Spring is that mythical creature that runners look forward to all winter, waiting for the day when we can leave the full tights, two pairs of socks, thick hat, and multiple shirts at home. I look forward to those first few weeks of spring, when I’m no longer alone on the trail, when I can exchange smiles or high-fives with other runners who have come out of the woodwork. Monday’s Boston Marathon officially opened the spring marathon season, making this a perfect time to reflect on running culture as a whole and to consider doing some “spring cleaning” of our running habits.
Over the past few years, as running has experienced a resurgence in popularity, several articles have been published on the concerns over impact of races on indigenous wildlife populations and the waste generated by running events. These concerns raise the question as to whether or not runners have an ethical obligation to protect the planet from potential harm and to preserve the planet for future generations of runners? There is no codified code of conduct for the running community and part of what makes the running community so interesting is the diversity of people with different habits and different reasons for running. While we all run our own races (if you race), we come together as a community for events. Therefore, addressing these concerns as both individuals and as a community are two separate, but important methods of addressing our potential obligations.
So what are our options for addressing these questions? The first thing we can do is take an inventory of our own running habits and find places where we can make changes. Taking ownership of your ecological footprint starting with your daily/weekly/wheneverly runs may be your best first step. Following the old adage of “pack in/pack out,” choosing reusable containers for drinks and gels/food/supplements, and not blazing your own trails through protected habitats are just a few places to start. Think about where you gear is coming from or whether or not the companies/brands you purchase from are following sustainable practices. In combination with that consider recycling your old shoes and gear and buying local as well.
Conscious choices about which races to participate in are also important. For example, if you are interested in a destination race, is the carbon footprint of your flight or drive to a destination race worth the experience? Does the race offer a way to offset your carbon footprint? Does the race you are signing up for have a commitment to minimizing impacts or trash? The Road Runners Club of America mentions environmental concerns (within certain bounds) in their Race Director Code of Ethics, which states “Race Directors should make a commitment to environmental compliance as outlined in event permits. Race Directors should make reasonable efforts to conduct events in a manner that conserves natural resources within the budget of the event.” While this is a step in the right direction, it does not outright indicate a code of conduct towards what they call “environmental compliance” and has room for improvement as the running community demonstrates more desire for races that minimize environmental impacts.
One potentially large change for events based in national parks comes in the form of the National Park Service’s unpopular decision to not issue a special use permit to this year’s Badwater Ultra in Death Valley, with NPS citing the need to do a safety assessment for events such as these, there is an upside to this move. In the note from the park superintendent, proposed events looking for special use permits must ensure events don’t cause “unacceptable impacts to park resources and values.” The report from this safety assessment “…will include safety mitigations, specific park approval criteria and condition recommendations for sporting events within Death Valley National Park.” It is this author’s hope that this process will address race impacts to park resources and values as part of the “specific park approval criteria” and provide a template for minimizing impacts for races nation-wide. By selecting certain races and asking questions when choosing races, individual concerns may be able to effect the community as a whole.
Building environmentally-friendly individual habits and bringing them to your community may help us answer our obligations toward the environment and future generations. These are just some suggestions for trying to minimize environmental impact so that future generations of runners can also enjoy both the camaraderie of the community and the places we all enjoy running currently. If you have any other suggestions, feel free to mention them in the comments!