Our Reader Forum is alight right now with a story about a competitor DQd at Ironman Lake Placid for urinating on the side of the road during the bike leg.
Here's what the athlete wrote on our forum:
"In my case I planned on peeing on the bike or at aid stations when needed. In this case I really had to go and every bump hurt. I made a snap decision to stop on the side of the road. I stepped to the line of the woods... facing the woods I pee'd (sic). The comment from the official was that if I took one more step into the woods we would not be having this discussion..."
Some on our reader forum were unsympathetic. "Rules are posted on the race site for you to read. Maybe take the 10 minutes to read them," said one. "Sucks to be you," said another, "but you should really know the rules."
What was the infraction? Ironman, in its Athlete Guide published for each of its races, and USA Triathlon, each publish a version of the "indecent exposure" rule.
- Public nudity at any time during the event is prohibited. Any violation of this Section shall result in a variable time penalty. (USAT)
- Avoid indecent exposure and public nudity at all times during an Event. Indecent exposure/public nudity may result in a disqualification. (Ironman)
Note that one attaches a variable time penalty and one a DQ (did Ironman ask and receive an OK from USAT for this rule change?).
I must ask, even if you think it's in poor taste (so to speak) to urinate while on the bike, is this a violation of any written rule? I once attended a clinic – a clinic – put on by former pro Torbjorn Sindballe on how to perform this feat. It is the rare pro in the sport of triathlon who does not urinate during his or her race, usually while on the bike. Neither I nor any of the old timers I asked ever remember a pro penalized for this.
Ironman's head of officiating, Jim Riccitello, nevertheless considers urinating while on the bike a violation of the rule, earning a DQ. This brings up a point of order. It's obviously not indecent exposure of you urinate while on the bike, since there's no body part exposed. So, again, where is the rule?
There is this 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;
Is this rule on point? Our forum was about evenly split on whether standing down, off the roadway, to pee was offensive. Such a rule like the one above could not reasonably be invoked for judgment calls. It would have to be an act that the overwhelming majority of people considered offensive.
There is this in Ironman's Athlete Guide: "Please do not use private property as a toilet." This is in all Athlete Guides, not just IMLP's.
There it is. The "rule." Just, is this how we phrase violations that warrant a DQ? By asking please? And, has it been determined that what the athlete did occurred on private property? From the disqualified contestant: "I stepped to the line of the woods." Does this sound like private property?
For those who think this was a serious violation deserving a DQ, fine, I'll stipulate that your sense of propriety is finer than mine, and you have a wisdom on this that I lack. And I don't write this in a flippant manner. One Slowtwitcher wrote, "It's all about respect, and if you don't respect the community enough to not piss on their property, then don't race."
I respect this view. Just, it's pretty hard to get DQd from an Ironman. Anything warranting a DQ ought to be spelled out in the rules explicitly. If you feel this strongly, then your view ought to be memorialized in the rules, and in the Athlete Guide.
Also, I appreciate that a number of Placid racers remember distinctly in the pre-race briefing that what the contestant did would result in what the contestant got: a DQ. Still, that just makes it an ad hoc rule. If a particular behavior warrants a DQ, it warrants being in the rules.
Why isn't this already in the rules? Since I'm in the affected cohort of men above the age of 40, I can tell you the older we get the less we are able to "hold it" due to the ever-escalating size of our prostates, which appropriate the space God intended for our bladders.
To that point, the longer you place urination on hold, the harder it is to urinate once you get around to it, because the prostate and bladder place pressure on the urethra, partially blocking that vessel. Indeed, in severe cases it is blocked entirely, creating an extremely urgent and very time-sensitive need for the insertion of a catheter for relief.
It occurs to me that Ironman might not want to make a hard and fast rule that could imperil the health of such a large cohort of customers, not to mention forcing some into the choice between a DQ and intense inconvenience.
I suspect there are corresponding ailments specific to the female gender, I just am unschooled in these, and have no personal experience upon which to rely.
Ironman has done an excellent job of explaining the rules to its competitors... except what to do if you very badly need to urinate. I'm sympathetic to the argument that roadside urination on the course is an affront to the local community. My thesis: If what the athlete did warrants a DQ, the rules should reflect the ardency of this crime, and the race director needs to make sure there's a reasonable alternative to breaking the rules, such as, a port-a-john available at 30-minute intervals, such accommodation made explicitly clear to the athletes before and during the race.
If this is never destined to be a written, but rather an "I know it when I see it" rule, left up to the discretion of officials, just say so. "He didn't hide well enough." Fine. If the penalty (ahem) flows from a half-assed attempt to be discrete, that I can accept.
So, to Ironman and USAT, a little more (ahem) guidance on this?
The picture above courtesy of Horst Reichel is from a public urination spot on the Canary Islands, and is thus fully proper and legal.