Ironman and natural stops

Many of us have had to pull off the road to find a discrete place for a natural stop. One unfortunate soul just got a DQ from officials at Ironman Lake Placid for answering nature's call. It's one of the few sins that can end your day early, even when you have no intention of cheating or offending anyone.

Because this penalty is for a behavior to which no bad intent is attached, race organizations and governing bodies around the world have struggled with how to approach this. Natural stops are common in races in much of Europe and there is no infraction. But the act is expressly forbidden in Australia and in other parts of Europe. In the U.S. it's more nuanced. There just is no rule against natural stops taken in, well, nature. But you can get disqualified for it anyway.

We're having two discussions on Slowtwitch right now: proper hydration and supplementation to ensure good health while racing; and semi-public, semi-private urination during the bike or run leg. The irony is that if you want to make sure your body's water regulation remains sound, that water must go somewhere, and that somewhere is out your kidneys, into your bladder and then from there. It's likely that you'll at some point need to badly go during a race, especially a long race.

No problem. Use a porta-john. Okay. But how far into the future is one likely to be when the urge becomes urgent?

Because this rule is not formalized, and because it's not always clear what the provision of porta-johns will be on the courses on which we race, it seemed appropriate to at least talk to the one organization that most Slowtwitchers patronize most often. Head of officials for Ironman, Jimmy Riccitello, was kind enough to explain his company's posture toward natural stops.

Slowtwitch: It's my sense that we don't have a rule – USAT or Ironman – against against peeing per se because of the emergency distress that some folks find themselves in, notwithstanding a race organization's attempts to strategically and liberally place porta-johns on the course. Nobody wants to make a rule telling you not to do something that is a biological imperative. Accordingly, there is not likely to ever be an actual rule against peeing during the bike leg. This is my best guess. Do you think I'm a good guesser?

Jimmy Riccitello: I'm honestly not certain why no one has a specific rule that addresses public urination, but this is my guess as well. Accidents happen. Emergencies happen. The current rules used to penalize someone who pees on the course allow discretion and judgment.

ST: If I properly understand the body language of this, there is also a difference venue-by-venue. While peeing during the bike leg either on the bike or in the bushes next to the roadway may not be a clearly-written infraction, it's nevertheless a DQable offense at certain races. So, taking Lake Placid as an example, there is no chalk allowed on the road, even washable, and there is no peeing in the woods, period, even if it's not a written rule violation. That's just Lake Placid. The rule that is therefore used is USAT rule 3.3 (b). Conduct themselves in a manner that is not offensive in any way to fellow participants, spectators, officials or volunteers and is considered reasonable and acceptable in the community; The operative phrase is, “acceptable in the community.” This is what makes a rule a rule in some places, but not in others. What you're saying when you DQ a person is that they did something unacceptable in this community. Do I have that right, and does that explain, at least in part, the DQ in Placid?

Jimmy: We have more than 30 host communities in the U.S. The number one complaint we receive regarding behavior of our athletes is failure to ride single file. The second most common complaint from citizens is regarding public urination and nudity. This is applicable to the days around race day and not just race day itself. In some communities with a longer race history, the period is not restricted to race week or athletes registered for the race – many people are training on the Ironman courses year round.

Considering the importance of this issue to host communities, the bottom line is that peeing on the side of the road is against the rules at all of our venues, and is enforced based on the circumstances – medical emergency might be an example – and on the level of offensiveness judged by the event's head referee, who is the only person who can issue a DQ. The head referee will listen to an explanation of an incident and decide whether or not a DQ should be applied. Therefore, the outcome is somewhat variable depending on judgment – much in the same way unsportsmanlike conduct is dealt with.

So in Placid, considering the circumstances, the head referee felt like a DQ should be applied. I feel that it's important to note that only one person was cited for peeing in Lake Placid. To me, this means that the majority of athletes are either using the toilets provided at each aid station on the bike and run course, or being satisfactorily discrete when peeing.

ST: This the case, do you expect that the head ref who called for this particular person's DQ might not have done so had this race taken place out 30 yards off the highway behind a rock on a lonely road outside of St. George?

Jimmy: Yes I do. I know that most referees I've spoken to will look the other way if an athlete is making an attempt to discretely relieve him- or herself, that is, if the athlete is seen walking behind a rock or into the woods.

ST: Some folks have the dubious skill of being able to pee on the bike. This happens during every race. I think you and I feel the same way. I don't know what rule that breaks, but it ought to break some rule. I mean, if I just pee on you, that ought to break some rule. So, taking Kona as an example, and let's talk about the pro field. If someone was riding along, nobody behind him or her, and you knew that his or her bladder was getting emptied while pedaling, do you think you'd ticket that person? Now, same race, but the racer in question is sharing the experience with fellow competitors in close proximity. What do you do? And if the answer is a penalty of some sort, are we now entering a gray area where the infraction might not be an infraction on its face, rather it's an infraction partly in the context of what else is going on in the race around the athlete?

Jimmy: Unless someone loses control of his or her bodily functions, it's not obvious when the pros pee during the race. Mission accomplished. That's what we're really asking for – discretion and common sense. To answer your specific question, and because I know what to look for, if I noticed that someone was peeing during the bike ride, but I knew no one else would notice, and no one was getting peed on – I would not ticket that person. While I've heard about it happening, I have never seen an athlete spray another athlete during a race. If I saw it happen, I would definitely ticket that person, and it wouldn't be a gray area. You can't pee on another athlete! Please don't tell me we need a specific rule for that.

ST: The concentration and spacing of porta-johns at the race is not in Ironman's Athlete Guide. What does Ironman do to accommodate for the need to pee, and I'm asking whether there is, at every race, a specified distance between porta-potties? Is it variable by race?

Jimmy: For several years now, at all Ironman events in the U.S., we place at least two, and usually more (depending on the number of athletes entered in the race), toilets at every bike aid station – complete with bike racks. That's a bathroom approximately every 12-15 miles of the bike course, which is every 30 minutes if you're going 20 miles per hour. On the run course, we provide bathrooms at every aid station, or approximately every 1 to 1.5 miles, which is every 7 to 20 minutes depending on run speed. The toilets are available to athletes, volunteers, law enforcement, and medical personnel, but athletes are given priority as much as possible. Additionally, we typically place toilets at locations based upon law enforcement or traffic control personnel who also need bathroom facilities. At certain races, we also place toilets where we have high concentrations of volunteers and spectators along the course such as a turnaround point or bike special needs. Athletes can access any of those toilets.

We let the athletes know, via the mandatory athlete briefings, that there are ample bathrooms provided along the course and where they're located, that we want you to use them, why we want you to use them, and what the potential consequences are if you're seen not using a bathroom.

We're constantly adjusting the positioning of portable toilets from year to year to meet the needs of our athletes, volunteers, and spectators.

We also do our part to help with the issue that some communities have with public urination. In the Lake Placid region, for example, Ironman contributes to an initiative by the Ausable River Association to place portable toilets along the river corridors of the East and West Branches of the Ausable River. These toilets are available to people hiking, fishing, cycling, and recreating. They are placed at the trailhead and fishing pull-offs during the Memorial Day to Columbus Day season.

ST: My goal in this line of questioning is not to force a rule, or change a rule, or even change the officiating at Ironman races. Rather, I'd like to tell our readers exactly what to expect from the officials regarding this issue. We're running a poll right now, and 3 out of 4 of our readers have peed during a bike or run leg somewhere other than in a toilet. It's 4 out of 5 for those who've race for more than 5 years, so this is a future newbies can look forward to. Anything more to equip our readers with solid knowledge on what to expect from your officials, and what Ironman will do to make sure our readers know how and when they can expect porta-johns?

Jimmy: That stat is not surprising. However, I would also bet that most of those who've peed outside of a bathroom did so as discretely as possible. I have peed outside of a bathroom in a triathlon, but I took measures to make sure that no one knew I peed.

As far as what Ironman participants should know: I would say that if a referee or staff member witnesses you peeing outside of a bathroom at an Ironman event, you're at risk of getting DQ'd by the event's head referee. Therefore, whenever humanly possible, you should use a provided bathroom, or find a secluded place to go. I'm certain that the circumstances of each pee situation will be considered by the event's head referee before a DQ is issued.

Again – this is mentioned at each Ironman mandatory athlete briefing, and the majority of our athletes respect our policy.