Written by: Account Executive, Mindy Smith
The second installment in our Hot Take series is from Account Executive Mindy Smith. Passionate about running and encouraging others to get outdoors, Mindy knows the time is now for runners and the running industry to clean up their sport! This week she’s taken over our blog to talk about steps that runners can take to be more sustainable in their practice.
My 15 years of running industry experience ranges from racing to leading a running club for female-identifying folks to producing events and working at run retail. Up until the last few years, mentions of Leave No Trace (LNT) and reducing your carbon footprint haven’t really been at the forefront of conversations from both race directors and runners alike. For many, it is hard to think of how running impacts the Earth when they’re just out enjoying the trail or toeing the line at an event. But races can be some of the most wasteful events out there and runners can make an impact on the environment through how they choose to purchase gear to not carpooling to a trailhead.
Today, I’m here to share with you what runners, whether road or trail, can be doing collectively to Leave No Trace and make enjoying their sport a bit more environmentally friendly.
It’s (got to be) more than going cup-free.
Most trail races in the country (if not the world) are cup-less or cup-free. This means the event doesn’t offer disposable cups for participants at aid stations and that, generally, participants must bring their own cup to enjoy refreshing and necessary beverages throughout the race.
As a fan of all of the drinks, I used to be that person at an aid station who would take about seven cups full of whatever the volunteers were offering- water, Gatorade, Fireball, beer, Coke, and Mtn Dew. Yes, aid stations = buffets. But race directors have started to catch on to not only how wasteful those seven cups times 200 people are, but also how expensive it is to continue offering it to participants.
In my 15 years of running races, 10 of those years have been spent running ultramarathons and volunteering at races. I’ve seen the waste, the frustration from runners who don’t have a cup to drink from, and how this cannot be the only practice being done to qualify races as going green.
Is the running industry guilty of greenwashing?
Going cup-free is great, but there has to be more.
Sustainability is catching on with more efforts being made by races like limiting the number of participants to reduce car pollution and lessen the long-term impact of so many people on trails, even giving opt-outs for swag to reduce more waste. The pandemic helped a lot with reducing event sizes but due to transmission concerns, event organizers had to purchase pre-packaged foods and beverages which meant a lot of unnecessary waste. So, it became somewhat counterintuitive.
I think my biggest question is, is this enough?
In my time working with our client Around the Crown 10K presented by Truist, I have been exposed to other ways that running events can truly reduce their impact, and over the past year, I’ve seen bigger conversations from major players in the industry such as Low Impact Alliance, The Running Event, Race Directors HQ, and even large, influential events like Western States Endurance Run. What I’m hearing as solutions to becoming a more environmentally friendly event include:
- Offering incentives for participants and volunteers who carpool to events
- Obtaining certifications for races that are going green
- Aligning with brand sponsors/partners who are equally as committed to going green
- Having tough conversations with conservation experts on the impact of the event(s), gear makers to learn about supplies procurement, and educated stakeholders on social and environmental responsibility of the event organizers, sponsors, and participants
As an individual runner, what difference can I make?
Seeing that event organizers are working together to tackle this issue inspires me and although I have no control over what they are doing at an event level, I know there must be some changes I can make in my personal running journey to lighten my impact in the great outdoors.
As an individual, it does feel like an overwhelmingly large pill to swallow. Many of us feel like our own contributions don’t add up or that we’re already doing what we can and should be to save our Earth such as: composting food scraps, recycling, driving an EV, carpooling, putting trash in the bin at the aid stations, or not producing additional waste by bringing homemade fuel, biking to and from the start line, supporting/purchasing from brands who use recycled materials in their gear, and voting to elect those who care about our planet. But to be frank, the buck doesn’t stop there. We have to inspire others to join us, we need to give back to the organizations who are protecting our places (i.e. find your local trail maintenance club), and we must give money to non-profits who are doing research (even $5 a month, the price of a good cup of coffee, helps).
By making small changes together, we show others how we walk the walk and talk the talk and help to make a big difference!
Every day it’s getting warmer. This week the global temperature was the highest on record and we’re confident that isn’t going to change anytime soon. 10 years ago in Western NC, we would have blustery, snow globe-like winters that were magical and now we rarely see snow in winter. Areas that never have droughts are experiencing severe ones while other areas are having the wettest springs on record. Every. Single. Little. Action. Matters. In conclusion, I want to ask you to join me in doing 7 things that can help take care of our planet:
- Make your sports nutrition at home and use a reusable container to take it in.
- Ask friends to carpool to trailheads and races.
- Spend 5 minutes to seek out your local representatives and asking them to support bills that protect our Earth and fight climate change.
- Ask the race director of an event you are interested in what sustainability measures and certifications they have in place.
- Purchase from brands who are making sustainable efforts, find ones that have a lifetime warranty and promote gear-fixing programs.
- Say no to that race shirt you really don’t need.
- And most importantly Do. Your. Research.
We can and should support each other in combatting climate change and protecting our wild spaces so that we can all continue to enjoy them and pass them down to the future generations. As one of my favorite sayings goes “We only have one Earth, take care of it.”
Did you enjoy this Hot Take? Check out more from our team at The Darby Way.