Disclaimer: the brains behind this post belong to RunSis (my sister), after witnessing a major malfunction caused by a garbage bag at the Indianapolis half marathon this past weekend. I’m simply doing my part to pass along this cautionary tale to prevent similar misfortunes in the future.
Runners get hot when they run. This is pretty much common knowledge. That being the case, a good majority of runners will start a race with more clothes on then when they finish (at least during the cooler months) dropping a shirt, gloves, hat, or garbage bag somewhere along the course.
SIDE NOTE ON THE GARBAGE BAG REFERENCE: You will frequently find runners at the start of a race in less than optimal conditions wearing garbage bags with or without holes for arms depending on their preference and how long exactly they plan on wearing it. This is not because they are particularly fond of plasticlike apparel or that they are anticipating doing some trash pick up mid race. Garbage bags make cheap and efficient wind breakers/rain coats. They’re light, easy to toss off, and you’re generally not as attached to a garbage bag as you are say your long sleeved Applefest 5K t-Shirt from your first race no matter how ugly with it’s caramel colored slice of pie on puke green 100% cotton it might be. (Sorry…I’m still in shock that my sister tossed the shirt from her first race this weekend.)
Now, if you’re newer to running and/or racing. You might not be aware of the slight undressing that goes on in a race. Neither was I. In fact, at first I was a little put off by it. I mean, you’re just randomly leaving clothes by the side of the road and with some races numbering in the thousands of participants, that seemed like a whole lot of unwanted clothes lying around cluttering up the streets and awful lot like littering.
Until a runner friend let me in on a little bit of what I suppose could be considered runner urban legend, something I’m not entirely sure is true because I’ve never seen it officially documented anywhere on race websites (not that I’ve necessarily looked for it), but seems plausible enough in and of itself so that I could believe it to be true (since I don’t usually continue to find clothing strewn about on the street in the days after a race). And the legend is this: the clothing tossed off during a race is gathered up by some kind soul(s), cleaned up and donated to a homeless shelter. Needless to say perhaps, but this kind of changed my perspective on things. It almost became somewhat of a duty to toss something.
And I must admit, one of the coolest things about the Chicago marathon (in a race for me that was full of mostly uncool things), was the start when the gun fired and 40,000+ tossed off a layer. Pretty sweet sight to behold, all those shirts in the air.
But my sister’s experience this weekend was a little different. At the largest half marathon in the country, on a day when temps were mid 40’s and the wind was strong enough to push my 30 lb 1 year old (and a diaper bag of nearly similar weight) in her stroller unaided (really, it did), there was certainly layers to be shed. But it nearly spelled disaster for my sister on mile 1 who was running behind one poor unsuspecting lady when a garbage bag being tossed off by another runner wound precariously around that lady’s feet and sent her tumbling hard to the ground. My sister managed to dodge the tumble and the lady after untangling her feet, picking herself up and dusting herself off seemed to be ok, but can you just imagine what kind of havoc that little act of tossing a garbage bag could have reeked?
Thousands of runners packed in tightly at the start and one runaway garbage bag causes a catastrophic runner pile up. Even as it was wiping out only one lady, imagine for a second if that one lady was you. All the hard work it took to get there and you’re out on mile one injured from your fall, smacking your head on a curb, or stampeded by the crowd. At the very least, you’ve got to take a little blow to your confidence and certainly your finishing time kicking off your race that way.
And what of Mr. Garbage bag tosser? He’s a hit and run without even a glance back to see the severity of the damage caused. Probably does not even know there’s been any. After all, there could have been a PR on the line. COME ON PEOPLE! We’re better than that. We’ve got to look out for our fellow runner and use just a little bit of common sense.
So what I propose is this:
1. If at all possible (though it not always is) toss before the race begins. There’s no danger of tripping a runner who isn’t running.
2. When you need to toss during the race, weave your way to the side and toss out of the running area where your tossed article of clothing will not interfere with the race.
3. In the case of garbage bag tossing, try to bunch that bag up into a little ball and toss low to the side (out of the running area) so that the wind doesn’t scoop it up and send it flying into someone.
4. If you see someone take a fall, for crying out loud, find out if they’re ok. It’ll probably only take a few seconds, “hey are you ok?” And I know it’s hard to believe but your PR will wait for another day. Someone who’s seriously injured might not be able to.
There’s enough hazards out there for runners, let’s not let each other be another one. Otherwise, you never know when that next stray garbage bag might find your feet. Think before you throw.
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