DAVE MCGILLIVRAY, for Runner's World
I've heard that when the "call of nature" comes -- at the worst time and far from any convenient or appropriate location -- runners in a race often relieve themselves in a relatively public manner. What's a race director's policy toward this? How do you plan for it? - Duran
Duran, you ask a great question. This actually was the number one reason [Editor: No pun intended!] we decided to go with a two-wave start at the Boston Marathon. Runners were lining up in front of residential homes in the small town of Hopkinton and when nature called, they felt they had no choice but to jump the barricades and "go" on someone's private property.
This is one of the most critical areas a race director must deal with when managing an event. Exactly how many porta potties do you provide at the start of a race and do you have the space to place them?
Traditionally, we have always used a 1:100 ratio -- one porta potty for every 100 runners. However, now that 50% or more of participants are female, that ratio needs to change... more like 1:75 or even 1:50. Then the question becomes, Do you have enough space to place all these units and place them in the best possible location, that is, as close to the starting line as possible?
Porta potty management has actually become a skill. Quantity, placement, runner line-up... all are key to ensure everyone gets a fair opportunity to "go" before a race. The challenge is that it seems that everyone has to go all at the same time, that is, 20 to 30 minutes before the gun fires. You can never accommodate that kind of demand, so you do the best you can. This truly is a huge challenge in our sport nowadays, given the incredible increase in field sizes.
I don't think any race director does or should condone having runners relieve themselves in a "relatively public manner" as you state. However, it is a two-way street...that is, the race must provide ample opportunity for every participant to go before the race. If they don't, what's a runner to do? Same holds true after the gun fires -- porta potties need to be placed all along the course, too, for runners to use during the race or they are forced to simply run to the side of the road and go.
So once again, as with everything in race management, it is all about preparation. As race directors, we know this is going to happen, so it is up to us to provide for the runner. If we can't, then it is unfair to penalize any runner for answering nature's call.