I had the opportunity to visit Europe recently and of course I looked for a race. I was going to be in The Hague, Netherlands, and God smiled at me with the Den Haag Marathon on the exact same weekend I was there. I ran the half. It was an unbelievable experience. The most beautiful course in one of the prettiest and quaintest cities I’ve ever visited.
But one of the memories that has endured from my experience in the Den Haag race is kind of a weird one. The urinals at the starting area, which was in a public park. Yes, urinals. And not just at the starting line but also in many public places as permanent structures throughout several cities in The Netherlands.
Urinals at Starting Lines!
While waiting for the gun to go off at Den Haag, I saw these weird hard plastic structures. They were a square shape, maybe 4 feet to a side, 7 feet tall, each side bisected in the middle with a wall, which created four “cubicles”. Each space had a “V” shaped opening at about 3 feet high at the innermost corner. They looked like!!… No!!… It can’t be!!!… But they were. They were urinals and weirdest of all men were actually urinating in them, leaving the facilities for those with “bigger needs”.
As you may imagine, I did not take pictures of people using these structures but I did take pics of another similar structure at a later date, this one was in a square surrounded by bars right in front of the Department of Justice (See accompanying image). It was there 24/7 for people (men) to take care of business while leaving the surrounding watering holes without having to resort to unsanitary and illegal options against the walls, cars, trees or bushes. Very pragmatic, like most Dutch solutions.
I know this may be a weird topic for this forum, but I assume we are all adults and we can discuss the issue with some degree of maturity. And, since every runner has at least a handful of port-a-potty horror stories during their running career, I wanted to make the case in favor of the use of urinals for races in the United States.
Let’s set up a case study with a mid-size race of 3000 runners. Let’s assume a 50-50 split on the genders (1500 each). And let’s assume for this example the race director calculated a port-a-potty for each 75 participants, for a total of 40. If 75% of people use the facilities pre-race (2,250) and let’s say one third of them (563) are in line at any given time before the gun goes off, this means an average line of 19 people per door. Assuming an average time of 3 minutes per use, the average waiting time is 57 minutes per user. We’ve all been there and if not, we haven’t raced enough.
Now, let’s say this same race director decides to be pragmatic and exchange just five traditional port-a-potties with 4-corner urinals placed at an appropriate location in the starting area. For this example let’s say 75% of the male users (844) are using the facilities only for urination. Then the population of runners using the port-a-potties has been reduces from 2,250 to 1,406, which at 35 doors and the exact parameters of usage as before, the average runner will be waiting in line for 40 minutes. Does it sound like still a long wait? I’ll take it. It is 30% shorter. It is a start.
I don’t assume to be speaking for all male runners, but I am sure I am for a vast majority. Let’s face it, most of us at some point have found a tree, a bush or a wall to relieve ourselves while waiting for the gun to go off. And while there, most of us have witnessed females crouching with their shorts half down doing exactly the same and for the same reason as us. And let’s come clear here, there is nothing sexy or sexual about adults exposing themselves to take care of business before a race. I haven’t experience the first sexual frenzy in such situation yet, so let’s grow up and find a solution. There is one and it is being used in Europe.
A difference between the Dutch and the Americans is that the former are extremely pragmatic in the solutions to their public issues while the latter are still embarrassedly prudish with anything related to sexual organs, even if they are being used for purposes other than procreation or related fun activities. While the municipality of Amsterdam installed urinals in the bar areas by its canals when they figured out a large percentage of drowned men were found with their fly open, in the USA we would face an “Today Show exclusive investigation on the immorality of urinals in foot races”, despite the fact that it will ameliorate a big problem within this industry.
The use of port-a-potties is as part of a race as complaining of nagging injuries with your friends. None of them are going away anytime soon. There is a solution out there. Can we grow up and us it? Or are we to prudish to implement it?