The Good Route: Running with a Lighter Footprint

Dec 21, 2009
Outside Magazine

By Mary Catherine O'Connor

I'm not an uber-athlete, but I do like to run and sometimes join races--preferably on trail. The other day, a friend tried to coax me into signing up for a 50K trail run, scheduled for this coming spring. To make it a little more appealing, she said the course is largely downhill, thanks to a shuttle that brings all of the runners to the start line.

From the point of view of a lazy runner (me), that shuttle is an appealing idea. But it's hardly a sustainable way to operate a running race.

Perhaps the race directors should call The Council for Responsible Sport—ReSport, for short. Two runners and former race directors, Jeff Henderson and Jonathon Eng, started ReSport in 2007, with backing from The Freshwater Trust, a Portland, Org.-based stream and river conservation advocacy. During 2008, ReSport ran a pilot program with 12 different events (mostly triathlons) through which it developed a certification process for sustainable athletic events.

Since then, it has certified more than 10 marathons and triathlons across the country.

To be certified, organizers must meet a set of standards based on waste reduction, using recycled and recyclable materials, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions related to the event.

Reducing and/or recycling waste is an obvious and relatively easy way to reduce the negative impacts of sporting events—especially large ones. Writer and marathoner Marc Gunther says a marathon with 21,000 racers uses about 850,000 paper cups at aid stations. Composting or recycling those cups, therefore, is a pretty meaningful effort.

But perhaps the greatest environmental impact is the travel related to large events. ReSport says that of the 1,787 athletes in the Ironman Hawaii competition in 2007, almost all the competitors flew to and from the race, generating an estimated 23,931,418 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions. That's about equal to the yearly carbon footprint of 972 average American homes. ReSport helps race organizers reduce their travel-related impact through carbon offsetting and smarter planning (reducing redundant and unnecessary travel)

Early last year, Nike partnered with ReSport to develop a sustainability index (called the Nike Index) that Nike event directors are using to document and assess the sustainable efforts they make in producing races and other events.

The Austin Marathon, the LA Marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon and the Big Sur Half Marathon have all become ReSport certified, as have a number of smaller races. Not all events earn the top "Evergreen" certification rating (there are three lower levels: Gold, Silver and Certified) but each has lessened its environmental impact just through certification.

So, the next time you're looking at registering for a running event, look for the ReSport certification mark. And if you see organizers being wasteful at your next race, speak up. After all, your registration fee helps pay for the event.  

--Mary Catherine O'Connoris a freelance writer, covering the environment, sustainability andoutdoor recreation. The Good Route, her new blog for Outside Online, isfocused on the places where the active life and sustainability merge.

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