How To Be A More Environmentally Conscious Runner

Environmentally Conscious Runner

All things considered, running is a pretty low-impact sport on the environment. But there are a few glaring exceptions.

We carry gel packs that can easily be dropped (accidentally or otherwise).

We leave little footprints that are fine on marked trails, but that can easily damage sensitive habitats when in the wrong area.

Environmentally Conscious Runner

How Runners Can Support Mother Earth

Earth Day is coming up, and it has me thinking about how we runners can be even nicer to Mother Earth.

Carpool Or Bike To Run Starts

When possible, carpool or bike to the starting spot of runs and races.

Carpooling helps minimize gas usage and car emissions. Added bonus that you can share the cost of parking and tolls.

Biking provides a nice warm up/cool down for your run.

Races increasingly have places on their websites or Facebook pages to share information on getting (or offering) a ride on race day.

Watch Your Gel Packs

I love GU. It’s amazing stuff.

But after I have some, no matter how careful I was eating it, the package is sticky and gross.

While I don’t love carrying around an empty, sticky GU pack, that is part of the deal. You eat a GU – or any other fuel – you carry around the wrapper until you can properly dispose of it.

Under no circumstances should you drop a gel pack on the ground.


Note: GU packs are not recyclable using the standard recycle bins, but they can be terracycled.

Keep an eye on the top part of the gel packs. Clif gels have a little leash so that the top of the gel pack doesn’t get lost. GU (and most other types of gels) haven’t yet picked up on this great little design idea, so you need to keep an eye on the top of the pack to make sure it doesn’t get left behind.

Consume Water (cups) Responsibly


Begin rant…

I volunteer (and run) at many races and I’m continually stunned by how many paper cups are used in the course of a race.

At one race I volunteered at, we had bag after bag of cups. I did the math on it. We had around 2700 cups at one aid station (of 8) at one race in one city (and it was a smaller trail race at that).

Multiply that times all the races and all the aid stations that happen every weekend and it is a little stunning.

Even if those cups are properly composted or recycled (which is sadly all too rare), that is a lot of cups.

Some runners take 5 or 6 (or more) cups. 1 to pour over their head, 2 to drink (water) 2 to drink (sports drink) and grab another water to go.


…Rant over

During training runs, carry a reusable/refillable pack or bottle.

At a race, even though you usually don’t have to, carry your own water (note some trail races do require you carry water).

If you really don’t want to carry your own hydration, at the very least minimize how many cups you use.

By all means, drink what you need to (I am in no way urging anyone one to go thirsty), but take one cup and have a volunteer refill the cup as many times as you need.

Or, carry a collapsible cup

Increasingly, races are going waste or cup free.

For example, race series Vacation Races (who do races near Yosemite and other National Parks) are cup free, providing runners a collapsible cup to carry.

Absolutely No Littering!!

Dispose of gel wrappers.

At a race, if you grab a paper cup, throw it in the trash (or at least do your best to get it near a trash bin in the vicinity of the aid station). Don’t carry a cup a mile down the road and randomly throw it by the side of the road.

This is a two-fer – you are being nice to the environment and race volunteers. Don’t make them walk the entire course to make sure all of your trash is accounted for.

In short, properly dispose of any trash that you generate on the run. Gel wrappers, kleenex, other food wrappers.


Bonus karma points for picking up other trash you come across, especially gel packs. Dropped gel packs are an unmistakable sign that runners have been on the path and littered!

It looks bad for us all.

There is a new running fad in Scandinavia called ‘plogging’ – picking up trash on the run. While I haven’t yet plogged, I very often walk by the start area of the Oakland Marathon. It’s nearly a month after race day and I’m still picking up empty gel packs from race day on my walks.

That’s kinda like plogging, right?

Stay On The Trail

Stay on marked and legit trails.

Don’t go off-roading. Not because it looks fun. Not because it may be a shortcut. If it’s not an official trail, stay off of it.

It’s probably not a shortcut (if it were really a shortcut, it would likely be ‘the trail’). You may easily get lost. You could ruin a sensitive environment with your footprints.

It is not worth it.

Recycle Your Gear

Recycle your shoes and running clothing.

If it is still usable, donate items to the Goodwill or Salvation Army.

Some races (and many Nike stores) have donation bins for old gear so that it can be reused or recycled.

What about you? How do you care for Mother Earth as a runner?

Environmentally Conscious Runner


Sara is a runner, running coach, writer, blogger, and a lover of all things written.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge