A race director working at the Calgary Marathon in September describes runners tossing their masks at the finish line like “graduation day, with people flinging them off as quick as they could after crossing the line.” Masks, not valedictory caps, dotted the skyline and then, after the runners received their medals, they walked away, leaving organizers, and volunteers, to take rakes to the course and sweep up the discarded masks like so many leaves on an Albertan driveway. The takeaway? Gross.
“Don’t be a slob,” says David Papineau, 53, a Vancouver-based runner with a 2:44 marathon time and 31,000 masks picked up on the Vancouver streets. “Runners are used to grabbing a cup during a race and throwing it on the ground—that’s the culture we’re used to—but masks aren’t the same thing. I just feel like: Don’t throw the damn thing on the ground.”
We feel the same way. Let’s say there’s 15,000 runners this spring at the Vancouver Marathon. And let’s say 50% of participants feel inclined to wear masks at the start line and in their corral. Say 30% of these runners toss their masks on the course like so much rice at a wedding. That’s over 2,000 dirty, sweaty discarded masks for someone else to have to inhale. “When I ran the Calgary Marathon last September, the majority of runners just threw their mask on the ground after starting,” says Leanne Loney, who was there competing at the marathon. “I put my mask on my elbow and ran that way. I got a new one when I crossed the finish line and disposed of my pre-race mask in the trash.”
This is what we’re advising all race participants to do. David Papineau has a cloth mask, and he wears it at the start line and then, when he gets going, he gingerly places it in a ziplock bag and stores his mask in his shorts. He puts it back on after crossing the finish line. A race director captured the unfathomable thinking of runners who take a different approach with materials they want to discard.
“I am surprised that runners feel that on race day you can pretty much treat the city like a giant garbage bin and toss anything you want on the ground and expect a volunteer to pick it up,” the race director said. “How many runners or anyone for that matter do this on a walk, run or hike? Why do the rules change on race day?”
The return of in-person racing is a wonderful thing and equally triumphant, as we head into warmer weather and spring, is the decline in COVID cases and the general reemergence of humans, and runners, from their quarantine and into the world. But with our re-joining society, there’s a social contract that must be abided by, for the general well-being of those in the community we love.
David Papineau has picked up more than 31,000 masks. “I have the desire to make the world a better place,” he says, “I think that’s ingrained in me as a runner.”
Don’t make David, or anyone, pick up your mask. It’s disgusting.