I ran, this afternoon, along the lakefront. Not far from downtown, I passed a little sign randomly stuck in the ground. These pop up every now and then, but not often. Usually they warn of lakefront path closures due to weekend events or the occasional construction project. This one? “Urogynecology Institute of Chicago”. Huh? Okay, I’m paraphrasing the title, but not the specialty. Urogynecology? I’m not an expert, but that sounded like female bladder problems to me. I checked it on the web when I got home, and yep, I was right.
But the sign wasn’t linked to any lakefront event, or to any upcoming races. It was just the name of the clinic on a corrugated plastic sign stuck in the ground with a metal frame. A unique stab at advertising, and to an unlikely audience. Think about it. Isn’t it hard to imagine a woman with urinary problems deciding it’s a good idea to spend her time running or biking up and down the lakefront? But what do I know?
Nevertheless, it set my brain to wandering while I ran. Never mind the clinical bladder issues, taking a pee on a run is sometime a curious problem. Not a big deal on a little 5 or 10K, of course, but when you’re going to be running for 2, 4, 6 or even 12 hours at a time (and I have), well, it comes up. And if not for me, then certainly for my fellow runners.
At the first half-marathon I ran in 2006, I was slightly astonished to see people, during the race, standing in line outside of the port-a-johns on the course, waiting their turn. Standing in line to pee during a race! Men and Women both! At the 3-mile point! Wasn’t it supposed to be a race?
Not everybody bothers to wait in a line. Before I ran the New York City Marathon last year, I was told that I should hope to start the race on the upper level of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. The VNB is huge and the marathon uses both the upper and lower levels to ease congestion at the starting line. I was assigned to the upper level, and I found out why that was good. Past the 1 mile marker - over the crest, but still on the bridge - dozens and dozens of men were pulling over to the edge of the bridge and peeing off the side. I’m sure the wind up there, 250 feet above the water, was catching all that urine and blowing it right back under the bridge and all over the runners on the lower level. Gross!
Dean Karnazes, in his best selling book about ultra-running, talks about discovering the urinary strategy used by most of the elite ultra-runners when they’re competing to win a race: They don’t stop at all. They just pull their shorts aside and let it go on the go. He says he figured this out when he noticed the strange, extended, stuttering, yellow lines in the snow at his first ultra.
Speaking of ultras, at my first trail marathon, the race director, in his short pre-race speech reminding us all of the course and the rules, advised us of the local policy: “There aren’t any port-a-potties out there on the trail, sorry everyone. So, while you’re running… whadaya say, girls on the left and boys on the right?” It got him a good laugh from all of us.
But the beats-all, takes-the-cake story happened to me at last year’s Chicago Marathon. It was minutes before the race and we’re all standing together in the corrals. As usual, they were crowded, and more so at five minutes to race time when people began to push forward a bit. It was right about then that a woman standing a little in front of me on my right squatted down slightly. I could then hear the distinct sound of water trickling onto the pavement.
She had pulled the leg of her shorts aside and was just peeing on the street in the middle of all the waiting runners. She was completely unabashed about it. No visible remorse of any kind. Not true for all of us around her, though. It was odd to watch the ripple of awareness spread across the people around her in the corral. We were all trying not to look at her, or each other, or to say anything. But this is true too: No one chastised her; no one even shot her an evil look. After all, we’d all seen or waited in the impossible lines at the port-a-johns.
It took her, maybe, 15 seconds to empty her tank. By the time she was done, a perimeter had pushed back in a circle around her that was four or five feet in all directions. There was a guy with her, the only one of us who hadn’t stepped back, and he summed it up correctly on behalf of everyone: “I admit, I’m impressed,” he said, but the look on his face was a mix of befuddlement and concern.
Yes. Yes, that one takes the cake.