uh, time window. Uh, I like to just do it in the morning just because like <laugh>, it’s kind of like nerve-wracking to have to go to the bathroom in front of someone. So it’s like easier for me to do that when I’m still kind of half asleep. And I’ve gotten a lot better at it as I’ve gotten older and gotten used to it. But, uh, it’s just easier for me. I know I’m gonna have to go to the bathroom at 6:00 AM cuz I’m gonna be woken up by somebody. And so yeah, I, that next morning after, after that Bachelorette night, I got woken up at 6:00 AM for a drug, a random drug test and, um, you know, gave them the sample, had no problem with it, <laugh> and yeah, then ultimately fast forward a month and I received that notification that I had a positive drug test from test on, I believe it was like December 15th.
So it’s an email or something. And then what’s the next step? What are they telling you to do? Or you go for a backup test or, or what’s the protocol then when you, when you get that, that positive sample? Yeah.
Yeah. So when you, when you give the sample, you’re pouring it, you have an A sample bottle and a B sample bottle and you’re pouring
Your, you witness yourself.
Yeah. So I’m doing this all myself. When I’m giving the, doing the, going through the drug testing process, I’m pouring urine in both the A sample and the B sample, you know, securing it and, and so on. Um, and I also got blood taken that day as well. And then, so yeah, once you, once I had got that notification of a positive test, it was kind of like, you know, <laugh>, I mean, it, I was in shock. So I’m like, I like is am I dreaming? Like, what’s going on? And I don’t know how I got this positive test. Like I don’t have an explanation for this, you know, I’m kind of freaking out cause I’m like, what the hell is going on? They must have made a mistake. Like maybe they like mixed my sample up with another person’s or like, maybe they did the test wrong.
Like, something has to be be wrong here. And so immediately got on the phone, uh, with my coach and I, you know, I was crying, freaking out. I couldn’t even like get it out for like a couple minutes cause I just couldn’t control myself. And he was like, are you sure? Like, uh, no, like, that has to be a mistake. And I’m like, I don’t, I don’t know what happened. And so he, he was great and he like, was like, all right, like it’s, it’s gonna be okay. We’re gonna figure it out. Uh, I’m gonna, you know, reach out to these people and see like what the next steps are and maybe get in contact with the lawyer. And so like a few hours later we were in contact with Paul Green, who is, who is my attorney. Um, and so he was kind of walking us through like, all right, we need to make a food log, figure out what you were eating the week of the test. Look at like your iPhone locations and trying to like, recreate everything that you did and everything you ate and all these stuff. Um, the week of the test. Uh, and then like from, yeah, it’s kind of like that was our first step ultimately was just trying to recreate that week and see kind of like what was it.
So again, for the listeners might not be aware of how this global, uh, drug testing, anti-doping movement works. There’s a pretty huge list of stuff that you’re not allowed to have in your body. And you guys have a really strong awareness as an elite athlete. You’re obviously staying away from, uh, doping protocols that will cause you to get busted and get a four-year ban. And, um, I think most people can rest assured that the athletes are, uh, by and large. I don’t know. I’m gonna ask you that question of what, what you think the state of global, uh, sport is your own sport as well as others, but, um, let’s assume we’re a clean living athlete who wants to play by the rules. You’re trying very hard to avoid things that would trigger positive tests. And so with nutritional supplements and things that are potentially, uh, problematic, I I’m guessing that you guys are extremely careful with what you put in your body.
Yeah, for sure. And I mean, like, I’m pretty careful, like anytime I’m taking a vitamin or a supplement, I’m looking on, there’s a, a website called like Globo drill, Globo drill. Um, so you can look at all the ingredients in that and you can, you can make sure, like, this is okay. Obviously that’s hard because if it’s contaminated with something that’s not on the ingredient list, you know, like that, you’re kind of screwed there. But, you know, so I, I’m very careful about everything that I’m putting in my body. I’m not like, I’m not really one to like, I take like three gummy vitamins, you know, <laugh>, I don’t take a lot of supplements and stuff. I just take like, kind of your basic, I take calcium a multivitamin, vitamin D, and then I’ll take like a B complex and I’ll take iron when I go up to altitude just to help with those blood levels.
Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, but that’s all I’d ever take. And I don’t, you know, I don’t like protein powders or like, like any other, like, I, once in a while I’ll take collagen. Um, but other than that, like I, I’m not big into protein. I’d rather just like eat it in natural ways. Um, or like, yeah. So I, um, for the most part, like a fairly natural person <laugh>. Um, but yeah, and as far as like our meals go, you know, I’m try, I cook most of my meals and I’m pretty good about having a good diet and you know, like in my off-season I’m a little more relaxed and I won’t cook. Like every single day I’ll have like two or like maybe one or two days where I’m like, ah, I don’t feel like cooking. I’m gonna go eat out. And that’s when I’ll kind of splurge and I’ll like get a Domino’s pizza or I’ll like go to a food truck, you know, like just like a normal person would.
And that’s just good for me for my mental health to just like <laugh> not feel like I have to just be on all the time. And unfortunately, you know, like you see other, I’ve heard other athletes that have, you know, eaten something that has been contaminated or tainted, and it’s just like, I don’t think you really realize that it’s possible and you’re like, that’s, you don’t think like, this might happen to me, you know? Unfortunately. And now that it has, I’m realizing how big of a problem that it is. And, uh, I think it just definitely is something that needs to be addressed. Luckily for those athletes, they were able to prove where it had come from, beyond a reasonable doubt. So, and they were dealing with some of them were dealing with USADA and not wa so like, just to be clear, I was dealing with the world anti-Doping agency instead of just the US Anti-Doping Agency. Um, and so, and
Why would that be if you’re an American athlete? Wouldn’t the first step be USDA stands for us Anti-Doping Agency, WADA stands for world. Um, how did you jump to WADA?
Yeah, so when I got tested on that December 15th test, I actually got tested by AIU, which is the Athletics Integrity Unit, which is just a branch of WADA. Um, and so, cause I got, so the
Two you’re talking about being in two pools, was that the US the, the US guidelines and US responsibilities as well as the A I U?
I mean, who are the,
I’m not sure. <laugh>.
Yeah. So, so you’re, you’re answering to everybody cuz you’re at the most elite level. And so whoever knocks on your door, you gotta let ’em in.
Yeah. So the, it, it could be either organization, so whatever, like if I got tested this morning by usada, I would only have to answer to USADA. That’s their case, that’s their test. But if I got tested by WADA or the A I U um, I’m dealing with them. I’m not dealing with USADA because it’s their test. So it’s like two different testing organizations that are actually three different testing organizations that are testing you and whatever they’re, it’s like their jurisdiction basically. If that makes sense.
It makes sense, but it sounds extremely weird and potentially, uh, unfair for the athlete as we’re about to find out. Yeah,
Yeah. Cuz I mean, they’re, you’re kind of being subjected to different, almost like different rule,s not like really rules, but like I’ve been told multiple times by, you know, the people at USADA that if this were their case, they wouldn’t have prosecuted it. They would’ve handled it completely different. So like, I just, <laugh> got really unlucky that it wasn’ AIU and and WADA. So it’s kinda frustrating that it’s not, you know, consistent.
When you got that first email, did they, um, inform you at that time that it was this particular substance called nr? Yeah. And then you had to go figure out <laugh>, you gotta watch your statement people, I’m gonna send you to the, um, the YouTube. You’re gonna try not to get emotional watching it cuz it was so heavy and it made me cry. I mean, it was just you pouring your heart out and, um, I have to say on that note, like you are, you’ve been totally handicapped and hosed by all the athletes that have come before you that have been lying off their asses to protect themselves. And so now we hear have someone, and if, if you weren’t believable in that video and all the times that you’ve talked publicly, I don’t know, you know, I don’t know what to think I’d put my, you know, my, my dog on your case.
That’s, how much I believe you. But again, when we’re watching these hilarious press conferences from the old days, like Marian Jones, my favorite, love her as an athlete, but when she confessed and, and she had that, that epic line, what I thought was sports muscle cream actually turned out to be anabolic steroids. Like yeah, right. You just improved from, you know, 10: 09 to 10:62, you know, nothing flat. But anyway, because we have this public perception that’s really disgusted with cheating and all these things that are floating around in, um, you know, the, the basic fan’s mind, you are stepping forward to the camera in this case with a huge handicap. And that’s really rough. But as we get further into the details of your case and we talk about this agent nandrolone and the levels detected and all that stuff, I can’t wait for you to to, to lay that stuff on you because then it starts to get really ludicrous.
Yeah, for sure. And like, I mean, to what you were just saying, I’m, I’m putting, I’ve been put in this horrible position where, like you said, people hate cheaters and like, I, I agree, I absolutely hate people that take shortcuts and like cheat other people out of, you know, records or medals or just like prize money because they’re too selfish to like, just work hard. Um, completely agree with you. But I’ve been putting, put in this position now where like everything that I’ve worked for is up, up in, in the air and it’s a question mark and people don’t, you know, people are questioning my character and my integrity and like, I’m like, unfortunately there’s been so many athletes before me that have just sat there and lied about it. And like, I, it just takes all of the weight away from like me saying that I’m innocent and on, you know, on my end.
It’s, I think also created a distrust in the anti-doping system in itself, where now I’m looking at athletes that are saying I’m innocent, and I’m like, I don’t know what to believe now. Like, maybe you are, you know, like maybe you’re also being railroaded by this system. And like, I don’t, it’s just like, it’s creating such a distrust for me. Um, and that’s also difficult, you know, I just want to see it done right. And I want to see the truth actually valued in this system. Unfortunately, like when you get a positive test, they don’t have to prove anything. It’s on the athlete to say to like, try to figure out what happened. And if you can’t figure out what happened, then you’re kind of just screwed. You know, like I was kind of like given the task of figuring out where Nlo came from and like, maybe I’m like super naive with this stuff, but I had never heard of nandrolone before.
And so I’m, I’m like reading this positive test thing and I’m like, what the hell? Like, I don’t even know what this is, like what, how did this get in my system? And I’m like googling like nandrolone be in like meat, like is it like another meat, like tainted meat case? Um, and I’m like looking up other athletes that I know have tested positive. I’m trying to like figure out what they test positive for. Um, but ultimately, you know, it’s just like I’ve been put with the task of trying to figure it out. And when you’re starting from nothing and you have no idea where this came from, it’s just like, it feels like this mountain <laugh> Yeah. Where you’re just like, all right, like I gotta test all my vitamins. I gotta like test everything that I ate. Like you’re like trying to backtrack and figure out what happened. And, um, yeah, I mean all the, the only thing that the anti-doping agency has to do is just poke holes in whatever you’re coming up with. And if they can do that well enough, then you’re kind of just outta luck if you can’t actually prove it.
Yeah. And it seems like there’s the point where we go off track from sensibility and reasonability because wasn’t it also true that the, the levels detected were infantesimal and agreedby experts thant it wasn’t really helping you become a super human female athlete?
Yeah. Yeah. So like in that instance for sure, it’s like, well that was one of the arguing points I think that had come out was like, my level was two to three times higher than like what you would normally find. And that makes it sound like I have just like steroids coursing through my body, you know? And, um, that’s definitely a biased, um, it’s biased data because if the normal level is, I think at tnormal level is like two nanograms per milliliter, um, and nanograms is a billionth of a gram <laugh>, it’s very small and mine was five, you know. And then if you actually look at athletes that are taking steroids and, and whether it’s orally or injections, their levels are typically gonna be in the hundreds, if not thousands of nanograms per milliliters. And you know, mine was five, so it’s just like what <laugh> right. I feel like common sense
Is like twice the normal level. Oh my gosh. It’s like, hey, wouldn’t be, it wouldn’t compete in the pool, so. Yeah, exactly.
Uh, and it’s, I mean, let’s get some common ground here. Like it’s undisputed. I’m asking, is it undisputed that this would be no help to an athlete to go from two to five?
Yeah, no, I wouldn’t have any, no one’s gonna say that. Any sign. Yeah. No, it wouldn’t have any athletic performance. The only, and I mean I took a hair sample as well. I, I sent a hair sample over to France to prove that I was clean and there was zero, like absolutely no trace of nandrolone found. So what they could, what they ruled out, it was not an injection and there’s no like residual use. Um, cuz if I was continuing to use it, I would have some buildup in my hair. And so basically you test
Tested, you tested clean right before and shortly after as well. Yep. You did another drug test, right?
Yep. Yeah. Okay. And I, that was before I even was notified. So I mean,
Oh, you had another test before you were notified?
Yeah, yeah. I’ve, I had, I had tests before and after that drug test and they were both clean. So, so
I mean, and, and no one’s gonna dispute that. And so even as you’re mounting your legal defense, it’s clear and obvious that it wasn’t consistent use. There’s no residue left. Um, There’s no performance advantage to hav a level of five when a doping protocol would be 200 or 500, whatever you said. And so you’re still going into the, the formality of this legal case with all these obvious things just kind of floating out there. Like it, it seemingly, uh, like you said, the most relevant thing was for you to prove something that was extremely difficult, if not impossible to prove. And that was mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it, it, it seems, yeah. Um, when we’re talking about it, it wasn’t a murder case. People, it was an athletic, you know, doping sample, but I guess, um, you’re just, you’re just faced with this, um, this paradox where you’re trying to fight for your innocence on something that’s irrelevant.
Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Yeah, no, for sure. And you know, we tried in so many different ways to try to prove that I was in a, I took a polygraph test as well and like that I was, I think it was like 99.98% telling the truth, like, ah, they’re never gonna be like a hundred, you
Know? Yeah. I saw you blink there for a second. Okay. Yeah.
<laugh>. Yeah. And anyone that like sits there and says like, you can just easily pass a polygraph test has never taken one. Cuz those, those are really nerve wracking. And I don’t know how anyone can just trick that. But I certainly, like, that was my first time ever even like dealing with that in any sense. And like, that was kind of terrifying, honestly. But, yeah, I mean, we took the polygraph test. We, we tried our private investigator, um, to investigate the food truck that I had eaten at, and that meal was 10 hours prior to that test. And if we’re, you know, really what we were able to find out is that if you’re cons, basically nandrolone can naturally be found in pig offal, which is like, like pig stomach and intes, like, just like, um, that kind of stuff. And we figured out, okay, this food truck that I ate at 10 hours prior serves that. I didn’t, I personally didn’t order that I ordered a carne asada burrito.
But when I think back and think on that day, it was way greasier than normal. And, I, me and my teammate could not finish that burrito. And like, that’s pretty abnormal of us not to be able to do that. It was just very rich. But, you know, we’re putting salsa on everybody. I didn’t even think like, oh, maybe I got the wrong burrito or anything like that. It just wasn’t a thought. I just knew that, oh, this is a great tasting burrito and so I ate it. But yeah, I mean we knew that that food truck served pig, um, and we knew that, you know, when you ingest pig offal, the, if it has Antone, then the, that level can be at its peak in your body 10 hours after you eat it. Mm-hmm. And so like that was like a coincidence in itself, though. I had 10, I ate this 10 hours before this test. Um,
So, so you guys are cooking these, uh, ideas up and trying to mount a legal defense. Yep. And, um, there was, was there any type of option to have a, have a conversation before the courtroom, so to speak, where you said, um, I have no idea how this stuff got in. I’m gonna go looking around, but can I just say that I don’t know and it’s a low level and get a one month ban like Carrie Richardson did for smoking weed? Or is this just, um, locked down that you’re facing a four year ban because this trace amount of something is in your bloodstream that you really don’t know for sure how it got in?
Yeah, so like, I don’t, I don’t believe that if I would’ve gone to them and said, Hey, I just don’t know where this came from, it would’ve been any different. I think I still would’ve perceived a four-year ban. And in terms of, you know, Shak carrie’s, like with drugs like that, it’s, they’re, they actually implemented a new rule, I think in the last year or so, like with drugs that are possible to be addicted. So like marijuana, cocaine, like heroin, like all those types of drugs. Um, you don’t get a four-year ban. You get, I think, is it three months or six months ban or something? And, and you, if you go through this like class for it, if you get caught, you can, you can take this anger like class or whatever, basically like that. Yeah. And like you can get your ban reduced. Um, and I think she got hers reduced to one month and, and it might be three months, I think. Um, so that’s like kind of a whole different ballgame, um, as far as her case goes. But yeah, I mean, they don’t have that for <laugh> for nandrolone, you know, it’s, you know, if I, even if I went to them and said like, Hey, I’m not, I just don’t know where this came from. I think they, I still would’ve gotten a four-year ban for that. Yeah.
Now you did have a, um, sort of a, a plea bargain offer that you mentioned of, of swallowing a three year ban instead of four, which yeah, it seems like kind of in poor taste as a lot of things in the legal system are. And I can, uh, I can, I can see why, um, you turn that down, but now, in reflection realizing the whole thing was so ridiculous and ludicrous and that you’re fighting for your innocence on something that doesn’t even help you. Even if you deliberately took nandrolone eyedropper that night because, you know, iit doesn’t matter. Anyway. Um, what are your reflections now on how the whole thing played out?
You know, I, I definitely, like, I don’t really have any regrets of what happened. Like I just, I felt like we were making the best decisions that we could in the moment. And like, it’s easy to, you know, think back and like, maybe we should have gone this route, or maybe we should have done this instead. Or like, uh, you know, I, when I was offered the three year instead of the four year, like even now even knowing how it played out, I still would’ve done the same thing. I’m, you know, like, cuz the three year would’ve put me in for the next Olympics. I would’ve been able to do the 2024 Olympics and I would’ve saved every, like, all of the money that I’ve spent trying to defend myself and I, that for me, that just like, when they offered that, and that’s protocol, I think they typically do offer that to athletes.
It just wasn’t an option because I felt like, you know, I have to stay true to myself. I did not, I did not intentionally take anything. So I’m not gonna admit to something that I didn’t do. That’s just off the table for me. You know, I’m definitely someone that values integrity, <laugh>, I’m not gonna lie and say that I did it just to take, get a reduction on my ban if like, that was the way it went. And, um, yeah, I mean, I feel like we did everything that we could. Um, it just didn’t work out in our favor unfortunately. And we, I had to, you know, typically the way these things go is you, I would’ve had a trial with the A I U cuz they’re the ones that tested me. And then if I lost that trial, then I would go, I could appeal that and I could go to the court of arbitration for sport.
Um, and I could have another trial there. And then if I lost that, then I could go to the Swiss Federal Tribunal to appeal. And basically what happened when I was notified, we were sending the A I U all of our information and like, Hey, this is the polygraph test, here’s the results of that. Uh, we got the results back from testing all the burritos and all my vitamins and everything. Nothing really came back in our favor, but here’s all the results on that. And like, here’s the hair sample. And we just kind of, they never responded really to anything that we asked. Like, we were like, all right, what’s the timeline? Is there, like, what’s the next steps? Kind of. And we just kind of met with silence for, I got notified in January, January 14th. And for, for until like May we, they just weren’t responding to us.
And you know, the Olympic trials are in Jlopune and I’m like, I’m running out of time. I can’t compete cause I’m provisionally suspended for this right now. And so it’s like, what are we supposed to be doing? Like, and we tried to appeal the provisional suspension so that I could compete while this was happening. They wouldn’t respond to it, they just were ignoring us. So we were like, uh, we just need to like, go straight to the court of arbitration for sport. So I didn’t even get the first trial with the A I U because they weren’t responding to us. Uh, we just four went that and we went straight to Cass, um, which is the court of arbitration for sport, and went straight to Cass and did our trial with them. And we did a three panel. Uh, so there’s like three, you know, judges I guess you could say, um, or arbitrators. And we presented our case and it was two to one ultimately. So Yeah. Oh boy. Doesn’t needed one more person. <laugh>. It’s
Not a lot of numbers there.
Yeah. And again, like, um, you know, I, I’m, I guess I’m, uh, I I would call myself a casual track fan over the last decade now, getting pretty serious after all, all the, all the great action. And especially like digging into your case where, you know, I want to learn more about this. I w I was competing as a pro-athlete for nine years subject to the, uh, the, the drug testing and, uh, you know, the early stages of drug testing. No one woke me up at my door, but we knew they would be there at the races. And interestingly, in my, in my time in the late eighties and early nineties was, um, the heyday of doping in many sports. And, um, it was interesting because, you know, I competed on the assumption of having a level playing field. And then it turns out that, um, this guy here and that guy there, um, w would get popped and, and most very likely to be guilty because again, this is the early days where, um, people were, uh, experimenting with doping and winning races.
And it, it seems like a lot cleaner and more streamlined now. But, you know, back to your case that you, I’m gonna use quote marks if you’re watching on YouTube that you lost two to one. What the decision was that I read the lengthy thing and they said that there’s no way that the pig meat was tainted. All they’re arguing about is this peripheral idea that you got the that you got the agent from the, from the burrito truck, and ignoring the fact that as an athlete it had no bearing on your performance. And so that’s kind of the ridiculous part that we’re facing here. Just like you’ve said on in public, like tomorrow, some great athlete that we just watched on TV could fall to the same fate of ridiculousness where something is found in their bloodstream that didn’t, um, didn’t help their performance, which is what the whole anti-doping movement is all about. And now you’re sitting here with a four-year ban right alongside in the call room with the people that had hematocrits at 57 and told an elaborate lie about how, you know, they were dehydrated or whatever ridiculous thing, um, that they’re coming up with when it’s clear they, they cheated their asses off trying to win a gold medal via shortcut.
Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Yeah. Yeah. I mean it’s, yeah, I think it’s just like really frustrating to have gone through this, especially like, I just feel very helpless and, you know, like I, it’s more like, what, what do you need from me? Like, anything that I could do, I would give it to you to like, try to prove this.But, and the way that I thought the, the anti-doping process worked was like, I mean, from the get from the get-go, as soon as we found out, it was just like, it’ll be okay. They’ll figure it out. Like, I’ve done nothing wrong. So they’ll, they should be able to see that and everything should be fine and this should be over in, you know, a couple months hopefully. And it just wasn’t at all what I thought it was. And, you know, we were set with the task of trying to figure out what it was, and like, you know, I was like, you know, they’re gonna come in and like, investigate my life and like, figure out everything and nothing happened. And I was just like, like, what’s going on? You know? I would’ve felt better if they had come in and like F B I forensics, like go through my phone, go through my web searches, like everything, go through my bank statements, just like, do something and like nothing happened. And so like, I think that was like the most frustrating part too, is just like, it wasn’t at all what I thought it was. And you know, right. I
Mean, uh, a real doper is gonna be Venmo, their drug dealer and all, all kinds of stuff we have found
Out. I mean, I’m, yeah, I’m sure it’s hard to like, really like get people, you know, I’m sure they’re very careful, but like, I don’t, I I just felt like if you just tear my life apart, like you’ll find nothing. And like I just like would have felt better about that happening than just like nothing. And, you know, I mean it’s, it’s frustrating that my case, you know, had such low levels where it was possible that this was food contamination. It fell in, in the range of, of that. And it said that in the technical document, like if it’s, you know, less than 10 nanograms and like the 13 delta C values was in like, I can’t remember like negative 15 to negative 25 or something, then it is possible that it’s pig offal ingestion. And my ranges were like five nanograms, which is less than 10.
And I think my delta C value was negative 23, which is between negative 15 and negative 25. So it fell in this possibility that I ingested something and it was just completely ignored. And that was really frustrating. We asked like, Hey, we would like a pharmacokinetic analysis done to prove that this is endogenous, which meaning like, naturally it’s like from pig offal or like something else, you know, or exogenous, which is like steroids and like injection, like, stuff like that, like just synthetic. And we believed that the pharmacokinetic analysis would prove that. And when we asked for them to do it, they were just like, no, we don’t have to do that. It’s not required. And so it was just like, it just felt like every single, like every time we felt like, okay, this test maybe will help prove it, it was just like, nah, we don’t have to.
And that was really frustrating cause I’m like, you don’t value the truth. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, like, <laugh>, like, if it’s gonna give you the truth, shouldn’t you like, want that? But you know, if it was, if it did end up being endogenous and like pig offal, then it would, the burden would’ve had to be been on the a I u mm-hmm. <affirmative> to prove that I intentionally ingested it and they didn’t want that burden because they already had the positive test. That’s all they needed. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know, that would’ve been more work for them if I had, if they had done the test. And, um, I don’t think they wanted to do that work. Um, so I mean, it’s just like, there’s a lot of things I believe that happened within my case that just, it’s just not right. Like, it’s just the easy way to do things and it’s not the right way to do to do things. And I don’t agree with that at all.
So. Yeah. And again, I imagine everyone working in this career field, <laugh> in the anti-doping realm. Um, I’ve seen these public figures like, uh, Jeff Nowitzki and Travis Tigard and, um, you know, it’s a tough job. I, I think they’re, um, a, a certain personality that that is attracted to that thing. Um, but it, I detected a little bit of, um, sort of this, um, kind of a vendetta type of mentality where they wanted to go and bring down the mighty empire of Lance Armstrong. And of course, they did honorable work and they, they did, um, you know, trying to advance, um, fairness in sport. Uh, but I’m also wondering, <laugh>, I don’t know if, if you pick up any of these, these vibes where it’s more about like PR promoting fair sports and looking good and beating these drums saying we are so tough and so strict and we wake people up at 6:00 AM and we test the crap out of them. And it’s maybe more about that and maybe with some little ego sprinkled in about how many busts that they had successfully in, in 2021 versus someone who’s fair and reasonable, like a proper representative in the legal system.
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think personally having, I can only really speak on my situation dealing with A I U and WADA and like in my experience with them, I just didn’t feel like they valued the truth. And like, it was more about just getting the top, like one of the top American athletes, like, let’s just bust her, you know, like instead of actually saying, oh, did, is she actually cheating? Like, let’s be be thorough here and trying to figure out what actually happened. Um, I think they just kind of got the positive test and ran with it, you know? And as far as like Travis Tigard and like Jeff Novitzky, like, I’ve had conversations with both of them and they’re both extremely supportive of me. Like, and you know, I’ve talked to Jeff as well and he was like, you know, he’s helped take down Lance Armstrong. He is like, I’ve, I’ve been following your case. I’ve looked at your case. I’ve totally believe you. I don’t think that this is right. And, um, yeah, I mean, it’s nice to know that I have at least those people within the anti-doping agency, like
If they believe in the case, believe you, <laugh>, that’s pretty good. That’s a pretty good letter of recommendation from the ultimate bust king of the planet to say that he believes and supports your case.
Yeah. And it’s like frustrating that they can’t, they like, it’s not within the jurisdiction of them though, you know, I’m not dealing with, USADA And I think if I had been dealing with USADA.this would’ve been much different. And that’s really unfortunate. So
Then, um, you, you have to take a, a, a big sigh at some point and deal with this devastation and process it as not only a person, but as an athlete. And I’m wondering, you know, how, how that went for you, because what we, what we’ve asked for you to date is this total focus and dedication and this amazing competitive intensity where you’re a pretty serious runner. I, you know, I don’t see you smiling and popping bubblegum when you’re running the last lap of a 5,000 for the American record, and now all of a sudden we’re asking you to kind of, uh, back off for a while, uh, take a break, you know, leave your dreams behind. And so how do you process this and how do you wake up the next day, um, you know, sitting through, uh, the band for one and just, um, you know, generally coming to terms with everything.
Yeah. I think that’s just really been a huge process for me. Like this has definitely been one of the hardest things I’ve, like, the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my life was just like, I’ve been running since I was five years old. You know, I love, I love the sport. This has been, like, the sport has meant everything to me. I respect it. I want it done the right way. And you know, to have everything that I’ve worked for just taken away from me, from people that don’t even know who I am, like <laugh>, you know, it’s like, that was really hard to be like dealing with this, these anti-doping agency people that like, I didn’t feel like were valuing the truth. And I’m like, you don’t even know, like, and you’re just taking everything away from me and I don’t deserve that. You know, like I didn’t deserve to be in that situation and I didn’t deserve to have my career taken away from me and like, have everything that I’ve worked for, just have this like question mark above it now. Um, and so that was just like,
I mean, there, there are some haters, I guess putting a question mark on you, do you feel like that’s out there? I’ve also seen a tremendous amount of support, and that’s wonderful. We love you, Shelby, keep it up, uh, keep fighting all that. But I am wondering about those those haters, and everyone’s entitled to their opinion, or to, to attach a question mark to someone who tested, yeah. Who tested negative before and after the test of a trace amount of something that doesn’t help your performance. But how do you process that kind of a attention from people that are, uh, misinformed, unfair, and whatever you want to call ’em stupid?
Yeah. That’s whatever that’s, that’s <laugh>. Yeah, that’s definitely been a process for sure. Because you know, like last year when this, like, this happened, I learned that I was banned for four-years last summer, last like June. Um, I think it was like June 11th. And, um, you know, I think right away the amount of support that I got from people was like, cuz that was like the biggest like terrifying moment for me was like, everyone’s gonna think that I cheated and like everything that I worked for is just like gone. And, um, and like being able to like, see how much people were like, this is BS. You know, like there’s no, like, the, the amount of support that I received was helped so much and like people were reaching out and they’re texting me and sending me Instagram messages and like, it was honestly like very, it was he so helpful. And I do think there are a lot of supporters and it’s just like the, the haters have, they just like really wanna be loud <laugh>, you know? So like I’ve have gotten a lot of like, really horrible messages and like people constantly, you know, commenting on my Instagram and saying terrible things and like, you know, like just admit already and like all this stuff, I’m like, you don’t understand. I’m telling the truth. Like, there’s nothing to admit. Um, oh.
But again, I mean, I don’t, I don’t wanna sound like, um, a, a stick here, but admit what I mean. Yeah, yeah. If you took an eyedropper full level five nandrolone going from two to five what of it, and I think that’s the part that needs to get out.
Yeah. And if I had, like, yeah, I should admit that, you know, and like, I’m definitely someone I’ve, I’ve like worked so hard on, you know, growing myself as a person, not only as an athlete, but also as a person. I’ve been in like therapy the last couple years and I’m just like, I enjoy trying to make myself the best version of myself on the track and off the track. And like, I’m definitely someone that if I should take accountability for my actions, I completely believe in that. I believe, to owning up to your mistakes. And like the, if I had done something, made a mistake, made someone feel a certain way, I am fully responsible for that. I have no problem taking responsibility and trying to learn from that. But like, that’s not this situation, you know, I didn’t, I don’t, I didn’t make this mistake, you know?
Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, and so like, I think that’s frustrating for people to like just assume that I did. And like, I don’t know, people can be really mean. And I think that was also just, uh, it was a process to get through. Actually when I first, um, announced that I deleted my social media, I gave my password to my sister and I was like, just kind of monitor this <laugh> and if there’s any like good, really good messages, would you mind sending them to me so I can like, feel good about everything, you know? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, but I didn’t look at any really negative things. I didn’t like get back on social media until like, probably three months later. Um, which was great for me. Like I, I needed to process how I was feeling and I didn’t need other people’s opinion on that yet. Um, so, you know, it was just a process.
Ultimately, it just like felt like this huge, like I just was going through this loss of everything and like grief and sadness and anger and just like, so like helpless. Um, and it’s, it’s definitely been a, a huge process to have to go through all that and feel all of it and felt really overwhelming. I didn’t even go and see my family right away cuz it just like, it felt like when I saw them it would just make it real. Um, and so like, and I know they were dealing with it and I didn’t need to handle their emotions as, as well as mine. So we, I actually with, uh, my friend, like my boyfriend now, uh, we went in, I have a VW bus in the garage, a 71 VW bus. So we hopped in that and we just road tripped for like 6,000 miles that summer.
And, um, we did spend like a month and a half with my family. But we took our time getting there and like we’re pro I was processing through my emotions and trying to deal with everything. And, um, yeah, I think ultimately that was probably the best thing that I could have done for myself. And like, it was still really difficult. And like, even when we got back from that trip, I still, like, I ended up, I broke up with him cause I was like, I just, I need to figure out how to make myself happy, you know? And I took time for myself and tried to figure out, you know, how to, how to be okay with what happened, um, and try to continue to find joy even without running. And I definitely feel like I’ve, I’m in a good spot now and I actually feel a lot stronger than I did even before. Um, I’m like so much happier and like feel so much more secure and stable within myself and like finding happiness within myself. And, um, yeah, I think it’s definitely made me stronger. And that’s kind of how that stuff goes, right? Like adversity just kind of makes it can either make you or break you. And I definitely feel it did break me at times mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but I feel a lot stronger having gone through everything.
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you don’t want this to turn into an eight-year ban, you know, the double the significance of also breaking you emotionally and I like that. And it’s easier said than done. And so you’ve done that hard work and I wonder, you know, lacing up your shoes and going out for a run under different circumstances. Um, you, you’ve loved running since you were five years old. I’m sure you still have an inherent love, but that was probably also something that was super difficult to process when you’re not <laugh> needing to knock off certain times or facing an impending, uh, you know, major global meet.
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I, when I initially like left for my bus trip, I like, I packed like some running stuff, but I’m like, I’m, I don’t even, like, that’s the end of my career. Like, I don’t wanna run anymore. I’ve, I’ve lost all trust within like the agency’s governing this sport and like, I just felt so bitter and angry. And I just wanted to walk away from it. And then like, I think it was like three weeks and I was like, I wanna run <laugh>. You know, like I was just like, I, and that was the longest break that I’ve taken in like 10 years or so. Uh, it was like three weeks off. Um, and it, it was great to like kind of take that mental break cause I’d never really had done that to that extent. Um, and yeah, I just like, as time went on, it was more, it became more about like, you know what?
They can’t take running away from me. Like they may be able to take my running racing opportunities away right now, but like, they can’t take this sport away from me, and so I’m gonna continue to run. I’m gonna do it for myself. And like, that felt empowering for me to like decide like, you know what? Like, screw ’em. I’m gonna, I’m still gonna keep running at least. And like, they can’t take away my love for this sport. Um, and so yeah, I, I started running again. I continued to run, I started doing workouts in like October, and I trained through this last year. Um, and I did everything by myself. And it was really difficult. It was definitely a learning curve to have to go and do everything alone. I, you know, like I had made a post recently actually. I was like, I, when I initially started working out again, I was like, I’m gonna get so fit this year. I’m going to, you know, break record, I’m gonna run, I’m gonna break 14 in the 5k. I’m gonna break three 50. Like, I don’t care. I’m gonna do it for myself. Like, I just like had this like vengeance. I’m like, I’m going to run so fast. And <laugh>, as time went on and I was doing workouts by myself, it just like,
It’s tough, Man.
It was hard, you know? And those like goals I guess adjusted very quickly <laugh>. I was just like, uh, I’m just gonna be happy with ev whatever I can do this year. You know? Yeah. Um,
I used to work with this high school kid who ran two minutes point something in the 800 seven times and never to break two. And after the section meet, he’s, his season’s over, he says, will you pace me? I, I gotta do it. I’m in great shape. Let’s go to the track. And I said, dude, you got no chance it, it’s gonna be so much harder. And so, you know, I, I took him through the first lap and he did like a 02:04 or something. And I’m like, you know what? That’s an awesome individual time. Yeah. Versus a screaming stadium. And so even, I mean, you’ve put up some fantastic times and we should, we should clarify that, you know, you’re not allowed to even compete in the, in the most minor meat because, uh, you’re going to, that’s part of your suspension. And so we’re talking about Shelby going out for the, for the YouTube invitational, I’m gonna call it. And just, and just doing a solo effort, which is extremely difficult. And you still put up world class times, which is stunning.
Yeah. And that was like so hard within itself, right? It’s like even the workouts going, I think that’s been the hardest part for me, is like doing workouts by myself. I get, I don’t know a lot about running actually, like <laugh>, the logistics of it. Like don’t,
Let’s pull that as a pull quote for the show. Here’s Shelby Houlahan, American record holder. I don’t know much about running per se, but I just go fast. I do what the coach says. Yeah, come
On now. It’s like, that’s like actually what I do though, like, I don’t really know what workouts mean. I like <laugh>. I just run. And like I put all my trust in my coach, and I know he’s one of the best coaches in the world. And so, like, whatever he says, whatever pace he says, I’m like, all right, let’s do it. I’m ready. And I love the challenge of workouts. I love killing myself and dying on the track. So it’s just like, I will get the most outta myself every day if I can. Um, and whatever that is. But, um, yeah, I don’t <laugh>. I, because of that, like, I get so much information running with other people, running with my teammates because then I can gauge like, how easy is this? Or how hard is this for them? Like, like I just get a lot of information and that’s how, how I get my confidence going into races is just like gauging how other, like, just training with other people.
And so when I had to do that by myself, I wasn’t getting any information. And I don’t know what these workouts mean. And so I had just no confidence in myself going into some of these time trials. And that was something that I hadn’t never had to deal with before. You know, I’ve always been like very confident in like, my abilities to go do things, and it just wasn’t there. And, um, and that was really hard. And it was really, it got really lonely. Um, you know, I, doing everything alone at that level was just like, it’s, everything is hard. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And like, you can’t just check out for a rep and like run behind someone else. <laugh>, you know, it’s just like I had to be on. And then like half the way through, I stopped working with my coach. So I don’t even have anyone’s holding a stopwatch.
I’m just out there by myself. No one else is there. And, um, just trying to, you know, get like clock off splits, I guess. And it was hard. And I definitely had my fair share of workouts where I had to stop halfway through and I’m just like, I’m done. I can’t do this today. And that’s never happened before. <laugh> like, I’m, I’m pretty gritty. I’m like, I’m gonna finish this workout even if it sucks. But, you know, I just, that was really hard. I was having workouts where I wasn’t running well and, um, they just felt harder than they should. And, um, it was really hard to gain confidence going into some of those time trials. So even going into them, I was just like, you know what? It is what it is. I’ve done everything that I could up until this point. Um, and whatever that time is, is whatever it will be. Um, and that’s fine cuz it doesn’t matter. Anyway, <laugh>. So, I mean, on that end it was like nice that they don’t matter and like it’s just, it is what it is. It took a lot of pressure off, but at the same time, there’s that part of me that’s like, I wanna break four. You know, like, just have really high expectations for myself when I also had to kind of learn to adjust those as well.
Well, I mean that’s the, I guess part of this could be the central governor theory at work, Dr. Timothy Noakes, where he proposes that the brain is the ultimate arbiter fatigue. Oh yeah. Not the peripheral. It’s, it’s not really that your muscles got tired in the home stretch. It was that your brain was slowing you down to protect you from, you know, the a hundred degree heat on the track or whatever. And in your case, you’re not able to play off all the external variables and motivators, which would be your teammates in a workout or your competitors in the race. And so, um, I think you’re like transcending what’s competitive sport into this individual experience, which is, I I, I wonder if, you know, this has ever been done on a, on an elite level, it’s an amazing experiment. You should have some PhD students out there going, <laugh>, okay, um, what can this, what can this girl do by herself? I mean, it’s, it’s like there, there’s, there’s no precedent for it.
Yeah, no, it’s, it is really hard. And like, I’m really proud of what I built, what I have been able to do by myself. Um, I haven’t, I haven’t run the times that I like really wanted to. I, I really wanted to break four this year and I was like, so I ran 04:01, I was like really close and I knew I had more in there, um, by the,
So listeners, this is the 1500 meters she’s talking about. And these are international caliber, elite times that could win a Diamond League Mead, a a and so forth. I mean, it, it’s, it’s, it’s really, it’s, it’s astonishing that you’re able to do that by yourself. And so I’m, I’m gonna give you a lot of credit for getting <laugh> not anywhere near. I mean, the other six seconds that you’re off your PR or whatever is entirely attributed to the, the screaming crowd in the stands
Yeah. Competitors. Yeah. That’s where I’ve had to adjust the expectations cuz like that my mind doesn’t work that way. I’m like, if I’m in shape to run 03:57, I’m gonna freaking run 03:57. I don’t care if there’s no one in the stands. Like, I’m gonna get this out of myself. And so having to adjust those expectations was like pretty difficult. It was just like, all right, yeah, there’s no one here. Like, I just have like one person holding a stopwatch. Like, all right, it’s fine. I like, I’m happy with that. I did everything I could, but like, yeah, it’s hard to like accept that I’m, I think I’m in 03:57 shape and it’s just not happening. And that’s really frustrating for me. Like there’s just like, I can’t switch that off. Um, and I’m really good at getting the most outta myself. So it’s just like, I completely agree with you on the governor thing. Like, I definitely believe running is 90% mental. Um, and I’ve, I have a, I’m really good on the mental side of things typically, but this year has definitely been the most challenging in, in terms of that. So,
Well you reminded me of that Yogi Berra quote, the the famous baseball guy. Um, he said, baseball’s 90% mental, mental and the other half is physical. He was the master of all these malaprops. But yeah, you, you basically, you you, you set a world record for a 1500 meter time trial. <laugh>, I don’t think anyone’s ever gone faster by themselves, <laugh>. But, um, in terms of your, you know, the guidelines that you have to adhere to during your, your suspension, you can’t officially train with other, international runners. Uh, is that, is that true or, or what are you allowed to do and not allowed to do if you, if you happen to bump into <laugh>, a group of elite female athletes, uh, doing a track workout, could you jump in or would they would they frown upon that kind of thing? And same with the coach. And what kind of relationships can you cultivate and how can you, uh, train according to guidelines?
Yeah, so like, I’ve been really intentional about trying to figure out what I can and can’t do. Cause I do wanna keep running and I just want to, I don’t wanna do anything that’s gonna, you know, restart my ban by any means. So I’m like, Hey, like I need to know the rules. I wanna do everything the right way, cuz like, yeah, I don’t, I don’t want anything to happen. So from my understanding and what they’ve told me, which is a little frustrating cuz you know, they always tell you in like these lawyer terms where I’m like, what does this even mean <laugh>? But, um, from my understanding and what they’ve said, it’s, you know, I can’t work out, I can’t go to like a official like scheduled practice. I can’t work out my teammates because they’re Bowerman Track club is part of, it’s a U S A T F affiliated club.
And so I can’t work out with them. But, you know, if I go and see people out on a run, that should be fine because like, you can’t like just keep me from running with my friends, you know? And they’ve said that that’s fine as well. I just can’t go to like a official practice. Um, and even like for these time trials, I can’t have a U S A T F athlete, uh, pace me or anything like that. So I, as far, like, I just really have to stay away from like U S A T F affiliations, um, like national affiliations. And even if it’s like a kid that runs and he’s just a part of the U S A triathlon, like I, he can’t even do that. Like, it’s just like no national affiliation. Um, so it definitely like diminishes the pool of possibilities that people that I can work out with and like, you know, can help.
But as far as like the coaching goes, I, for a while I was still having my, the same coach, um, Jerry and I was just paying him separately as an individual athlete. Um, and we got that. Okay. That was fine. Well unfortunately, you know, like some things happened and about halfway through this year we decided maybe it’s just best just cuz everyone’s kind of freaking out about every little thing and it’s just best if we just kinda, you know, maybe you don’t coach me anymore and I go and do my own thing. Cause I just, I think the hardest part about this whole thing is like, it doesn’t just impact me, you know, it impacts everything that everyone that is associated with me. And that’s, and you know, I know my teammates have got a lot of criticism and like questions about their performance and like, I just, it, that’s definitely the worst part. Cause it’s just like, that’s not fair and they don’t deserve that. I didn’t deserve this in the first place, but they certainly don’t deserve that. Um, and um, so I, it’s, it’s definitely been hard to navigate and I don’t want this to be a negative, like have a negative impact on, on my teammates and my friends. Cause I want the best for them. You know, I don’t want them to deal with this.
It smells like this is a, a, a spill off from the oil spill of, for example, Alberto Salazar’s case that was first, um, brought out where he was messing with prescriptions and 80% of the athletes were on asthma medication or thyroid medication. And um, you know, were just dancing around the rules. And, um, <laugh> that you guys are based in Portland, right? Mm-hmm. Uh, same area. So it seems like, again, you’re, um, tainted by association with ridiculousness that preceded you and, and you and your teammates are all you’re doing is, uh, breaking records and promoting clean sport and in your case, uh, paying the price for that and tremendous dedication to clean sport. But I certainly wouldn’t, um, yeah, I I wouldn’t spend too much energy on that. And if there are haters out there, um, after listening to the show, I think they’ll be set straight that, um, we’re, we’re talking about a completely different issue than actual doping and cheating in elite sport.
But I guess now that I mention that, where do you think we stand now when we’re watching the world’s or the Olympics in terms of cleanliness, microdosing of EPO and the things that we’ve learned about from the incredibly tainted sport of professional cycling? Um, are people breaking records legitimately or do we have a still a little bit of, uh, cleanup to do and, um, necessary suspicion?
You know, I just, I don’t know at this point. You know, I’ve, the way I’ve kind of operated throughout my career, I know that there, like, there are people that are probably doping. I just don’t, I’d rather be naive to it personally and not think about like, are my competitors cheating? Like, maybe I think they maybe are, or like, cuz then I feel like if I assume that they are, it’s almost giving myself an excuse to not beat them. So I just don’t think about it. I am just like, you know what, at the end of the day, I have to go out there and I gotta try to beat them regardless. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And I’m not gonna like, assume someone’s cheating if I don’t know that. Like, that’s not my place to judge that. Um, and so I try to treat everybody the same and like everyone’s clean. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, uh, I try not to like really put a lot of judgment into that. And not only for them, but also for myself. Cuz I, I wanna get the most outta myself and I don’t wanna waste energy thinking about that, I guess. Um,
Yeah. That’s a good, Shelby. I, I felt the exact same way because when these suspicions started to arise in our sport, I believe it was necessary to become naive or oblivious to it because otherwise you’re giving up a handicap at the starting line, looking over and going this person, uh, looks like they’re in superhuman form. Uh, however, then I had to process the reality that around me, this people were stealing money out of my wallet by, by cheating in sport. And I know that some of your peers, whatever you want to call ’em, some other elite female, uh, performers have spoken out or felt differently and been more demonstrative about, let’s say accusations or whatnot. And, and so I’m wondering like, behind that answer, if there’s anything more there when you’re looking at, um, a female breaking the world record in your event and dropping a 01:56 coming home, which is good enough to win a gold medal in 800 meters in most Olympic games, and she does that after running a couple laps at a high speed. Um, and you’re, you’re knowing that these records that are broken, are breaking records from the rampant dumping era of the East Germans in the eighties. Um, I’m personally gonna raise my eyebrow a little bit, but I always like to give the athletes a benefit of the doubt. But at your level, I’m wondering it has to float in there at times when you are giving your heart and soul to the sport and potentially getting cheated <laugh>.
Yeah, no, I mean, kind of exactly what you said, I definitely have those moments where it’s like kind of questioning it. I’m like, oh, I don’t know. Like, and it’s, it’s hard to watch things like that where it’s like, I don’t think I could do that. And, but then I’m like, you know, just because I can’t do it doesn’t mean someone else can. So I’m like, tr I also like try to remind myself like, don’t, like you don’t know, don’t judge it. Um, there’s, you know, there could very well be more talented people than you and like capable of some something greater. Um, and so like, just because you can’t, doesn’t mean they, they can’t. Um, but you know, that it definitely, there’s definitely times where there is a question mark in my mind. I just try to kind of like let it float through.
And not put too much weight on it. But it is, it’s sometimes some of these performances, it’s, it’s hard to completely believe them. Um, and, but, you know, but at the same time I’m like, I, I want to, because then it’s making the sport better. And like if they’re running faster times, then it’s gonna make me run faster times. And like, even if maybe they’re not doing it the right way, I know I’m going to. And so like, if they get caught or whatever and like, you know, like just for example, me getting fourth place in Doha, you know, I’m like, I laid it all out there. I know I did it the right way and like, I hope if anyone was cheating at all, like I that they could get, they would get caught and like then I could get upgraded to a medal and like, it sucks that that moment would’ve been taken away from me in that at that time. Um, but you know, I, I try not to really put too much stock into thinking about it and thinking in that way. I just wanna hopefully try to believe that everyone has the same morals. Um, I know that’s really naive thinking and that’s probably not true, but for me, that’s just the way I try to operate ultimately.
Well, I mean, you’ve also had to learn this major life lesson that you would probably absorb, when you turn 60 or something, where it really is all about the process. And I talk about this on my podcast a lot cuz my, my triathlon career has now, um, you know, it was 27 years ago that I retired. And so my race results are in a manila folder in the back of this file cabinet here just off camera. And I can pull the race results out and go, oh yeah, Phoenix, I crushed those guys. That was my best 10K. But, you know, all that stuff. But it literally resides in the back of a file folder and it has, the, the only significance it has in my life now is, is what I make of it or the lessons that I learned. And so it was, it was 99.5% about the process.
And then the other part was, you know, winning the medal and promoting the crap out of it on social media 27 years later so I can get a blue star as an official, you know what I mean? Like, you’ve, you’ve been forced this down your throat against your will and it is you know, it’s a tragedy. But I I love your statement, uh, earlier where you said you’re now a happier, more secure person than you’ve ever been. And I am wondering, of course you have to be resilient to overcome this difficulty. But also, um, removing that gripping pressure and all those judgements that we place on athletes maybe is a portal for personal growth. Because when you’re in it and the clocks on you all the time and people are staring at you all the time and looking at the clock, you don’t have that same opportunity for enlightenment and personal growth because you’re basically a number.
Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Yeah, no, and you know, I think personally I’ve done a great job about doing this for the process. I love the process, I love the whole process.
You’ve proven it, girl,
For a one time trial
Who doesn’t love the process, it’s gonna go out there and, and for sure knock yourself out to that level. Oh my gosh.
Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, the process this year has probably been the most, not fun that it’s ever been, but, but like, you know, at, at the end of the day, I don’t think that it should be about the medals or records or times or whatever the places you run. It’s just like, I just want to do something that I love and enjoy and are able to put my energy towards that. I wanna, you know, be at the end of my life knowing that I just did all the things that I love to do. And so that’s way more important to me than getting medals or, you know, records or whatever that is. But like, they’re obviously like great too. Like, I enjoy proving myself and like being able to like have those opportunities to show myself and everyone that supports me. Like, this is why I do the process.
Like, this is like a cherry on top, but at the end of the day, you know, it’s, it’s not about that. And it’s about enjoying what I’m doing and I’m trying to still enjoy what I’m doing right now, even though it’s a lot of the fun parts about it and a lot of the things that I enjoy about it, like going out and being able to goof around and run with my teammates and my friends and like goofing off with my coach and like, you know, like listening to his, all of his stories before the track workouts start <laugh>, um, like going on fun, cool downs. Like it’s just, it’s a lot more lonely and a lot of those fun parts about it are not there. And that’s, that’s been really hard and I’ve had to learn how to find other things that are fun and make it fun. But it’s definitely a work in progress. Um, but yeah, I mean at the end of the day, it’s still something that I love to do and I’m looking forward to at some point being able to come back and show all of the work that I’ve been able to put in the last few years, or last I guess year or two, um, when I haven’t been able to show it.
Do you believe in the odometer theory as applied to, for example, NBA basketball where, um, you know, Clay Thompson missed two years in his prime. He didn’t play a single game, so now he’s 29 instead of 27, but guess what? He was on the sidelines, he wasn’t getting beat up. And, uh, on the flip side, like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant started playing in the N B A at age 17. So they have this, this number of miles on their odometer, even at age 33, they’ve been playing in the N B A for 17 years rather than 12 or whatever, uh, another person would be. And, you know, relating back to that central governor theory, um, you’re working hard, you’re training, but at, uh, on another level, you’re not subjected to this, this, this brutalcxd bvgh psychological and physical stress that characterizes the career of an elite athlete. So I’m curious if you have that, um, that hopefulness or that ideal that whatever your chronological age is, when you return to the track, you can pick things up and go for however long you want at the highest level without regard to, oh, Shelby’s 32, now she’s gonna be past her prime for a 1500 meter runner.
Yeah, and I think like, I, I definitely think there’s too much emphasis put on, on the odometer thing, you know? I do think that I’m gonna be able to hopefully come back, you know, when I’m 32 and, and keep running well because the way that I’ve evolved and trained since I was young. Like I didn’t start running mileage until like my first year as a professional and even my first year as a professional, I was only running like 60 miles a week. So it’s like as comparing to other distance runners, I’m still very young. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, I’ve just always had a natural engine, so I’ve never had to do a lot of mileage and I was always just focused on the speed aspect of training. I was trying to get the most outta myself, get the most power. Um, and like even through college, you know, my freshman year of college I was running 30 miles a week <laugh> and I got
Yeah. <laugh>, well I didn’t wanna a title my freshman year, but like even when I did win a 1500 title my junior year, I was only running 50 miles a week and I placed ninth at cross country. You know, like I wasn’t doing a lot of miles. I just naturally have a good, good engine. Um, and so that was the biggest thing that I wanted to focus on as a professional was like, okay, I need to really keep building this aerobic base and once I do, I’m gonna be able to use all the speed that I’ve worked on and kind of combine them. And that’s why when you’ve watch me race, I have this amazing kick the last 200 cuz I’m finally strong enough to use it. Mm-hmm. Um, whereas like before I just haven’t, I just wasn’t strong enough yet. And you know, I, even, even my first year as a professional, I was able to make the Olympic final in the 5K running 60, 65 miles a week.
And now that I’m running more around 85 to 90, that’s why you’re seeing these jumps in my, in my progression of my times is because I’m finally getting stronger and stronger and stronger and I still have things to work on. Um, so like these, this last year, um, I’ve definitely cut back that mileage. I’m more around like seven 60 to 70, um, just trying to save my body. I’m still doing the work. Um, but I’m just trying to like still be conscious of not just beating up my body, so that I can come back when I’m 32 and still maybe have the body of like a 29 year old or something, or
Super strong, a super strong 32 year old. And I realize with the dates this is early 2021 when you delivered your sample. So, we’re in 22 now. We’re coming up to the halfway point. Time is flying. Yep. We’re gonna see Shelby back. What day are we gonna celebrate? January 2025
I think. Yeah, it’s like January 15th or 14th or something. 2025. Fantastic. It’s hopefully gonna go by just pretty quickly.
<laugh>, I, I think so. Maybe some more road trips. I don’t know. Um,
But yeah, definitely a lot more road trips.
Uh, before we, before we wrap up, I mean, you were, you were making a good living as a professional runner. You were living and breathing and that was your, that was your essence, your existence. Then you had to cough up a lot of legal feeds, which is a really strange element of the anti-doping situation where now the athlete is compelled to take the burden of proof on. Um, and so as a side question, when I ask you the whole thing, like what does an athlete do that doesn’t have the resources, it seems like a completely unfair situation. But again, whatever resources you had and I think we can donate to this cause if I’m not mistaken on, on GoFund, we’ll put that link in the show notes. But you also lost your sponsorship and so I’m wondering from the professional side, like what is that arc like and how are you operating now in terms of, you know, continuing to build on your, on your dreams as a runner?
Yeah, no, I’m glad that you brought that up. Cause that’s been a thought in my head this whole time of like, I’m, I feel so fortunate that I’ve been able to get to this point and continue to fight for myself. And like, I mean, transparently, I’ve spent $250,000 defending myself and which is a lot of money. And if you don’t have the resources, like I understand why people take a plea deal and do the three years instead of the four years cause they don’t have the money to defend themselves. And like, and then it makes me wonder like how many people that admitted it are actually innocent, but they just were kind of railroaded cuz they couldn’t defend themselves. You know, like I, it’s definitely a problem and it’s so unbelievably expensive to do that and to defend yourself and go through that process. Um, like I, I definitely think there’s some needs to be something done in that aspect as well.
I don’t really know what that is, but it’s, it’s sad to know that maybe, you know, people that go through this just don’t have the means to defend themselves and they’re forced to maybe accept a plea deal or just, I mean, and that’s a four-year ban is a, can be a career ending band, you know, and then like you’re just forced to just kind of go away and, um, but yeah, I mean that’s, that’s been a huge toll on me financially. Like the, the GoFundMe I put up has helped so much, like truly helped so much. But it’s, yeah, right, right now I still had like a little bit some money saved because I was, I went through to the Swiss federal tribunal and I was hoping to win that appeal and then I would have to go back to I think Cass and like go back to a whole nother trial.
And so that’s like even more money. So I mean, the positive side of losing that appeal is that I don’t have to spend that money. Um, so I’m right now doing okay, it’s not sustainable. I’m kind of looking for a job right now and just trying to honestly just figure out what else that I love to do <laugh>. Cause I want to do something that I love. I don’t wanna spend the next two years like just hating my life and just like doing something that I don’t like. Um, it’s important to me to enjoy what I’m doing. Um, cuz you only have certain amount of time on this planet and I wanna spend it doing the things that I love to do. Um, so that’s really been the process for me is like, all right, what else do I like? What would be fun? Like, I don’t know. Um, and I think you can kind of make money really doing anything. I just wanna make sure that I enjoy doing it. So.
Nice. And then, um, I think you’ll transition gracefully just like you did from college athlete to professional. When your ban is lifted, um, I’m gonna guess you’re gonna be pretty fit when that birthday cake candle comes. I hope so. <laugh> and then ready to throw down. So I, i I can’t wait for that day. Um, and, and so regarding that, that process, is it over, are you just out of, uh, recourse? Are we gonna get a new <laugh>, a new, um, some new officials elected next year where you might, uh, dream of an appeal or a commuted sentence or anything? Or is it just sort of, um, be patient now?
I mean, as far as I know, the process is kind of just done. I don’t really have another course of action. I’m, you know, I still like, I still wanna know what happened and I’m still trying to like figure out other possibilities. Like maybe it wasn’t something that I ate, maybe it was like actually something else and I just, I don’t know what that is, but I wanna keep trying to figure it out. Cause like I think that’s another fear is like, I don’t want this to happen again. Yeah. Like what if it wasn’t the burrito? Yeah. Um, what if it like was something that I took or something? Um, and so I would like to figure it out. I don’t know if that’s gonna happen and if I do figure it out, I don’t know, like, can I get my ban lifted? Like, I’m not really sure that course of action, I just haven’t gotten there yet.
But yeah, I think hopefully they’re doing testing maybe to see if this was even possible. I do think it was possible, especially like, I know it was unlikely, but also I think it’s important to take into consideration. We were going through Covid at that time and the meat, the meat, like the food chain was all over the place and so messed up so you’re not dealing with the normal food, food chain. It was like, so I think like that in itself, even if this was unlikely, that has to impact that significantly I would assume. There’s lots of articles like even in Oregon or just like across the US saying that, you know, the meat production is like just kind of broken right now. Like, so, and I, you know, I don’t, I don’t know if that was ever taken into consideration.
But, hopefully we can continue to do testing, maybe figure out the possibility of this or like just implement it in different ways. I think it would be great to personally like for these low level cases shift the burden of proof so that mm-hmm <affirmative> like it’s both on the athlete and the doping agency or like, and I don’t know, I’m not gonna pretend to know like, this is the thing that we should do, like this is the right thing. Um, I think it should be more of a conversation where it’s like, hey, as athletes, like what do we feel is fair?
I mean, it’s like just put some human judgment into the picture and say, was this a deliberate attempt to gain an advantage and and cheat out competitors or was it some glitch? And the technology is so good now, that a lot of experts think, you know, when you’re picking up nanograms, it could be a technology flaw, just like the starting blocks, uh, kicking racers out on the ostensibly false start. But it’s, it’s just simply, you know, a, a more sensitive, uh, machine that’s not perfect.
Yeah. Yeah. I think there’s still like, like a lot of work to be done. I think there’s definitely some flaws in the system that just need to be updated and, yeah, and I mean especially like what you were kind of just saying is like, this is such a small amount and it has no like, enhancement on my performance at all. So why am I serving serving a four-year ban for that? You know, if like, give me like a one year band or like something like that cuz it’s, it’s not doing anything for me. Like I
Yeah. Public service totally
We sentenced you to a year of community service coaching little kids at middle school. Yeah,
Yeah, yeah. But it’s, you know, I, I think it’s ridiculous to have to serve a four-year ban, especially for something that I didn’t do. I understand it was in my system and I take responsibility for that. I don’t know how it was, but, um, yeah, I mean, if I’m not getting the whole point of a four-year ban is for people that are getting
Enhancement <laugh> in their performance and like, it’s that if that’s not happening, what’s the purpose of that? Um, so I don’t know. I think there’s a lot of things that could be changed and just kind of tweaked. Um, and hopefully we start seeing that. But
Shelby Houlihan, what a great story and tremendous credit to you for your resilience, your positive attitude if you’re listening and not watching. She’s smiling through the entire story here, pouring her heart out. And, um, I think that’s what made you a great champion in official competition and setting that world record in the time trial. I’m gonna put that right up there in your career highlights that it’s so incredible. It’s beyond belief how you can go out and and carry on by yourself, but I’m just, I’m just counting the months. It’s going by quick. I mean, it’s a blur, but I can’t wait to see you back out there. And also just continuing on this wonderful progress of personal growth that you’re on.
Yeah, no, I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to tell my story and get the word out there and I’ve had a great conversation with you. So <laugh>, thank you.
We can follow you and look at your road trip, uh, pictures and the, and the, uh, the, the slick retro van on Instagram. Yeah. Where else should we go, uh, to, to keep up with you?
Yeah, I mean, Instagram’s definitely, I’m, I’m horrible at social media, so I’m like, don’t, I’m not on it all the time, but it’s definitely the best way to kind of keep up to date with what I’m doing. Um, but I have a website, clear shelby.com, which has a lot of the information about this case. Um, obviously it’s a little biased, it’s in my, like my viewpoint of it. But I do think there’s a lot of good research and like good information there if you want to dig a little deeper. Um, yeah, so those kind of, those things.
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