Bathroom breaks anger homeowners along Grandma's racecourse

The Igo family knows what's about to happen when a runner darts up their driveway just before the Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon each June: an unauthorized bathroom break in the woods next to their home on North Shore Drive.

The Igo family knows what's about to happen when a runner darts up their driveway just before the Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon each June: an unauthorized bathroom break in the woods next to their home on North Shore Drive.

The family lives at the start of the half-marathon, and they have grown weary of the music and crowds that build during the early morning hours, of the litter the crowds leave behind and of runners relieving themselves near the family's driveway. While many Duluthians celebrate and welcome the marathoners who sweep into town each June, some who live along the race course dread the event.

Despite the rows of portable restrooms set up near the starting line, "the runners are everywhere, peeing right before the race," said Renee Igo. "It's really a disgusting, disrespectful experience. In any other context, it would not be OK."

Race organizers say it's not OK with them, either, but other than asking runners to please respect private and public property, there's not a lot they can do about it.

"We don't condone any type of urinating in public, or specifically, using private or public property," said Grandma's public relations director Bob Gustafson. Race officials make a point of passing that along to runners, in the official race packet, announcements before the race and through direct e-mails, Gustafson said.


But he knows it's going to happen anyway.

"I wish we could stop it 100 percent. We wish it didn't happen," Gustafson said. "It's a personal choice for the runners."

Race organizers sent an e-mail to runners this year that read in part: "Grandma's Marathon and supporting events would not be possible without the tremendous support given by the Twin Ports community. PLEASE show your appreciation on race day by respecting the property of the residents living at the starting lines and along the race course. USE THE PORTABLE TOILETS, not the woods and yards! Relieving yourself anywhere other than the portable toilets may result in your disqualification from the race."

The use of "may" will allow anyone accused or caught in the act to submit an appeal to race organizers, Gustafson said.

Whether people see it as a nuisance or just something quirky that happens on marathon day, public urination is something big marathon organizers have to think about. But, Gustafson said, it might not be on runners' minds -- they are focused on the race ahead, and want to take care of business as quickly as possible.

The Igo property must look mighty tempting to nervous, well-hydrated runners. Their long driveway sits on the edge of a wooded lot that's dense with trees and brush, and a blocky sewer pumping station offers a bit of a screen. In 2007, Renee Igo took pictures of runners who were squatting behind the pumping station -- they had to scramble over a length of orange fencing to get there -- or running up the family's shared driveway to make a pit stop in the woods.

Last year, they put up a bit of a snow fence near the start of the half-marathon, Igo said, but there was no consequence for people who jumped over or around the fence to urinate on private property. "It's like the marathon is outside of the law," she said.

Gustafson said the Igos' letter was the first official complaint they had heard about the less-than-private bathroom breaks taken before the half-marathon begins.


"We have tried to add portable restrooms at the start of the races to help eliminate the problem," Gustafson said. This year, there will be 205 portable restrooms at the start of the full marathon, and 115 at the start of the half, as well as 60 along the course. There are lines for the restrooms, Gustafson acknowledged, though he wondered if solving the public urination issue was as simple as adding more restrooms.

Gustafson said race organizers urge runners to get to the starting line as early as possible so they have enough time to wait for an open restroom, if necessary.

But with more than 9,000 runners gathered for the full marathon and about 6,000 assembled for the half, plus assorted spectators and race volunteers, "how many more could we add?" Gustafson said. "To a certain degree, it comes with the territory. It is something that's going to happen if you go to any race."

"Ultimately, you're relying on [runners] to do the right thing," said Virginia Brophy Achman, executive director of Twin Cities Marathon Inc. "It's been an issue for us for some years, and some years it's not."

About 17,000 runners will trot through Twin Cities neighborhoods in October, and Brophy Achman is hoping that all of those runners will use portable restrooms rather than an alley when the need arises, especially during the first few miles when some runners are feeling nervous and overly hydrated.

Planning for enough toilets to handle the Chicago Marathon's 32,000 or so runners is a logistical challenge, said public relations representative Marianne Caponi.

The race begins and ends at the city's Grant Park, home to several of the city's museums and Buckingham Fountain. An estimated 200,000 runners and spectators will swarm through the park on race day, and there will be a phalanx of hundreds of portable restrooms waiting.

There's also this stern message included in the Chicago Marathon packet: "All participants are expected to conduct themselves in a professional and courteous manner during their participation in the event. This means, for example, that urinating or defecating anywhere on or near the course shall be strictly prohibited except in toilet facilities. Anyone violating this rule of conduct shall be disqualified from the event and will be asked to leave the course."


"It's not easy to pull off a marathon," Caponi said. "Our plea is to ask them to respect the city, and respect the fact that they are on public property."

JANNA GOERDT covers the communities surrounding Duluth. She can be reached weekdays at (218) 279-5527 or by e-mail at .

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