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The Lay of the Land

By Mark Frankel

One of the benefits of running a race numerous times is that you get to learn the lay of the land pretty well, like where all of the good bathrooms are.  Don’t get me wrong, I like the porta-potties that most races place near the start, but few things in life beat a real bathroom.

I must admit, I get great pleasure from being able to use real facilities.  It relaxes me.  And before a race, I’ve come to appreciate every last bit of relaxation.  I think it has something to do with the seats.  Bathroom seats just hold heat a lot better than porta-potty seats do.

At a recent 10K I became very stressed when I noticed that all of the real bathrooms in the immediate vicinity were out of order.  This was simply awful!  With ignominious rage, I headed off to the porta-potties thinking of who I needed to scream at for this big flub.  Instead of warming-up, I had to waste my time chanting mantras and such so as to calm myself down.

Real bathrooms can often enhance the racing experience.   I fondly remember the time at Disney World, where I ran the Goofy Challenge a few years ago.  Going through the parks, of course, was nice and so were the characters, but the real attraction was all of those nice, empty, recently cleaned bathrooms that were just waiting to be used. However, the bathrooms were also very dangerous traps.   The trap was that the bathrooms were so comfortable that you’d rather take a DNF than get off the bowl.

I suppose, then, that it’s a good thing that they have porta-potties at races.  There’s very little temptation to extend your business.  In fact, you may want to keep it short.

I’ve noticed over the past couple of years, though, that the makers of porta-potties have been trying to make them seem more like real bathrooms.  You can even find porta-potties that can be hooked up to hoses for workable sinks.

I remember a few years ago, though, I tried one of those fancy porta-potties near the starting area of a marathon.  It was an unofficial porta-potty; not rented by the marathon, but rather by the host hotel for construction.

All seemed well until I tried to leave.  The door latch broke and I was stuck inside.  The timing was awful: it was about ten minutes before the start, and as one of the pacers, if I missed the start I’d let my whole team of 20-30 runners down.

I pounded on the window until some fire-fighter who happened to be running the marathon heard me and busted the door down.  After my quick escape I noticed that the other runners using the porta-potty refused to close the door.  Instead a line formed outside at a ninety-degree angle to that people waiting wouldn’t see the active participant doing their “other warm-up.”

In training, though, I’ve fall in love with an 8-mile route I run where I work up in Rockland County.  The scenery along the route, which is a big loop around Lake Tappan, is beautiful.  The first half of the route also has two porta-potties along it: one in a public park, which is always there.  The other one is in a construction zone.  Amazingly, while the construction on nearby sites of future homes has been stalled, the porta-potties have still been maintained.  The service slip by the door attests to that one. Apparently, someone shares my priorities, or at least has forgotten to tell someone to stop servicing the porta-potties.

I’m sometimes tempted to use the quality and/or quantity of facilities as a criterion for my races.  I know other people have used the quality of the course, food, t-shirts, or swag, but there are some things that shouldn’t be overlooked.

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