There are few things in this life that bring me as much joy as trail running. Whether I’m tackling an ultramarathon or out on my morning jog, the trails are my happy place. Yet over the years I’ve come to realize just how much of the industry is unsustainable. Consider the fact that it’s all about spending time in nature and the unsustainability starts to feel a bit backwards. But running on trails, or really any type of outdoor adventure, can be done in a sustainable way. We can lessen our impact on the planet without limiting our precious time on the trails.
How well do you know the trails closest to your house? Perhaps one of the simplest ways to make running more sustainable is staying close to home and utilizing your local trails. The same goes for when it comes to racing. I try to pick races that are near where I live. Not only do these races require less travel but they help you get to know your own trail community a little better.
However, from time to time I do drive into the mountains to go for a run. Sometimes gaining access to trails that are a bit farther away is necessary in order to be properly prepared for a race. When this is the case, I recommend doing the following to make these trips as sustainable as possible:
Carpool: not only is this going to help cut back on your carbon emissions but running with a buddy is going to much safer, especially in mountainous terrain
Plan it out: Utilize these trails runs as much as possible, make the most of your time away from your local trails so you don’t feel the need to travel far for every single run
Speaking of the trails themselves, it is important that we take the time to care for them. I spend many hours each week on the trails around my house so it is only fair that I ensure that remain in tip top shape. This can mean picking up after yourself, picking up after others, as well as completing trail work.
While I truly hope none of you reading this are leaving your trash blatantly on the trail, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pick up the trash that others leave behind. I am delighted to see more and more races requiring trail work as part of the registration process. But that doesn’t mean that we should only work on the trails if a race asks us to! Below are a few helpful links to find volunteer trail work in Washington. If you don’t live in the area just search “trail work volunteer [where you live]”.
Besides the trails themselves, the gear we wear is another way we can become more sustainable. When people think of fast fashion and unethical companies, there mind rarely goes to the outdoor industry. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. To simplify things, I have three major tips when it comes to gear:
Use what you already have: Sounds simple right? But how many times have you felt like you needed that new pair of short or new hydration pack? When in reality you just wanted it, you didn’t actually need it. I’m not saying that you will never acquire new gear, just that we should be thankful and mindful of what we already own. If something breaks or rips, try your best to fix it. You may just be surprised at house easy it is.
Buy used gear: Whenever you truly need something, it is best to see if you can find it used first. I have obtained NUMEROUS items of gear this way; my hydration pack, shorts, tops, jackets, running tights…and so much more! Buying something used doesn’t necessarily mean that it is about to break. These have all been very gently used items that the owner no longer found a need for. I search at thrift stores as well as online at ThredUp and Poshmark.
Support sustainable brands: But occasionally you do need new gear and you just can’t seem to find it used anywhere. It is in the rare instances that I do purchase new gear. I plan on writing a whole other blog about how to tell whether or not a company is actually sustainable and what that even means. In the meantime, a few of my favorite companies to support are Patagonia,WrightSock, Brooks, and Salomon, just to name a few.
It wouldn’t be trail running if you weren’t constantly eating food. The single biggest way that you can become more sustainable with your nutrition is to reduce, better yet eliminate, your consumption of meat, fish, and dairy. Livestock is the world's largest user of land resources, representing almost 80% of all agricultural land (UN FAO) and 45% of the entire global surface area (International Livestock Resource Institute).
To minimize your impact even further you can make your own energy gels, food, and electrolytes. This is where every runner is different; what works for me may make you vomit mid-way through a run…it’s just fact. Regardless of what food you bring, I carry mine in Stasher bags, reusable gel containers and either a handheld water bottle or hydration pack.
Lastly, when it comes to race day, try and go cup-less. If a race isn't cup free that's okay. Just refill your own bottles at the aid stations so you don't have to waste a plastic one.
Becoming more sustainable when it comes to trial running doesn’t have to be difficult. It’s all about making conscious decisions so we can decrease our impact on the planet and increase our time on the trails.
(bonus sustainability: ditch the TP and use a leaf)