DAVE MCGILLIVRAY, for Runner's World
I've heard stories of the "call of nature" coming at the worst time, far from any convenient or appropriate location, and runners relieving themselves in a relatively public manner. What's a race director's policy toward this and how do races plan and handle the problem? — Duran
Thanks for your question. I've always said that one of the most important issues at the start of the race--if not the most important issue--is providing enough portable toilets. When races don't, they are responsible for the participants who relieve themselves in public. This has been a major challenge at the Boston Marathon and the other races I direct.
Not having enough space to place the units can be a major challenge. It is also a matter of location--where the toilets are placed and how they are managed is critical.
If a race has provided enough units (a good ratio is one toilet for every 50 to 100 runners) and these units are accessible and located close to the starting line, runners should never have to relieve themselves in public. And once one runner does, anyone else who sees it tends to feel that it's okay.
Races need to determine their policy and state it in all their pre-race instructions. For example, if breaking the rules means disqualification, runners should know it in advance. Of course, enforcement of this policy then becomes another challenge for race management.
Additionally, units need to be placed along the entire race course and in particular within the first mile of the race as runners who have been standing in the starting corrals should be given the convenience and courtesy of having units available after the start of the race.
The key for race management is to have enough units, place them as close to the start as possible, and manage the program so that the lines in front of the units are never greater than about seven to 10 deep. Otherwise, runners will get discouraged and head to the woods or even private property, and that's a major issue for the future of the race. Believe it or not, "port-o-john management" is a high priority in every event I direct. It should be for every race director.