As a part of its series of articles leading up to the NYC marathon that talk about all things tangential to the actual race, emphasizing the odd customs and traditions of marathoners, the New York Times has published an article today on porta johns. Of course the main purpose of this article is to provide an opportunity to a NYT reporter to draw upon his ability to bring poetry to any topic - as in "Their mismatched colors create a snaking kaleidoscope through the parking lots and roadways of leafy Fort Wadsworth." It also provides an opportunity to remind readers that not only do these marathoners run themselves until they almost collapse - but, they are so focused on this challenge that normal rules of polite society in regards to relieving one's self in public are thrown out the window (or pissed off the bridge - depending on the prevailing winds).
For most experienced runners it's a tradition - my college coach used to call it "shaking the dew off the lilly pad." My friend and high school teammate Todd had a very nervous bladder. There were several times where he would be MIA minutes before a big race. The closest he came to missing a race was an indoor meet at Eastern Michigan our senior year. Todd had won three individual state championships by that time. The starter was Kermit Ambrose, a legend in michigan high school coaching - the meet was actually named after him. By the time we were in high school Kermit was 90+ and didn't seem to care much what people thought. He called Todd's name to line up - and when I said he was in the bathroom and that i'd check on him - annoyed, he said, "tell him if he shakes it more than twice he's doing something else."
At big races like NYC there is a certain strategy involved to finding the shortest lines. Runners are unexpectedly lazy. Sometimes you just need to venture out a few blocks to find a public restroom that is shockingly vacant. You also need to know the lay of the land - usually there is a clump of trees/bushes where you might be somewhat "exposed" - but, people usually look the other way.
As we were waiting for our friends to pass by at the Marine Corps marathon last weekend we witnessed a woman using the bushes method - the weird thing was that there was a row of unoccupied porta john's just on the other side of the road. Apparently some people just prefer nature.
The article brought up an instance where Paula Radcliffe popped a squat right to the side of the course en route to a victory at London. The article calls it "the most memorable moment in that race's history" - I hope the author isn't serious, but then again, it isn't all that often that you get to see someone drop their pants on live TV without paying for it.