Monday, March 17, 2008

St. Partricks' Day? The GREENING of the Running Industry : TrailRace Denial, & How Green is the New York Road Runners?

Linda Honikman, Running USA has written a briefing so to speak on the "Greening of the Running Industry" - I will share - and comment; "The Running Industry is beginning to respond to this new eco-sensitive community by developing green products and events. In the short term, green efforts offer promotional benefits and over a number of years, events, vendors and manufacturers are seeing significant energy and cost savings associated with sustainable practices. But in the long run industry entities hope their collective efforts will result in clean air and attractive natural areas to fully support the low energy, health-improving activity of running, the most natural of sports. Greener Events Becoming More Popular: Bolder Boulder Race was one of the first major road races to implement resource conservation efforts although race director Cliff Bosley acknowledges that initial efforts in the mid-90s were informal and modest. In 1999, Bolder Boulder began tracking the amount of waste that was collected along the course and at the finish area. Every year as the field and spectator numbers have increased, the amount of non-recyclable garbage has decreased. With the help of the University of Colorado Recycling Program, an environmental impact report is produced after each race and recommendations are made for ways to improve. Fifteen years ago the local bus service began offering a park-and-ride service which about 27% of the Bolder Boulder entrants used in 2007. In 2003, race organizers began using a usable lunch bag for post-race refreshments and items are selected that have minimal packaging. Over the last five years, the entry form has been reduced from 8 to 4 pages and the online registrations have increased from 15% to 50%. All unused food and drinks, averaging about 10,000 lbs. per year, are donated to the Boulder Community Food Share. At last year's event, 15,906 lbs. of race day garbage were recycled, a 41% increase from 2006. The result of their conservation efforts saved the equivalent of:

* 37 forty foot Douglas-fir trees
* 41,300 gallons of water
* 332 million BTU energy
* 7 Metric Tons of Carbon Emission (MTCE)
* 3,000 gallons of gasoline

Bosley believes that a mindset of minimizing waste and saving resources not only is the right thing to do for the environment, but can help an event's bottom line. Trail runners didn't need Al Gore to bring home the importance of minimizing our ecological footprint so the first 'Green Running Event' was probably a trail run. Nancy Hobbs, executive director of the American Trail Running Association, (AATRA) says the organization is very supportive of the green event concept. "We hope that race directors stage their races with the environment in mind. Of utmost importance is to use eco-friendly course markings such as flour, and at the very least to remove any and all markings once the event is completed. We like to encourage runners to carry their own water and / or fill up their bottles at aid stations rather than using paper cups. These are just a few ways to mitigate the impact to our natural resources." One candidate for the first authentic green race is the Keweenaw Trail Running Festival which began in 2000. The director, Jeff Crumbaugh has been improving his pro-environment efforts every year. In 2006, there were no garbage bags to take to the landfill after a 2-day event that included a meal for 300 runners. Finishers are served a breakfast featuring organic, locally grown foods that minimize use of fossil fuels required for transportation. Real dinnerware replaces Styrofoam cups and paper plates. Bringing in real dinnerware and refilling participant water bottles is not going to work very well for the typical road race. But running events of any type and size can get cost effective promotions by taking some modest eco-friendly steps. [END]. FYI to my readers - there's a new site Runner's World new pro-environment web community where running/races and ecology is the focus!

First of all "Trail Races" are highly suspect events and the author failed to address the real issue behind them which is basically, "capacity" per condition which changes DAILY. Normally Race Directors seek to pack as many entry fee paying heads into an event as possible to maximize the revenue. However most trail races have a capacity, a limit, I've seen them as large as 1000, as small as 75 (runners allowed). Not all have this self governing and it's all pretty much self-policed (which never works). But Trail Racing has a serious impact on the the environment - 500 runners = 1000 feet trampling a trail in an hour for example (or if it's 2 loops of the same course, double the trampling). The dirty secret? If it rained before the event the environment is even more fragile and prone to erosion (from the weather condition alone!) - now add to the equation 1000 feet to inflict more damage to the trail and the environment has little to no chance of having a fair voice to counter in real time. There are not enough environmental authorities out there to inspect & evaluate conditions, as they change, as the race hour looms. Yes, there have been trail races that have been canceled due to authorities determining the event will have a permanent deleterious effect on the trail (due to the rain that softened up the trail and primed the course for erosion). However canceling these events is rare, it's only happened 2 or 3 times in the U.S. to my knowledge. So Trail Race Directors like to bring your focus on litter - when the real question is one of trail erosion and how weather before the event compounds the damage of runners on the trail. This changes daily right up to the moment of the start of the race. A Saturday trail race might be permitted to have 300 runners, capped to limit environmental damage - did not factor in weather - an ever changing variable. In the real world if it rains that week or night before or day of, etc. the trail is primed for erosion and it might only take 100 runners to have the impact of 300,.....300 runners might now have the impact of 900. The Trail Race business does not want to concede or come to terms with this reality - they don't even want it probed - they want unrestricted use per their allowed capacity limit regardless of weather the day of, night or week before.

Now on to the NYRR: Okay - they've cut a deal with Toyota and now the official car of the NYC Half and Full Marathon are these "Hybrid" vehicles. Okay - that works - but what else are the NYRRs doing to become green? And like the Boulder Bolder Race - it seems to me the NYRR should document similar figures, no? Seriously, after every event right along with race results, statistics, photos, etc. the NYRR can include the "ecology or green" report of that race? Why not? Document the .lbs of garbage, how much of that is of paper cups that will be recycled, etc. and place it in a context of savings as the Boulder Bolder Race has done. Should NYRR Central Park races be capped at 5,000? (exceptions only for the Half and Full Marathon?). Is Central Park limitless? Just tossing out these questions. I'll believe the NYRR is serious about "Greening" and "Ecology" when they offer on the entry forms the standard Option to "Opt In" or "Opt Out" the Shirt for the race - as many races do (and lower your entry fee by $5 or whatever in the process). Do you hear that Mary Wittenberg (President). Just think, 1,000 people might "Opt Out" causing less manufacturing, chemicals, energy to ship those shirts, etc. - everything has a footprint, right? Will Mary progress to this standard common with many Race Events? (and kiss goodbye $5,000 cash per race in the process.....I'm not holding my breath......and I say that feeling that she is a great great Race Director - the best in the world). Have a great day!


Maurice said...

I find your comments about the damage to the environment done by trail races hilarious. No amount of damage done during a trail race could begin to equal that done by paving the roads used for road races. And that doesn't include the damage done by the cars that use them. I've done both trail and road races and it's a fact that trail runners are more concerned about their effect on the environment than road runners.

Lance said...

Hey Maurice - thanks for commenting however I must correct you, roads are not paved for road running. I will agree Trail Runners as a group are far more Eco-minded than road runners.

However you did not speak to the point that most of the trail running world is in denial of: Impact on the environment of an event is relative to conditions of the trail (weather being the key variable to appreciate).

Most Trail RD's, as you have, speak to matters away from this - and want you to believe capacity limits have weather built in the figure, they don't. I can't recall at the moment but I know of one race in Arizona where an Parks Environment Official stepped in and refused to allow the race to be held 24 hours before the event. The RD scrambled, re-routed the course, circumventing a fragile area due to rains - the event went on with the approval of the Parks Officials.

Please be aware hikers and walkers complain about Equestrian Use and damage on trails, Everybody complains about Roadbikes and Trailrunners, Roadbikers, Horse riders, etc. all swear they're they actually enhance and help the trails. Everyone points fingers at everyone else.

Water runoff, erosion, it's real - and running events in many trails leave a footprint - that's why they're limited to sometimes as few as 75 (the smallest I've seen). I was supposed to run the Escarpment Trail race on year:
here in Upstate NY, capacity limit 200 (I have not run that event).

My point is their should be guidelines, a sliding scale for example that if a trail is exposed to X amount of rain measured in inches X hours before a race, it has to be canceled, or the field must be reduced by 50%, I don't know the figures or answers - but some sliding scale that factors the conditions of the trail that day due to the conditions 24, 48, 72 etc. hours before hand.

Just an idea who I feel time has come. The problem with all this is it does not work well with running a business - planning, selling, marketing, guaranteeing, etc. Environmentalist, Meteorologist, Ecologist, Geologist really need to be part of this decision making, not Race Directors.

Sounds expensive and too involved? Well we have to decide if the environment is worth it. I'd be happy with grad students at local universities for example (Geologist, Meteorologist, etc. and so forth) taking the lead and surveying these events - State/Federal incentives - perks etc. to them for doing so for the benefit of all users (hikers, horses, trailrunners, etc.)

Maybe I'll email my pal the Governor and suggest that for New York!

mrbimble said...

Lance, your suggestion that trail races should take into account their environment impact is fair but I don't fully agree with your argument. OK so those that don't want to see trail running in their area will claim damage to the land, while those that do will offer a different perspective such as limiting numbers. In reality though, the main argument about race field size is often one of safety and logistics rather than environmental impact. The Escarpment couldn’t handle more runners than it already does because the trail isn’t wide enough and all the aid provided during the race has to be packed into the woods by volunteer. Many ultra races place a pre-race requirement for voluntary trail maintenance work to be performed by entrants to encourage those that use trails who help with their care and maintenance. Erosion from weather is going to happen regardless, while the rate that damage occurs will be impacted by use, creating a better awareness and promoting involvement in the care and up keep of open spaces is preferable to wrapping these areas in ‘cotton wool’. If too many restrictions are imposed the majority of people will lose interest and that will be worse. It is too easy for decisions to be made, particularly from a building development context, simply because of apathy. It is better to foster a broader empathy with open spaces especially if they are to be protected with adequate funding. Having been a keen trail runner for many years (and more recently a race director), I am a little concerned at the increase commercial interest that is creeping into trail racing. Historically participation in the sport has been more locally based with an atmosphere that tends to be a bit more personal than many road races. In making that comment, please don’t think I’m anti-road, because I’m certainly not. If future trail races are promoted primarily with commercial interests at heart, that might be a problem as too much of the resources generated by these events is unlikely to go back into the environment in which their held. Alternatively, if some of that cash is directed back into maintenance projects it will be a good thing.

Richard said...

Informative and thought-provoking as usual, Lance!

All human activity has an impact on the environment and it's good to see race organizers trying to do their part.

Hopefully trail stewards charged with maintaining and managing trails are advising race organizers on the adequacy of their trails to support various types and volumes of traffic. Obviously no one in the running community wants to damage the environment but we rely on those educated in the ways of trail management to guide us on where and when we can run in a sustainable manner. There will always be tension between the public's desire to experience nature (on foot, bike, horse or even car) and the collective interest in allowing it to occur responsibly.

Some goofy suggestions to reduce runners' impact on the environment:

Run barefoot. The production, transportation and disposal of those shoes you wear probably account for a bulk of the impact you have on the environment. Of course, this would be a lot easier if we first got rid of roads...

Lose some weight. Not only will your shoes last longer, you'll compact those trails less with your footfalls and produce fewer greenhouse gases in your effort to get around the course.

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