Racing Towards Sustainability

Please pardon me as I begin this article with a little light bragging. I promise it’s important to my overall point.

Last weekend, my husband and I ran a marathon down in Austin, Texas. We didn’t achieve a new personal record or anything, but we enjoyed the day and we didn’t die so we’ll count it as one for the win column. As we ran, I started to think about and notice all the waste that is created by a huge race. The Austin Marathon involves thousands of runners; There’s bound to be a certain amount of environmental impact.

Just think of all the tiny plastic cups.

But it turns out that the Austin Marathon actually does a relatively good job of keeping their event environmental responsible. I’ve discovered that there is something called the Council for Responsible Sport that actually works with organizers and certifies events that meet their criteria for sustainability. They give out points based on categories such as waste reduction and availability of public transit for runners and spectators. Some races have green teams that focus entirely on waste diversion so that most of what is produced is either composted or recycled.

The council also takes notice when it comes to the amount of “stuff” that is given to participants. Often times, you are given a goody bag with food samples and coupons. There is also the obligatory medal and commemorative t-shirt. You generally pick these things up the day before the race and even as I went through the sort of cattle chute/maze system that they’d devised to disperse these items, I wondered if they could cut their work in half and leave out all the freebees. Some races have even gotten away from giving all finishers a medal and only give them to participants who choose to pay extra. This should ensure that only those people who will truly treasure and appreciate their medals will end up with one.

I don’t know that I technically treasure my medals or that I’d pay extra to get one. It’s nice to glance at them on bad days and get a little boost of self-confidence, but I can’t help but think that they’re wasteful. Even though I feel this way, if I’m honest, I don’t think that I could turn one down. Especially since they have volunteers lined up to place them over your head the moment you’ve crossed the finish line and you feel like you’ve basically pushed the limits of human physical ability to the breaking point. Of course I deserve a medal!

It’s difficult to shake the feeling that marathons and all the swag that comes along with them aren’t exactly kind to Mother Earth, but it is comforting to know that race organizers are actively working to lessen their environmental impact. So I’ll proudly display my medal for now and if I ever feel bad at least I’ll find solace in remembering that the Austin Marathon medals do have dual purpose: They double as belt buckles.