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Residents keep vigil against runners who just have to go

Tomorrow may be a day off for Diane Facendola, but she's not looking forward to it.

Facendola, a longtime Hopkinton resident, lives about a half-mile from the start of tomorrow's Boston Marathon. This year, she's staying home to protect her yard from runners who, she and other residents say, forget all decency when they show up for the annual 26-mile trek.

Expect to see a band of yellow "caution" tape across Facendola's front yard -- her way of putting runners on notice that the bushes they used to urinate behind last year are now off limits.

She's not alone -- several of her neighbors, all longtime residents of Hayden Rowe Street, where many runners line up to start the race, plan to stay home and stand guard.

Scott Alexander enjoys the annual Patriots Day spectacle with friends, but keeps a vigil in his driveway to deter runners from using his manicured yard as a pit stop.

"On any other day of the year, they'd be arrested and put on the state sex offender list for public lewdness," said Alexander, a Hayden Rowe Street resident for 20 years.

Alexander said he has even considered filming the scene for an installment for "America's Funniest Home Videos" -- runners trampling over a neighbor's fence or through piles of brush in order to use a woodsy lot nearby as a large public urinal.

The complaints from residents about the longstanding tradition of runners urinating in public have turned the focus of prerace preparations from organizing thousands of runners to appeasing hundreds of homeowners.

"This has been the number one issue for the Marathon Committee this year," said committee chairwoman Dorothy Ferriter. "We tried to think of every avenue for improvements. We want to make sure it doesn't become a headline again this year."

So what led to this era of public indiscretion that residents treat with equal parts humor and horror?

Some fault the 100th anniversary of the race, eight years ago, when runners conveniently forgot that public urination is illegal. About 40,000 competitors converged on the area that year, a number impossible to contain with just a few hundred portable toilets.

Facendola pins the blame on actor Paul Newman.

Newman visited in the late 1970s for the filming of "See How She Runs," a movie starring his wife, Joanne Woodward. Fans and would-be runners flocked to Hopkinton, "discovering" the Marathon for the first time, some residents say.

"When we were kids, the race was a small, hometown thing," Facendola said. "Then Paul Newman came to town, and it all changed."

In recent years, many Hopkinton residents reported, they had heard that runners could be disqualified for public urination. Race director Dave McGillivray said there is no truth to that rumor, but resident Dave Lowell has successfully used the threat of consequences to his advantage.

Lowell, who lives on a side street that becomes home to a large bank of blue plastic portable toilets, last year deterred impatient and over-hydrated runners by putting a video camera in the window with a sign that read: "No peeing on the flowers. Video surveillance in use."

When they watched the video, he said, they saw no evidence of runners having used his yard.

It's not as though the Boston Athletic Association isn't trying to address the problem: McGillivray outlined several major changes in the way Hopkinton will serve as the staging ground for one of the country's most famous marathons.

One is that the BAA is adding about 25 more portable toilets to the 450 here last year. In all, Hopkinton commands more than half of all portable toilets distributed along the route.

Also, according to McGillivray, the BAA is sending runners to the starting line in smaller increments, having a sanitary clean-up crew to respond to residents' soiled yards, and, for the first time, deploying 30 volunteers along Grove and Hayden Rowe streets to direct runners to the proper facilities.

Ferriter, who complimented the BAA for distributing information on the changes -- and the new expectations -- to registered runners, said they will also be asking for runners' cooperation.

Yet while McGillivray and Ferriter say they are doing everything they can, there will always be runners like Andrew Young, who is coming to Hopkinton from Brooklyn to participate in his 10th Boston Marathon in a row.

"I feel bad for the people who have houses around here. I understand their frustration," he said.

At the same time, Young said, his body is attuned to a specific prerace schedule that includes at least four trips to the bathroom in the last hour or more before the race.

"There is nothing worse," he said, "than having to stand in line for a potty when the marathon is going to start."

Besides, Young said, it can be much worse at the New York Marathon, where he has seen fist-fights break out between runners when they accidentally urinate on one another before the start.

Alison O'Leary Murray can be reached at

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