I am The Runner and I throw my Dixie Cup in the Trashcan during a race.
Long distance races are populated by glistening runners, clapping feet, and intense, nail-sharp, tortured faces. Up ahead, a patch of brightly shirted volunteers hold their right arms out, clutching Dixie Cups filled with water for the runners.
The runners grab the cups and splash water on their faces and in their mouths like some kind of a benediction.
Some runners then drop the cup like it bit them. Some discard the cup on the ground like it just cheated on them, and they are appalled that it was ever in their hand in the first place. Some drop the cup politely at their feet, feel guilty about it, and say “thank you” to the brightly shirted volunteer.
Some throw it in the trashcan. It’s a decision.
I was previously dogmatic about what to do with the cup. My stance has historically been: unless you’re winning the race, you have no excuse to toss your cup on the ground.
Upon further consideration, however, I have become more sympathetic to the cup thrower, and in fact have learned to empathize with them.
Here is why:
Running Distance Races is Difficult On Many Levels:
There is a physical, emotional, spiritual and chafing pain that comes along with running a race. During a race, the runner is engaged in an intense competition against his own expectations. In addition, the runner has an entitled feeling that says, “I paid for this race, and until that brightly shirted volunteer comes over here and runs 20 miles like I just did, I will throw this cup, and ANY cup anywhere I please. Damnit.” The runner’s emotions are a nebulous chaos ranging between effervescent, crabby and fearful.
With these feelings, it’s difficult for the runner to think about anything other than the race, let alone where to throw a wax cup.
Dropping the Cup is Exhilarating:
We’ve all seen the scene in movies, where a movie star runner grabs the water cup from the doting young, brightly shirted volunteer boy working the water station. An unspoken (often slow motion) life changing moment passes between the runner and the brightly shirted volunteer boy. This moment is accompanied by a tastefully, appropriate, yet over-the-top ballad..
Because of this unspoken moment, the brightly shirted volunteer boy will surely become a lawyer or an artist.
(A little back story here: the movie star runner just lost his best friend in a tragic accidental helicopter-skiing accident, and although the movie star runner couldn’t have saved him, he blames himself and has since been drinking and running a lot…an obvious attempt to drive out and escape from the pain in his movie-star-runner heart)
The movie star runner then haphazardly tosses the cup on the ground, as a metaphor for his own crumbling life, yet he throws it vigorously and victoriously as a metaphor for his future.
The cup splashes and rolls on the ground at the foot of the awe-stricken brightly shirted volunteer boy, who then picks the cup off the ground and snuggles it to his heart.
The movie then cuts to two years later, after the runner has adopted the brightly shirted volunteer boy, and fathers him toward becoming a lawyer or an artist. The world’s youngest boy lawyer. Or artist.
How could we not want to reenact that movie?
Dropping The Cup is Rebellious:
In our everyday lives, littering is illegal. With these legal restrictions binding us, it’s understandable that, given the permission, we feel a rebellious satisfaction in throwing garbage around the streets.
Dropping The Cup Fulfills Our Emotional/Physical Connection:
There’s a visceral connection between throwing things and our emotions. How many times have I been angry and wanted to throw something down on the ground? Or, in a moment of complete joy, up in the air?
Before you stop reading and go running around throwing cups on the ground, keep a couple things into consideration. Putting the cup in the can is a perfectly legitimate way of taking a brief break on the course. If you’re drinking water, you can write off any snotty looks from fellow runners who think it’s lame to stop during a race. Dehydration, and in this case civic-mindedness, are justifiable reasons to stop running for a moment
There are two arguments that I could pose in favor of throwing the cup in the trash can:
We Need Order In Our Society:
In order to maintain an etiquette-driven, civilized, society, you should just throw your cup away.
Some Cups Get Left Behind:
Others will say that, after the marathon/carnival moves out of town, we who live in the city that marathon/ carnival just left behind, are stuck with your cups in our trees and in our parks for days and weeks to come. And all because you want to litter.
And that’s why I aim in favor of the trashcan now. It’s a type of karma, I believe.
Throwing the cup on the ground is part of the experience of the race. Like hanging on the rim after a slam-dunk. Or spiking the ball and dancing after scoring a touchdown. It’s a tradition. But, all I ask is that you make your best decision.