Rambling Roads: Road Directions?

By George A. Hancock

June is the halfway point in our ongoing year. Each new day moves 2021 steadily along. Some folks fret that time either moves too fast or too slow. Yet, time is a constant force. Time moves along like a seasoned veteran road runner. Some even state they can set their watches by time’s steady tick.

This month we examine a unique growing trend. The road and trail running sport tries to maintain a positive green image. I’m sure you’ve viewed those photos of water stops in large races. Runners are moving through a sea of water cups. The area is littered with numerous cups. It takes a small army of volunteers to clean up those areas. Most races do an excellent job with these clean-up chores.

Of course, the issue remains what happens to all those collected cups? If recyclable, they are destined for the recycling centers. If not, they become trash and head to the local landfills.

A concern now centers on race markings. Many races use human volunteers to point race participants in the right direction. This is the most perfect solution to race-marking issues. However, volunteers are not always readily available. So, the race course needs to be marked in some manner or fashion.

Flour or chalk was often used in the past. However, these two items do disappear during any rain event. Flour is expensive, used along any major race course. And, do you really want to waste a food item for a race event?

Spray paint these days is no doubt the most common race-marking choice. White, fluorescent yellow, and orange paint are frequently used to mark race directions. These paints are used both on the road and on our trails.

Permanent signage is another possibility. This choice requires the approval of the municipalities or the state if the race travels along state roads. The former Greater Johnstown Marathon attempted to place permanent mile marker signs along the course. An issue here was that the marathon traveled through three different counties and numerous municipalities. Permanent sign approval never happened.

One Greater Johnstown road race did gain approval for permanent signage. The August Spirit of Johnstown 10 Mile road race was granted permission to place signs at each mile. A local company provided the signs and poles. This race was held from 1984 through the early ’90s.

A few of these signs still remain in place. The new running generation frequently asks, what was that race? Of course, these youngsters were not born yet or were toddlers in those days.

So, it seems many race committees resort to spray paint of various hues to mark their course. This usage has generated interesting debate among the younger running generation. Many are opposed to permanently marking local roads or trails pointing to the possible bad environmental side effects. This point is a legitimate concern.

Back in the “Day” there were fewer road races, so volunteer help was not an issue. Many volunteers or even groups helped with traffic control and course monitoring.  There was enough help to keep the race field moving in the proper direction. These days, the proliferation of races as charitable fundraisers created a dearth of race-day volunteer help. So, other means are utilized to mark race courses, like spray paint.

The jury is still out deciding whether that road paint is an environmental issue. These markings are messy and unsightly for sure. Plus, the paint markings tend to linger sometimes into the next year.

I’ll toss this thought into this situation. I’m a Cambria County resident living near Johnstown, Pennsylvania. We have numerous highway and bridge rehabilitation projects underway this year. Many of my running routes are marked for these various projects. There are more of these spray-painted construction notes than race day directional markings.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission created the PA One Call system. This system mandates that before you dig for any project a number must be called for evaluation. The local water, sewer, gas, cable, and electric utilities are contacted. These agencies check the area for any possible issues. If not, the area is marked “Clear” in the spray paint color of that utility.   

For example, in 2017 we constructed a large carport at the end of our property. My son, Cory, contacted PA One Call for clearance. One by one the utilities came and checked our project area. Each marked their approval in spray paint. Those marking were visible for months.

The markings created no damage. And, some neighbors learned there is a large water line in the middle of our paved alley. 

This is an interesting discussion in our running community. The vast majority of race committees are responsible. The proper safeguards are taken to insure the safety of participants and volunteers. We will continue to monitor the discussion. Meanwhile, run well, run smart!

Jackson River Scenic Trail Marathon – beautiful, permanent markers for the entire marathon, half marathon, 10K and 5K courses.

Categories: Features

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1 reply

  1. Racing isn’t as “green” as people would think.
    I don’t think most sports are.
    They all use water bottles and plastic equipment.
    People burn gasoline to get to sporting events and create a ton of non-recyclable trash.
    I’m not sure that the solution is.

    Another issue I’ve been hearing about are the micro fibers that come off of our running clothes in the wash. The clothes are all synthetic (plastic) material and those micro fibers cannot be strained out by most municipal waste water plants. So they end up being pumped into the ocean or a river.
    Any fibers that are collected end up going into the compost that these plants produce.


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