Arizona runners are in turmoil over poop controversy

The mystery is both scatological and consequential, and it is the discourse of the professional running community in Arizona: Did a run...


The mystery is both scatological and consequential, and it is the discourse of the professional running community in Arizona:

Did a runner defecate near a public high school track in Sedona, Arizona and were elite professional runners barred from using the track because of it?

The questions became public on Tuesday when Sam Parsons, a professional racer with the Tinman Elite Group, tweeted “Wait…this story of why pro Flag racers are banned from using the Sedona HS track for training can’t be real.”

It was certainly true that the school had decided to limit the access of strangers to the track. It was less clear that he had done so because a runner had soiled him, but that didn’t matter. The incident was almost instantly dubbed “poopgate” – a hashtag emerged – and several ongoing podcasts discussed it.

Molly Seidel, the Tokyo Olympic marathon bronze medalist who lives near Flagstaff, tweeted about it. So does Rachel Schneider, another Olympian in Flagstaff. Middle-distance runner Nikki Hiltz joking posted a picture wearing a sweatshirt that says “I pooped today”. David Ribich ironically distanced himself from the controversy, clarify that his professional team, the Brooks Beasts, train in Albuquerque, not Flagstaff.

Beyond the jokes, however, there’s a more complicated story, as well as an unlikely truth: America’s professional racing ecosystem relies heavily on a public high school track in a city under 10. 000 inhabitants.

Flagstaff has become a running mecca, rivaling or even surpassing Portland, Oregon, and Boulder, Colorado, over the past decade. It sits approximately 7,000 feet above sea level, the ideal elevation for year-round altitude training, and boasts mild summer temperatures and hundreds of miles of trails.

As the runners settled there, the infrastructures developed. Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff has won five of the last six NCAA men’s cross-country championships, and running shoe maker HOKA sponsors a professional team, the Northern Arizona Elite, based there.

Almost as important as Flagstaff, however, is the Sedona track which helps runners follow the live high, train low credo of endurance athletics.

A tourist destination known for its red sandstone rocks and art galleries, Sedona is about a 45-minute drive from Flagstaff and about 2,500 feet closer to sea level. the Red Rock Jr. Sr. High School track for speed work and high-intensity intervals, a less effective workout at Flagstaff’s higher elevation.

“For runners in general, I agree that this is an essential part of the Flagstaff training experience,” Northern Arizona Elite trainer Ben Rosario wrote of the Sedona track in a E-mail. In the past month alone, he said, he has seen athletes from across the United States, Canada and Europe follow the high-low path from Flagstaff to Sedona.

Even with professional racers flocking to the area, Sedona High School had the same informal rule as public school tracks across the country—anyone could show up and use the track outside of class hours, and sometimes even during school hours. But in response to both a growing litter problem and the coronavirus pandemic, last year the district operations manager instituted a system in which racing groups were asked to book track time . They also had to have insurance and pay a nominal fee.

In some cases, the international racing community was apparently unaware of the local rule. Before the Tokyo Games last summer, the track was practically teeming with Olympic hopefuls who had moved – some from as far away as Japan – to what they saw as the perfect training environment. Professional teams based elsewhere also frequently hold training camps in Flagstaff.

“With the lifting of global Covid restrictions, athletes from around the world traveled to Flagstaff this winter to train and many were going to Sedona to train without going through the proper channels,” Rosario said. “When you do this the facilities are not open, including the bathrooms.”

As for what prompted the school to restrict access to the track, no one wanted to fully describe the wrongdoing. Rosario said the incident happened a few weeks ago, but he wasn’t sure what it was. Stephen Haas, an agent who represents many riders who train at the track, said the rumors were “only partially true”, but would not elaborate further.

But the story is clearly more than a rumor. Jennifer Chilton, the school district’s director of operations, acknowledged in an email that the school had reduced the number of reservations needed to use the track. The reason, she said, was mainly to make it available to students who wanted to use it.

Still, she said, “it is accurate to say, in a limited way, that the behaviors of some runners played a role,” Chilton wrote. She said that although she is not a runner, she learned that runners relieving themselves outdoors were not unusual and that “toilet paper wrapping is common and proven”.

Chilton said his main concern was the welfare of the students and lamented that “the emphasis is on what is sensational”.

The identity of the runner or runners who allegedly committed a sensational act remains a mystery. Runners and racing fans scoured Instagram photos to determine which groups have been training in the area over the past month and pointed to a few out-of-town track clubs, who denied any indiscretion.

In the meantime, only school-affiliated groups are permitted to use the track, although past reservations will be honored. Pro riders have temporarily migrated — they hope — to lower-tiered tracks near Cottonwood or Camp Verde, or they stay in Flagstaff.

Some members of the professional racing community are working on a proposal to restore access to the track which they will present at a school board meeting next week. Rosario said a solution would have to keep students safe, adequately compensate the school and, last but not least, allow “professional track and field athletes to use a facility that happens to be in the perfect location while they are training for the Olympics.



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Newsrust - US Top News: Arizona runners are in turmoil over poop controversy
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