How Runners Can Leave Less of a Footprint

I just realized that by the time summer officially starts I will be nearly done with my 10K training. My last day of week 7 is Saturday, when I’ll do a 55 minute run. The following week will end with a 60-minute run, and then the 9th week is a recovery week. With just about two weeks left in the program I’m excited to be done with it, but will continue to train on to the next thing. I’ve registered for the Great Climate Race (10K) in November, but have not found another. I think if the Father’s Day race here next weekend is not on too hot a day, I might tempt to do 10K then but might also just do the 5K and see if I can beat my previous (albeit slow) record.

In this blog I’ve written a lot about how the climate, pollution, and other issues affect runners. What about how we affect the environment? Runner’s World is a great source for these kinds of questions. They did a study about the impact runners have. They point out that running does sound green, but that depends on you, the runner!

Here is a list of ways we can reduce our footprint as runners:

  • When buying gear, clothing, shoes, etc., be mindful of where it’s made. Be certain to take into consideration the company’s social and environmental ethics. You can always search online for where to buy this kind of gear in your own city, but a starting guide is here. Another article by the Guardian shows why running shoes can have a big environmental footprint.
  • Buy good shoes that will keep your feet healthy, rather than buying cheap shoes that will be replaced sooner than later. This goes for any gear and gadgetry; buy something that will last rather buying cheap, which is wasteful and can be unhealthy–for your feet, for instance.
  • Make sure you know what type of gear to wear according to weather, gender, distance of run, and so on. Click this Runner’s World tool to figure it out. For instance, when it’s really hot, maybe nylon would be better than another material such as cotton. Doing this just helps reduce waste because you’ll buy the right running clothes.
  • Reduce the amount of clothes you buy overall. For instance, I have one pair of running shorts. That’s right! I only run three times a week though. And two pairs of longer pants lasted all fall and winter.
  • When washing and drying, take advantage of small load washing (can even hand-wash), and hang clothes to dry on warm, dry days rather than drying them in a machine.
  • This is a no-brainer, but when carrying water, use and reuse your own container rather than buying water in a bottle. If you are worried about the safety of plastics, see this article at Baby Greenthumb.
  • Be mindful of how much gadgetry you think you need. Buying the newest greatest phone or music player every few months is not really necessary.
  • When running marathons, take note that the New York Times has an article about the greenest races out there. I get discouraged, for instance, seeing the number of paper cups thrown to the sidelines at the Vancouver Sun Run. Sure, there are city officials or volunteers who will come and clean those up, but hundreds of thousands of cups and plastic bottles just for one race is a huge sink of resources.
  • When getting to a race, think about biking or taking public transit to it rather than driving or flying. Or just don’t go to races far away!
  • Runners need electrolytes, but instead of buying plastic bottles of Gatorade, try the droplets you can add to your own water, such as those by Mio Sport.
  • Learn about the wildlife in your area, and respect it. Runner’s World has a good article about running and dangerous animals, which shows you what you can do if you run across a black bear or a snake (or 12 other animals!).
  • Respect park signs and stay on-trail rather than going off-trail, which reduces running into those animals. Running off-trail also makes unwanted foot paths and can destroy natural vegetation in the area.
  • Long-distance runners have extra things to worry about, such as carrying extra food, water, gear, and so on. There are many recommendations, but following the guidelines above should help. For instance, if you need some carb intake while running, take something you make at home and wrap it yourself rather than taking disposable gels and quickie foods that are individually packaged in plastic.
  • Don’t litter. However, it is often customary at races to actually throw old clothes (such as jackets) along the wayside, which are then collected and donated to charity.
  • Treadmills aren’t necessary for running. Most runners run outside year-round. If you get icy or otherwise dangerous weather, you still don’t need to buy that extra equipment. Just find a nearby gym or school that has treadmills already.