For most professional athletes in America, cannabis use is often marred by secrecy and deception. But while the vast majority of pro athletes run the risk of fine, suspension, or worse for failing a urine test, professional long-distance runner Avery Collins has embraced cannabis as a central part of his daily running routine and public persona.
In an in-depth profile for SB Nation's newly-published "Sports in the Age of Cannabis" series, long-distance runner and writer Paul Flannery joined Collins for a grueling run through one of Colorado's rugged mountain ranges, all with the help of weed's calm-inducing focus.
On an average week, Collins will traverse over 140 miles of Centennial State terrain, covering 20-40 miles and thousands of feet of elevation each day before clocking into work at a local specialty running store. In addition to his salary, Collins relies on running sponsors and race wins to pay his bills. Winning and placing in a number of high profile 100 and 200 mile ultramarathons, Collins has made a name for himself as one of the sports premier, seemingly unbreakable athletes.
"My niche in this sport really falls under big and bad," Collins told SB Nation. "I don't label myself as any kind of superhuman athlete. I thoroughly believe that I'm gritty as fuck. I can take a punch to the face and fight back the whole way."
And like so many of the athletes in the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL and more, Collins says that he uses marijuana for both medicinal and recreational purposes. For his constantly aching muscles, Collins utilizes CBD topicals for anti-inflammation, and before most of his runs, the ultrarunning ironman either eats a THC edible or hits a pipe, kickstarting the sports' famous endorphin-fueled runner's high with the help of cannabis.
However, unlike athletes across the four major sports leagues, Collins is able to speak freely about his cannabis use and advocacy — with drug tests only taking place before specific competitions and no governing body to ban the controversial plant. Accordingly, Collins is the only runner with a legal cannabis company endorsement deal, collecting paychecks, travel stipends and dispensary discounts from Boulder's The Farm.
Like the British man who biked 19,000 miles in the name of disproving marijuana's lazy stoner myth, Collins says that he too fights to normalize weed's place as an active-person's plant, but is also adamant that the drug works wonders for him on daily runs.
"It was something that obviously no one had done," Collins told SB Nation. "So it was a niche, and in ultrarunning you have to have a niche to make any kind of money. For me, it was just important to stand up for something I believe in."
"One day you can go out and feel every single twinge, which may not be a bad thing," Collins added. "I'll take the downhills a little easier, try to switch my muscle groups on the uphill a little bit more. The benefit of being high is you're more in tune with your body. It keeps you more alert and aware."
Still, despite Collins' cannabis openness, the ultrarunner says that he does not use marijuana before or during official races, and offers to submit drug tests at every competition. As professional running deals with the same performance enhancing drug problems that once plagued cycling and baseball, Collins wants to make it clear that, no matter how many edibles he eats, his strength and resilience does not rely on any substance.
"I have never taken any cannabis at mile 80, having been up for 20 hours with no sleep," Collins said. "Who's to say that won't put me right on my butt? It is banned [in competition] and I don't mind that. I have no problems with the rules. They don't affect my daily life whatsoever."
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